May 22, 2015 / 6:44 AM / 4 years ago

Two California men charged with seeking to help Islamic State

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two Southern California men were charged on Friday with conspiring to travel to the Middle East to join the militant group Islamic State, U.S. prosecutors said, a day after one of the men was arrested at the Los Angeles airport.

The arrests on Thursday of Anaheim residents Muhanad Badawi and Nader Elhuzayel, both 24, represent the latest case of U.S. authorities cracking down on individuals they believe are seeking to join the group, which is fighting in Syria and Iraq.

On May 3, Elhuzayel tweeted his support for two men who that day attacked an exhibit of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in Garland, Texas, and were shot to death by police, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Badawi and Elhuzayel were recorded talking to each other last month when they expressed support for Islamic State and said they wished to die on the battlefield, according to an affidavit filed in court.

On May 7, Badawi allowed Elhuzayel to use his credit card to buy a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv in Israel on a Turkish Airlines flight, with the plane scheduled to stop in Istanbul, according to prosecutors.

Elhuzayel, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, was arrested late on Thursday at Los Angeles International Airport and admitted to investigators he had planned to disembark in Istanbul to travel to join Islamic State, authorities said.

Badawi had indicated he planned to eventually travel to the Middle East, prosecutors said. He was arrested on Thursday at a gas station near his home, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

The two men appeared in federal court on Friday where a magistrate judge granted a request from prosecutors to detain Badawi without bond, U.S. Attorney spokesman Thom Mrozek said in an email.

Elhuzayel will be held at least until a detention hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

If convicted of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State, each man would face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.

Badawi’s attorney, Katherine Corrigan, said in a phone interview the immigrant from Sudan attends college and has no criminal record. Badawi looks forward to presenting a defense, she said.

“He appears to me to be a very respectful young man,” she said.

Elhuzayel’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

Last month, six Somali-American men from Minnesota were arrested and charged with plotting to travel to Syria to fight for Islamic State.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Bill Trott, Sandra Maler and Eric Beech

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