If you believed one Anaheim terrorism defendant was just a big pro-ISIL shit talker and the other was duped into helping him try to get to the Middle East, you did not hear or read the evidence federal prosecutors presented to a Santa Ana jury.
United States District Judge David O. Carter, who did see the evidence, on Thursday afternoon sentenced one of the men, 25-year-old Nader Elhuzayel, to 30 years in federal prison for attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and committing 26 counts of bank fraud. After leaving prison, Elhuzayel will be on supervised release for life.
The jury deliberated for about an hour on June 21 before rendering the verdicts for Elhuzayel and co-defendant Muhanad Badawi, also 25, who in addition to the the terrorism counts was convicted of financial aid fraud. He remains in federal custody, and Carter is scheduled to sentence him on Oct. 17, when Badawi faces up to 35 years in the federal pen.
“There’s no remorse, no repudiation of ISIL, only death and destruction,” the veteran federal judge said of Elhuzayel, adding that the defendant's repeated calls for martyrdom “makes [him] especially dangerous.”
Here are five things that led to the jury's quick verdict:
* Trial evidence showed that Elhuzayel used social media to communicate with ISIL supporters and operatives, to disseminate pro-ISIL information, and to assist ISIL supporters by distributing social media account information for those whose accounts had been suspended. Elhuzayel maintained a Facebook account with the ISIL flag as his profile picture. He used the account to ask Allah to grant him martyrdom and success in leaving the United States to fight for his cause and to ask Allah to “destroy your enemies and give the Islamic state victory.”
* The day of the May 3, 2015, attack in Garland, Texas, Elhuzayel received social media communications from Elton Simpson, one of the perpetrators of the attack. That’s the one where Simpson and Nadir Soofi shot at officers at the entrance to an exhibit featuring cartoon images of the prophet Muhammad. After a security officer was shot in the ankle, the gunmen were wounded by police gunfire before a SWAT team took both out. Elhuzayel wrote to Simpson: “I love you for the sake of Allah brother may Allah grant you Jannat al ferdaus [the highest level of Paradise reserved for martyrs].” In addition, Elhuzayel received and disseminated social media communications from ISIL operative Abu Hussain al Britani, also known as Junaid Hussain, including communications trumpeting the Garland shootings.
* Four days after the Garland shootings, Elhuzayel and Badawi made travel arrangements and purchased Elhuzayel’s plane ticket to join ISIL in Syria.
*Badawi also posted on Facebook support for ISIL and violence aimed at non-Muslims, indicating that he intended to join the terrorist organization. On Oct. 21, 2014, he made a video of Elhuzayel swearing allegiance to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In the video, Elhuzayel pledged to travel to join ISIS to be a fighter for the organization.
*Elhuzayel obtained cash through a scheme to defraud three different banks by depositing stolen checks into his personal checking accounts and then withdrawing cash at branch offices and ATMs in Orange County. The money generated from the bank fraud was intended to finance his travel to Turkey and then on to Syria to join ISIL, a trip arranged by Badawi.
Here's what U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker said of the sentence on Thursday: “Today’s sentence reflects the gravity of the defendant’s plan to betray his country and join a terrorist organization dedicated to the murder of innocent individuals. As this case shows, the ability of individuals with the desire to support ISIL to use the Internet and social media to conspire with each other poses a grave threat to our national security. So-called ‘foreign fighters’ like this defendant pose a serious danger both overseas and here at home. There can be no doubt that law enforcement’s disruption of their plans saved lives, both in the United States and abroad.”