During a hearing held between Adam Dandach's guilty plea last August and his looming sentencing for helping Islamic State terrorists, a FBI special agent testified that the 21-year-old Orange resident had planned to use a charity as cover to enter war-torn Syria.
Dandach's mother told FBI investigators that her son wanted to go to London in December 2013 and join a group that goes to Syria to deliver aid to civilians and the country's refugees, Special Agent Scott Wales testified at the federal courthouse in Santa Ana Thursday (according to a City News Service report).
That notion spooked the mother so much that she threw away Dandach's passport, Wales told the court.
The defendant later applied for a new one, the special agent also testified. That same day, Dandach purchased a laptop, and a later FBI search of that and other digital devices belonging to the defendant turned up such materials as advice on joining a charity "to provide cover so travelers would receive less scrutiny" on their way to Syria.
The way in was through Turkey, where Dandach would look for Islamic State sympathizers, Wales testified.
Wales also testified that Dandach:
* sought advice online whether it was OK under Sharia Law to keep receiving Social Security disability payments even though he did not wish to get a job and pay taxes to the U.S. government. (His attorney mentioned during the hearing that Dandach told investigators he had gastric bypass surgery and suffered from dehydration);
* amassed information on how to travel to Syria as well as pamphlets that included photos of dead, smiling "martyrs," who were happy, the propagandists explained, because they had begun to see "paradise;"
* used social media to participate in forums and discussions with Islamic State insiders, including an online discussion with a Canadian who had been to Syria about how he managed to join the fight to unseat that country's leader, Bashar Al-Assad. Dandach also wrote in an online conversation, "I wish to fight one day;"
* made a recorded phone call after being booked into Santa Ana jail to tell his family to destroy evidence on his digital devices because it could incriminate him and others.
Prosecutors showed the judge video of Dandach's interrogation after he was detained at John Wayne Airport on July 2, 2014, when he had planned to fly to Atlanta for a connecting international flight to Istanbul, Turkey. The video showed the defendant calmly explaining how the beheading of prisoners of war is OK under Sharia Law and how he figured he would receive weapons training when he got to Syria.
Dandach wrote a letter to an Orange County Register reporter in January 2015—after the deadly terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo's offices in Paris—with a poem that includes a line declaring, "je suis Al Qaeda," or "I'm Al Qaeda."
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Defense attorney Pal Lengyel-Leahu countered that Dandach's attempts were fumbling at best and included a genuine desire to help refugees.
Lengyel-Leahu also got Wales to acknowledge that Islamic State was not yet on the terrorist watch list when Dandach was planning to go to Syria following the call from religious leaders to Muslims to join the revolution in Syria.
His client's attempts to get information about the situation in Syria did not necessarily mean he sympathized with terrorists, Lengyel-Leahu argued, and when Dandach was detained at the airport he had no plan, no money, no route into Syria and no forms of communication on him, the defense attorney got Wales to admit.
Federal prosecutors requested last week's hearing to show U.S. District Judge James Selna how much planning and sophistication went into Dandach's efforts to aid terrorists. He faces up to 25 years in federal prison at sentencing scheduled for July 25.