NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal prosecutor on Wednesday urged jurors to convict an Arizona man who she said played a vital role in helping a New York college student travel to Syria, where he died fighting for Islamic State.
In her closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Negar Tekeei told a federal jury in Manhattan that Mohammed El Gammal, 44, was a “steadfast and enthusiastic supporter” of Islamic State who in an online message had said he was “with the State.”
Tekeei said the Egyptian-born Phoenix resident shared his support in encrypted messages with Samy Mohammed El-Goarany, a 24-year-old student at Baruch College in Manhattan, who like El Gammal had become “obsessed” with Islamic State.
She said El Gammal, settled in his American life, decided to guide the student toward his goal, traveling to New York in October 2014 to vet El-Goarany before putting him in touch with a friend in Istanbul who helped him get to Syria.
“It was the defendant who paved the way for that,” she said.
But Sabrina Shroff, El Gammal’s lawyer, said he did not know about El-Goarany’s plan, saying the student misled people into believing he was planning to do humanitarian work in Syria and followed steps in an Islamic State manual to join it.
While El Gammal was not shy in his views, Shroff said no evidence existed showing he took any actions. She also said El Gammal’s friend in Turkey belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood and would not have helped El-Goarany join Islamic State.
“Samy, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is the only terrorist in this case,” she said.
El Gammal is one of more than 100 people to face U.S. charges since 2014 in cases related to Islamic State, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq and has claimed responsibility for bombings and shootings of civilians in other countries.
According to prosecutors, El-Goarany ultimately flew to Istanbul from New York in January 2015, and sometime after arrived in Syria, where he received religious and military training and fought with Islamic State.
Prosecutors said that in November 2015, an unidentified person via an instant messaging platform contacted El-Goarany’s brother to report that he had been killed fighting in Syria.
In a photograph of the hand-written note shown to jurors, El-Goarany wrote that “if you’re reading this then know that I’ve been killed in battle and am now with our Lord Insha’Allah.”
Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Bernard Orr