WASHINGTON – Nader Elhuzayel, 25, of Anaheim, California, was sentenced to 30 years in prison with a lifetime of supervised release for conspiring and attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization, and other federal offenses.
Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin and U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker for the Central District of California made the announcement after Elhuzayel was sentenced by U.S. District Judge David O. Carter.
“Nader Elhuzayel was arrested while attempting to travel overseas to join ISIL. With this sentence, he is being held accountable for conspiring and attempting to provide material support to the designated terrorist organization, and other federal offenses,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin. “The National Security Division’s highest priority is countering terrorist threats, and we will continue to work to stem the flow of foreign fighters abroad and bring to justice those who attempt to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations.”
On June 21, 2016, a federal jury convicted Elhuzayel and co-defendant Muhanad Badawi, 24, also of Anaheim, of conspiring to provide material support to ISIL. Elhuzayel was also found guilty of attempting to provide material support and Badawi was found guilty of aiding and abetting the attempt to provide material support to ISIL. In addition to the terrorism-related counts, Elhuzayel was found guilty of 26 counts of bank fraud and Badawi was found guilty of one count of federal financial aid fraud. Judge Carter is scheduled to sentence defendant Badawi on October 17.
“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 United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “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.”
The evidence at trial showed Badawi and Elhuzayel used social media to discuss ISIL and terrorist attacks, expressed a desire to die as martyrs, and made arrangements for Elhuzayel to travel abroad to join ISIL. In recorded conversations, Badawi and Elhuzayel discussed how “it would be a blessing to fight for the cause of Allah, and to die in the battlefield,” and they referred to ISIL as “we.”
Badawi also had a Facebook account where he made posts that supported ISIL and violence aimed at non-Muslims, and indicated that he intended to join the terrorist organization. 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 information to those whose accounts had been suspended. Elhuzayel also 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 U.S. to fight for his cause and to ask Allah to “destroy your enemies and give the Islamic state victory.”
According to the trial exhibits, on Oct. 21, 2014, Badawi made a video of Elhuzayel swearing allegiance to the leader of ISIL, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In the video, Elhuzayel pledged to travel to join ISIL to be a fighter for the terrorist organization.
Evidence at trial also showed that on May 3, 2015, the day of the attack in Garland, Texas, Elhuzayel received social media communications from Elton Simpson, one of the perpetrators of the attack, and that 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, Texas, shootings. On May 7, 2015, four days after the Garland shootings, Elhuzayel and Badawi made travel arrangements and purchased Elhuzayel’s plane ticket to join ISIL.
Both Elhuzayel and Badawi were arrested on May 21, 2015, as Elhuzayel attempted to board a plane at Los Angeles International Airport to travel to Turkey to join ISIL. Badawi had purchased a one-way ticket on Turkish Airlines for Elhuzayel to travel to Israel, with a layover in Istanbul. In an interview with the FBI, Elhuzayel admitted that he intended to deplane in Turkey and seek contacts to facilitate joining ISIL.
Elhuzayel was also convicted of obtaining 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 Syria to join ISIL. Both men have been held in federal custody without bond since their arrests.
Badawi is scheduled to be sentenced on October 17 at which time he will face a statutory maximum sentence of 35 years in federal prison.
The investigation in this case was conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Orange County, which includes the following agencies: the Anaheim Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Secret Service, IRS – Criminal Investigation, the City of Orange Police Department, the Irvine Police Department, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Orange County Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory, the U.S Attorney’s Office, and the FBI. The Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General provided significant assistance in the investigation and at trial.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Judith A. Heinz, Deirdre Z. Eliot and Julius J. Nam of the Central District of California, with substantial assistance from Trial Attorney Michael Dittoe of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.