Avondale man accused of recruiting for Islamic State faces trial

Posted at 2:12 PM, Jan 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-08 16:14:36-05

U.S. prosecutors are counting on the social media postings of an Arizona man to help persuade a jury that he was a recruiter for Islamic State militants.

Ahmed Mohammed el-Gammal, who lived in Avondale, a Phoenix suburb, faces trial Monday at a federal court in New York on charges that he helped a 24-year-old New Yorker link up with Islamic State fighters in 2015 after traveling to Syria via Turkey.

"I am willing to live in a tent under an Islamic state instead of all luxuries under an infidel state," Ahmed Mohammed el-Gammal, 44, wrote in one Facebook chat in July, 2014.

The New York man he allegedly helped become a fighter, Samy el-Goarany, was killed in Syria in November 2015, according to prosecutors.

El-Gammal has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers say the vast majority of his online communications were innocent. Investigators, they said, failed to find evidence in el-Gammal's home that he was involved in any terrorist plotting in the United States.

At trial, jurors are also set to view a video that el-Goarany made before his death. In it, el-Goarany, clad in military fatigues, insists he got himself to Syria without any help.

El-Gammal's attorney, Sabrina Shroff, said in a court filing that the slain New Yorker, who grew up near Middletown, New York, and was the son of a successful real estate broker, "was a sophisticated, strong-willed young man who formed his own beliefs and arranged and financed his own travel."

When el-Gammal's arrest was announced in August 2015, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said el-Gammal attracted the attention of el-Goarany by touting his support online for the Islamic State group. The government said the two men communicated online for about six months before el-Goarany went to the Middle East.

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos, who will preside over a trial expected to last about three weeks, is permitting the government to show jurors numerous online communications between the two.

"The government anticipates its proof at trial will consist, in significant measure, of the defendant's own statements via social media and other electronic communications," prosecutors said in court papers.

Other trial exhibits include a handwritten "martyr" letter el-Goarany wrote that was sent to his brother after he died. In one portion, he wrote: "If you are reading this, then know that I've been killed in battle and am now with our Lord Allah."

El-Gammal was arrested in Arizona in August of 2015, after el-Goarany went to Syria but before he was killed. He is charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

The Arizona Republic reported at the time of his arrest that el-Gammal was a naturalized U.S. citizen who had lived in the country since 2000. He was married the same year, but his wife filed for divorce in 2014. His lawyers said at his bail hearing that he owned his own business importing machinery to fix vehicles.