NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Arizona man went on trial on Tuesday on charges that he provided support to Islamic State by helping a New York college student travel to Syria, where he died fighting for the militants.
In his opening statement, a prosecutor told jurors in Manhattan federal court that Ahmed Mohammed El Gammal, 44, had in 2015 helped the student, whom he met online, to join Islamic State. It controls parts of Syria and Iraq and has claimed responsibility for bombings and shootings of civilians in other countries.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew DeFilippis said El Gammal put Samy Mohammed El-Goarany, a 24-year-old student at Baruch College in Manhattan, in touch with an associate in Turkey who could help him continue on to Syria.
“His journey to ISIS began right here in New York City,” said DeFilippis, using another name for Islamic State. “And it succeeded with the help of the defendant.”
But Annalisa Miron, El Gammal’s lawyer, said the Egyptian-born Phoenix resident neither knew what El-Goarany was planning, nor did many others outside of a pair of the student’s relatives. She said El Gammal was being made into a “scapegoat.”
“The government is looking for someone to blame, and they chose him,” Miron said.
El Gammal, who has pleaded not guilty, is one of more than 100 people to face U.S. charges since 2014 in cases related to Islamic State.
Prosecutors have said El-Goarany first met El Gammal online after learning of online comments he posted supporting Islamic State. El Gammal later traveled to New York and met El-Goarany, the prosecutor said.
El-Goarany subsequently traveled to Istanbul from New York in January 2015, and sometime in mid-February arrived in Syria, prosecutors have said.
After learning of El Gammal’s arrest, El-Goarany posted a video on YouTube denying he had helped him, saying he went of his own will, prosecutors said.
In November 2015, an unidentified person via an instant messaging platform contacted one of El-Goarany’s relatives to report that he had been killed fighting in Syria, prosecutors said.
They said that person provided the relative with photographs of a note from El-Goarany that said “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 Alistair Bell and Grant McCool