“What is striking to this court is the fact you were willing to die,” [Judge] Carter said.
It’s more striking that fifteen years after 9/11 and thousands more killed or injured by Muslims since then, including many Americans, that the judge is struck by that fact – laid out in the Koran.
SANTA ANA – An Anaheim man who tried to fly out of the country to join the Islamic State was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison for conspiring to aid the foreign terrorist group.
Nader Salem Elhuzayel, who was also convicted of running a banking scheme to bankroll his planned trip to the Middle East, looked down, stretched and then glanced at his family as U.S. District Judge David O. Carter handed down his sentence at the federal courthouse in Santa Ana.
“There is no remorse,” Carter said of Elhuzayel. “There is just death and destruction.”
The judge particularly noted Elhuzayel’s apparent aim to become a martyr. Even after his prison sentence, the judge ordered that Elhuzayel must remain on supervised release for the rest of his life.
“What is striking to this court is the fact you were willing to die,” Carter said.
Elhuzayel’s family reacted with disbelief to the judge’s decision. His mother, Falak, exclaimed “there is no justice in this country, no justice whatsoever” as she left the courtroom.
“He is a peace-loving human being,” said Nader Elhuzayel’s father, Salem, outside the courtroom. “We experienced a miscarriage of justice.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Judith Heinz painted a much darker picture of Elhuzayel’s actions during her comments before the judge.
“The seriousness of these offenses cannot be overstated,” she said of Elhuzayel’s support of the Islamic State. “It is the most lethal, it is the most brutal, it is the most heinous organization on the face of the earth.”
Elhuzayel pushed back against the prosecutor’s allegations.
“I am not bad,” Elhuzayel said to the courtroom. “I am not evil. I am a good guy. I say that with my heart.”
“I love you Mom and Dad,” he added.
In a court brief filed prior to the sentencing, Pal Lengyel-Leahu, Elhuzayel’s attorney, described his client as a lost young man whose family was hit hard by the financial downturn.
“Nader Elhuzayel appears to (be) a man of deep confusion, longing to find an identity for himself,” the defense attorney wrote to Judge Carter. “Nader has always been a rule follower, just looking for someone to show him the way.”
On May 21, 2015, Elhuzayel was stopped at a security counter at Los Angeles International Airport attempting to board a flight bound for Israel. Federal agents, who had conducted surveillance on Elhuzayel for at least a month, believed that he was planning to use a scheduled layover in Turkey to head to Syria and become a fighter for the Islamic State.
FBI investigators were unconvinced by Elhuzayel’s claim that he was traveling to Tel Aviv to marry a Palestinian woman he met online. The agents pointed to social media postings in which Elhuzayel and friend Muhanad Badawi discussed dying as martyrs.
During a two-week trial earlier this year, federal prosecutors focused primarily on the often violent rhetoric and images that Elhuzayel and Badawi shared during numerous online postings, messages and recorded conversations. The prosecutors described the pair of young men as “cheerleading” for Islamic State atrocities.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Deirdre Eliot told jurors how Elhuzayel tried to finance his Islamic State efforts by running a bank-fraud scheme. Eliot said Elhuzayel deposited stolen checks and then immediately withdrew cash from his accounts.
Banks quickly got wise, prosecutors said, and shut down Elhuzayel’s accounts. Strapped for cash, Elhuzayel reportedly went to Badawi, who used a debit card tied to his federal financial aid in order to purchase Elhuzayel a plane ticket online.
By buying that plane ticket, prosecutors said Badawi was facilitating Elhuzayel’s efforts to join the Islamic State.
During their trial, Elhuzayel and Badawi’s attorneys acknowledged that most would find the pair’s online talks offensive. However, the attorneys argued that it was still protected free speech. They also pointed out that the pair had no training, did not speak Arabic and didn’t appear to have any direct Islamic State contacts overseas.
According to the judge, Elhuzayel appears to be the first person in the U.S. tried and convicted of trying to join ISIS to be sentenced to prison. Others have plead guilty to similar charges prior to a trial, or are awaiting trial or sentencing.
Badawi, who faces up to 35 years behind bars, is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 17.
Nader Salem Elhuzayel’s parents are Palestinian Muslim immigrants. They too are not remorseful. They should be deported.