SANTA ANA – A federal jury on Tuesday found two Anaheim men guilty of attempting to aid the Islamic State.
Nader Salem Elhuzayel was convicted of conspiring and attempting to aid a foreign terrorist organization as well as bank fraud.
Muhanad Badawi was found guilty of conspiring and attempting to aid a foreign terrorist group as well.
Proscecutors say Elhuzayel was attempting to join the Islamic State at the time of his arrest. And, they say, Badawi supporting his friend and used federal financial aid money to bankroll Elhuzayel‘s plane ticket.
They will be sentenced in September in separate hearings.
Federal authorities monitored the two 25-year-old’s alleged public and private backing of Islamic State before arresting Elhuzayel on May 21, 2015 at a security gate at Los Angeles International Airport, a plane ticket to Israel with a stopover in Turkey in his hands. Badawi was arrested a short time later on his way to a college exam.
Federal investigators recorded a phone conversation in which Elhuzayel and Badawi discussed how, in the prosecutor’s words, “it would be a blessing to fight for the cause of Allah, and to die on the battlefield.”
Badawi and Elhuzayel’s attorneys told the jury that neither man spoke Arabic, that they had no direct contacts oversees, that they didn’t appear to have taken part in any weapons training, and that they didn’t appear to have a plan to get from Turkey – where Elhuzayel’s flight had a scheduled layover – to Islamic State-controlled areas in Syria.
“I don’t think these guys went to a gym, let alone a shooting range or a gun store,” said Kate Corrigan, Badawi’s attorney. “And they talk about getting martyrdom? Give me a break. These two? They are no holy warriors. They are a lot of talk.”
Corrigan said Badawi simply did a favor for a friend, allowing Elhuzayel to charge the plane tickets to a debit card tied to Badawi’s Pell Grant funds. Elhuzayel had told Badawi that he planned to travel to Tel Aviv to marry a Palestinian woman he met online, Corrigan added.
Corrigan blamed Badawi’s legal predicament on Elhuzayel, who she repeatedly referred to as a “gutless wonder.”
Pal Lengyel-Leahu, Elhuzayel‘s lawyer, displayed for the jury an outfit that his client had packed in his luggage as proof that he was planning to get married overseas, not join the Islamic State.
Prosecutors denied that Elhuzayel and Badawi were targeted for their beliefs or political speech, noting that they were only arrested after Elhuzayel tried to board the airplane.