O.C. man gets 30 years for trying to join Islamic State; judge says his calls for martyrdom made him 'dangerous'

A man convicted of conspiring to help Islamic State militants after he was caught as he attempted to board a plane to the Middle East was sentenced to 30 years in prison Monday.

U.S. District Judge David O. Carter said Nader Elhuzayel’s repeated calls for martyrdom in his communications made him “especially dangerous.”

“There’s no remorse, no repudiation of ISIL, only death and destruction,” Carter said in a Santa Ana courtroom.

Elhuzayel, 25, and Muhanad Badawi, 24, both residents of Anaheim, were convicted after a two-week trial that detailed their efforts to join the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, including their recorded pledges to “fight for the cause of Allah and to die in the battlefield.”

Elhuzayel was found guilty of attempting to provide material support to Islamic State, and Badawi was convicted of aiding and abetting the attempt to provide material support, including using his federal financial aid to buy the plane ticket for Elhuzayel, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles. Badawi also faces up to 30 years in prison at his sentencing. 

“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,” said U.S. Atty. Eileen M. Decker. “So-called ‘foreign fighters’ like this defendant pose a serious danger both overseas and here at home.” 

Decker said the pair used social media to discuss the Islamic State and terrorist attacks.

The pair were arrested May 21, 2015. Agents from a counter-terrorism task force intercepted and detained Elhuzayel at Los Angeles International Airport before he boarded a plane bound for Israel with a layover in Turkey. Badawi was arrested at an Anaheim gas station.

During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Elhuzayel received social media communications from Elton Simpson, one of the suspected perpetrators of a failed terrorist attack on a community center in Garland, Texas, in May 2015 and that Elhuzayel wrote back 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].”

Agents began monitoring the men after seeing their inflammatory remarks on social media. Scrutiny of the men intensified in April and May 2015 as agents eavesdropped on their phone calls and surveillance teams tracked their movements.

Elhuzayel was also found guilty of 26 counts of bank fraud. Prosecutors said he got cash through a scheme to defraud three different banks where he had deposited stolen checks into his personal checking accounts, then withdrew money at Orange County branch offices and ATMs.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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