U.S. News

Arizona man convicted of helping college student join Islamic State

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Arizona man was convicted on Monday of charges that he provided support to Islamic State by helping a New York City college student travel to Syria, where he died fighting for the militant group.

File Photo: Samy Mohammed El-Goarany, a New York college student who prosecutors say died fighting for Islamic State is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters January 18, 2017. U.S. Attorney's Office/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

Ahmed Mohammed El Gammal, 44, was found guilty by a Manhattan federal jury on all four counts he faced, including that he provided material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

Jurors in a note said they reached their verdict after what they called a “difficult deliberation.” The verdict came on the third day of deliberations in the case, which centered in part on evidence collected from social media.

“Once again, we have shown that terrorists and terrorist enablers can be brought to justice fairly, openly, and swiftly in the crown jewel of our justice system -- civilian courts,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

A lawyer for El Gammal had no comment. He faces a mandatory-minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 55 years.

El Gammal is one of more than 100 people to face U.S. charges since 2014 in cases related to the Islamic State, which controls parts of Syria and Iraq and has claimed responsibility for bombings and shootings of civilians in other countries.

The case stemmed from El Gammal’s interactions with Samy Mohammed El-Goarany, a 24-year-old student at Baruch College in Manhattan, who prosecutors said had become obsessed with Islamic State and wanted to fight with it.

Prosecutors said El Gammal, an Egyptian-born Phoenix resident, was a supporter of Islamic State who had settled in America and, after befriending El-Goarany online, decided to guide the student toward his goal.

In October 2014, El Gammal traveled to New York, met with El-Goarany and put him in touch with a friend in Istanbul who could help him travel to join Islamic State, prosecutors said.

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 died fighting with Islamic State, prosecutors said.

El Gammal’s lawyers denied that El Gammal knew about El-Goarany’s plans, saying the student misled people into believing he was traveling to do humanitarian work.

They said while El Gammal may have made statements supporting Islamic State, he took no actions to facilitate El-Goarany’s goals, and that his friend in Turkey belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood and would not have supported them either.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Diane Craft and Lisa Shumaker