The fate of two Anaheim men accused of trying to aid the Islamic State is in the hands of jurors, who will begin deliberations Tuesday to determine whether the pair are would-be terrorists or young men who were all talk and no action.
Attorneys for Nader Salem Elhuzayel and Muhanad Badawi, during closing arguments Monday at the federal courthouse in Santa Ana, urged jurors to look past graphic, often-violent and at times anti-American rhetoric and images espoused and shared by the two in numerous social media postings and recorded conversations.
“They want you to be afraid so your reason and your logic will no longer help you decide this case,” Pal Lengyel-Leahu, Elhuzayel‘s attorney, said of prosecutors during his closing argument to the jury. “There are no pictures here, no evidence of something my client did.”
Federal prosecutors reiterated their case against Elhuzayel – who they accuse of trying to travel oversees to join ISIS. And against Badawi – who is suspected of aiding Elhuzayel and using federal financial aid to pay for his friend’s plane ticket.
“A call went out from Baghdad,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Deirdre Eliot told the jury, referring to requests for foreign fighters by Islamic State leaders. “The defendants heard that call. Badawi facilitated, Elhuzayel was to join the fight.”
Federal authorities monitored the two 25-year-old’s alleged public and private backing of Islamic State before arresting Elhuzayel on May 21, 2015 at a security gate at Los Angeles International Airport, a plane ticket to Israel with a stopover in Turkey in his hands. Badawi was arrested a short time later on his way to a college exam.
Federal investigators recorded a phone conversation in which Elhuzayel and Badawi discussed how, in the prosecutor’s words, “it would be a blessing to fight for the cause of Allah, and to die on the battlefield.”
Badawi and Elhuzayel’s attorneys told the jury that neither man spoke Arabic, that they had no direct contacts oversees, that they didn’t appear to have taken part in any weapons training, and that they didn’t appear to have a plan to get from Turkey – where Elhuzayel’s flight had a scheduled layover – to Islamic State-controlled areas in Syria.
“I don’t think these guys went to a gym, let alone a shooting range or a gun store,” said Kate Corrigan, Badawi’s attorney. “And they talk about getting martyrdom? Give me a break. These two? They are no holy warriors. They are a lot of talk.”
Corrigan said Badawi simply did a favor for a friend, allowing Elhuzayel to charge the plane tickets to a debit card tied to Badawi’s Pell Grant funds. Elhuzayel had told Badawi that he planned to travel to Tel Aviv to marry a Palestinian woman he met online, Corrigan added.
Corrigan blamed Badawi’s legal predicament on Elhuzayel, who she repeatedly referred to as a “gutless wonder.”
Lengyel-Leahu, Elhuzayel‘s lawyer, displayed for the jury an outfit that his client had packed in his luggage as proof that he was planning to get married overseas, not join the Islamic State.
“I would suggest that a man who packs a two-piece suit to go to a wedding is going to a wedding,” the attorney said. “Those are not the clothes of the Mujahideen.”
Prosecutors denied that Elhuzayel and Badawi were targeted for their beliefs or political speech, noting that they were only arrested after Elhuzayel tried to board the airplane.
“This case is not about fear, it’s not about politics,” Eliot said. “It’s about a fighter and his facilitator and their path to jihad. And here in America that is against the law.”