Californians convicted of trying to aid Islamic State group
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — Two Southern California men were convicted Tuesday of trying to become fighters for the Islamic State terrorist group.
Nader Elhuzayel and Muhanad Badawi were each convicted of conspiracy to aid a foreign terrorist organization, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.
The 25-year-old Anaheim men concocted a scheme last year for Elhuzayel to fly to the Middle East to fight for the Islamic State, federal officials said.
Badawi, a college engineering student, also was convicted of aiding and abetting an attempt to provide support for terrorists and financial aid fraud. Authorities say he used a federal college grant to support the cause.
In April 2015, he let Elhuzayel use his debit card to buy a one-way plane ticket to Israel with a six-hour layover in Turkey, according to an FBI court affidavit.
Elhuzayel also was convicted of 26 counts of bank fraud. Federal officials said he deposited stolen checks in his bank accounts and withdrew money at Orange County banks. Federal officials said he intended to use the cash to go to Syria to fight.
He is facing up to 30 years in federal prison on each bank fraud count.
The FBI affidavit said the men shared their support for the Islamic State in conversation and on social media, sharing photos of "unbelievers" being beheaded and expressing wishes to die as "martyrs."
Elhuzayel had sworn allegiance to the leader of Isis on a video and he used the Islamic State flag as the profile picture on a Facebook page, authorities said.
"These two defendants betrayed their country and sought to join ... a terrorist organization dedicated to brutally murdering innocent people," U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said in a statement.
Badawi's attorney, Kate Corrigan, had argued that he never actually intended to fight for the Islamic State but "was a lot of talk and absolutely no action."
Attorneys for both men also contended that their comments were offensive but not criminal.
Elhuzayel had a First Amendment right to the comments he made on social media "even if it makes you cringe," his attorney, Pal Lengyel-Leahu, had argued.
Both men had been jailed since their arrest last year. While in custody, Badawi stopped eating and dropped from 140 to 109 pounds before a judge ordered him force-fed last December.