(Reuters) - Two Southern California men pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of conspiring to travel to the Middle East to join the militant group Islamic State, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The arrests last month of Anaheim residents Muhanad Badawi and Nader Elhuzayel, both 24, are among a string of cases showing a crackdown by U.S. authorities on individuals they believe are seeking to join the group.
The pair pleaded not guilty to the charge of conspiring “to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization” filed in federal court in Orange County, California, the Los Angeles Times reported.
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.
In a recorded conversation in April, Badawi and Elhuzayel 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 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.
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 last month that the immigrant from Sudan attends college and has no criminal record. Badawi looks forward to presenting a defense, she said.
In April, six Somali-American men from Minnesota were arrested and charged with plotting to travel to Syria to fight for Islamic State.
Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Ryan Woo