Former Irvine Resident Gets 2.5 Years for Trying to Help Arm Syrian Rebels

A Syrian-born former resident of Irvine was sentenced Friday to 32 months in federal prison for conspiring to export tactical equipment to a group seeking the overthrow of the Assad government.

The U.S. government has also been trying to overthrow the Assad government, but Abu al-Jud, whose given name was Amin al-Baroudi when the 50-year-old lived in Irvine, was violating sanctions imposed on Syria by the United States.

Worse, al-Baroudi and his co-conspirators were trying to help supply and arm a group that fights alongside a different group the United States State Department deems a foreign terrorist organization, according to the sentencing announcement by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John P. Carlin, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia, Assistant Director in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, Assistant Director in Charge Deirdre Fike of the FBI’s Los Angeles Division and Director Douglas Hassebrock of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Export Enforcement. 

The group that al-Baroudi was trying to help is Ahrar al-Sham, while the group the U.S. considers to be al-Qaeda’s official branch in Syria is Jabhat al-Nusrah. Ahrar al-Sham and other insurgent groups in Syria that al-Baroudi was aiding have a stated goal to replace the Assad government with an Islamic state, according to the federal authorities.  

A Syrian-born naturalized U.S. citizen, al-Baroudi pleaded guilty in Virginia on Jan. 15, admitting that he and his co-conspirators purchased tens of thousands of dollars of goods from companies and vendors in the United States. This consisted largely of tactical equipment such as sniper rifle scopes, night vision rifle scopes, night vision goggles, laser bore sighters, speed loaders and bullet proof vests, federal prosecutors have said.

Al-Baroudi and his cohorts traveled with the goods aboard commercial flights to Turkey and then transported the items into Syria or provided them to others to get them into the civil war-ravaged country.  

If convicted without the guilty plea, al-Baroudi could have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison by U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady.

In other locally tinged terrorism news, Nader Salem Elhuzayel and Muhanad Elfatih M.A. Badawi obsessively praised Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria on social media, a federal prosecutor alleged in her opening statement to the jury at the Anaheim men’s Santa Ana trial last week.

They were initially indicted on charges of conspiring to aid a foreign terrorist organization, but the government later charged Elhuzayel additionally with bank fraud due to allegations he came up with a scheme to illegally withdraw money from bank accounts. Badawi was slapped with separate counts of aiding and abetting an attempt to provide support for terrorists and financial aid fraud.

The central allegation in the case has Badawi using $2,865 he obtained from a Pell grant to buy Elhuzayel a one-way plane ticket from LAX to Tel Aviv, where he would deplane during a stopover in Turkey and eventually “die [as] a martyr on the battlefield,” according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Deirdre Eliot.

The pair shared photos of beheadings of “unbelievers,” and Badawi made a video of Elhuzayel swearing allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, alleges Eliot.

But Elhuzayel should be acquitted on the legal technicality that the U.S. did not recognize ISIS as a terrorist organization at the time of his May 21, 2015, arrest at LAX, argues his attorney, who also claims his client was traveling to Israel to marry a woman Elhuzayel met online, noting his luggage was checked through to Tel Aviv.

Badawi’s attorney claims he was all talk and no action when it came to his social media posts and that he was duped by Elhuzayel about what her client’s loan to Elhuzayel was going to be used for overseas, rejecting the notion that he was bound for Israel to marry someone.

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