Two California men charged with providing material support to "Islamic State" have appeared in court. The pair face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Two men accused of plotting to provide material support to "Islamic State" (IS) appeared before a court in California on Friday. The prosecutors charged Anaheim residents Muhanad Badawi and Nader Elhuzayel, both 24, after investigators tracked their communications on social media and found messages claiming their support for IS.
According to court documents, on May 7 Elhuzayel used Badawi's credit card to purchase a ticket to Tel Aviv, Israel, via Istanbul, Turkey. Police arrested Elhuzayel at Los Angeles International Airport on May 21 as he prepared to depart and Badawi in Anaheim, the home to Disneyland, on the same day. Badawi suggested that he, too, eventually planned to go to the region to join the fight, the Justice Department reported.
Elhuzayel told authorities that he had planned on getting off the plane in Turkey and traveling to fight with IS in Syria, according to the complaint. However, his father, Salem Elhuzayel, told the Orange County Register that he had dropped his son off for the Israel-bound flight so that he could visit Palestinian aunts and cousins.
"I think they're looking for a victim," he said. "He's an innocent human being." Officials searched the motel room where the family has lived since their eviction from their home, Salem Elhuzayel said.
Praise for 'martyr'
Investigators tracked conversations between Badawi and Elhuzayel, who "discussed how it would be a blessing to fight for the cause of Allah, and to die in the battlefield," according to the Justice Department. Elhuzayel also reportedly wrote that he looked forward to a time when IS would gain the backing of the terror group al Qaeda.
"Can you imagine when al Qaeda joins with Islamic State?" he wrote.
According to the Justice Department, Badawi wrote back: "We will be huge."
Elhuzayel had previously tweeted in support of an attempted attack on a contest to draw the Prophet Muhammad - haram, or forbidden, in many interpretations of Islam - hosted by a US hate group. Though police had shot those attackers to death, Elhuzayel praised one of the gunmen, Elton Simpson, as a "martyr" on May 3, the day of the attack.
In recent months, US officials have arrested several individuals for plotting to travel to Syria to fight for IS, including six Somali-American men from Minnesota last month. Multiple countries have been struggling with what to do when their nationals go abroad to join IS, with Australia recently ruling out amnesty for returned fighters.
On Friday, IS claimed responsibility for a deadly mosque attack in Saudi Arabia.
mkg/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP)