(Reuters) - A California man convicted of attempting to help a friend travel to the Middle East to fight on behalf of Islamic State was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Wednesday, federal prosecutors said.
Muhanad Badawi, 25, was found guilty of conspiring to provide material support to the militant group in the form of his recruit, Nader Elhuzayel, who was convicted of conspiring and attempting to join a terrorist organization. In September, Elhuzayel was also sentenced to 30 years in prison.
“The lengthy sentence imposed today results from the defendant’s acceptance of ISIL’s murderous ideology and his participation in a scheme designed to betray the United States,” United States Attorney Eileen Decker said on Wednesday.
In arguing for the 30-year sentence plus a lifetime of supervised release, U.S. prosecutors said Badawi was “a radicalizer, recruiter, and facilitator” for Islamic State who aspired to die a martyr fighting for ISIS.
Prosecutors argued that Badawi deserved the same sentence as Elhuzayel.
“Their crimes are equally serious, their prospects for rehabilitation are equally bleak, and the need to protect the public from their future crimes and crimes by others like them is the same,” they wrote in a memorandum to the U.S. district court in Santa Ana, California, earlier this month.
Badawi’s defense attorney, Kate Corrigan of Corrigan, Welbourn, Stokke, had pushed for a 15-year sentence, arguing that unlike Elhuzayel, her client did not have a ticket in his hand to leave the country and join ISIS.
She said she plans to appeal the conviction and the sentence.
“The real message from today’s hearing is that anyone who thinks they want to support ISIS or even dabble in its rhetoric better be ready to serve a lot of time in prison,” Corrigan said.
Badawi was apprehended on May 21, 2015, the same day Elhuzayel was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport while attempting to travel to Tel Aviv, Israel, before heading to Istanbul, Turkey.
Badawi, who emigrated to the U.S. from Sudan in 2006, gave Elhuzayel access to a debit card linked to his Pell grant funds to purchase his one-way plane ticket, in violation of federal financial aid rules.
The two men made their travel arrangements four days after a May 4 attack by two gunmen on a heavily guarded Texas exhibit of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad. Both of the gunmen were killed by a police officer during the attack.
(This story corrects day in 1st paragraph to Wednesday, instead of Monday, and corrects convicted offense to a charge of “conspiring to provide material” support to Islamic State, instead of a charge of “providing material support” in 2nd paragraph)
Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and David Gregorio
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