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Press Release

Two Orange County Men Convicted of Conspiring to Join ISIL; They also Engaged in Fraud to Finance One’s Trip to Syria

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California

          SANTA ANA, California – A federal jury today convicted two Orange County men – one of whom attempted to travel to the Middle East to join ISIL – of conspiring to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

          Nader Elhuzayel and Muhanad Badawi, both of whom are 25-year-old Anaheim residents, were convicted today in United States District Court following a two-week trial.  Elhuzayel also was found guilty of attempting to provide material support, and Badawi was found guilty of aiding and abetting the attempt to provide support to ISIL.

          In addition to the terrorism-related counts, Elhuzayel was found guilty of 26 counts of bank fraud, and Badawi was found guilty of one count of federal financial aid fraud. The jury deliberated for just over an hour before returning its guilty verdicts.

          Both men were arrested on May 21, 2015, when Elhuzayel attempted to board a plane at Los Angeles International Airport to travel to Turkey to join ISIL. Badawi had purchased a one-way ticket on Turkish Airlines for Elhuzayel to travel to Israel, with a layover in Istanbul.

          Badawi and Elhuzayel used social media to discuss ISIL and terrorist attacks, expressed a desire to die as martyrs, and made arrangements for Elhuzayel to leave the United States to join ISIL. In recorded conversations, Badawi and Elhuzayel “discussed how it would be a blessing to fight for the cause of Allah, and to die in the battlefield,” and they referred to ISIL as “we.”

          The evidence at trial also showed that Badawi had a Facebook account, on which he made posts that supported ISIL and violence aimed at non-Muslims, and he said he intended to join the terrorist organization. Elhuzayel also had a Facebook account and used the ISIL flag as his profile picture. “On October 21, 2014, defendant Badawi made a video of defendant Elhuzayel in which defendant Elhuzayel swore allegiance to the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and pledged to travel to Syria to be an ISIS fighter,” according to court documents.

          Elhuzayel was convicted of obtaining cash through a scheme to defraud three different banks by depositing stolen checks into his personal checking accounts and then withdrawing cash at branch offices and ATMs in Orange County. The money generated from the bank fraud was to finance his travel to Syria to join ISIL.

          Badawi was convicted of using his federal financial aid to purchase a plane ticket for Elhuzayel to travel to Turkey. The time of the fraud and the time of the terrorist activity coincide.

          “These two defendants betrayed their country and sought to join ISIL, a terrorist organization dedicated to brutally murdering innocent people,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The FBI and the Orange County Joint Terrorism Task Force did outstanding work in investigating and apprehending these men before their plans could be completed. The fine work of law enforcement undoubtedly saved lives, both in the United States and abroad.”

          “These convictions are a message to those who aim to travel to take up arms with ISIL and to those who support them – the FBI and our partners are determined to thwart your efforts,” said Deirdre Fike, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The JTTF’s proactive identification of these subjects and disruption of a terrorist conspiracy is a coup in the fight against the scourge of ISIL. At trial, the jury heard evidence that Mr. Badawi also encouraged other associates to support ISIL and participate in violent jihad. This is a reminder that our work is not done and the public must remain steadfast and report suspicious behavior, whether that behavior is carried out in person or online.”

          After the jury returned its verdicts, United States District Judge David O. Carter scheduled Elhuzayel’s sentencing hearing for September 19 and Badawi’s sentencing hearing for September 26.

          At the time of sentencing, Elhuzayel will face a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison on each bank fraud count, Badawi faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years imprisonment on the financial aid fraud count, and both men each face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in prison on each count of providing material support to ISIL.

          Both men have been held in federal custody without bond since their arrests.

          The investigation in this case was conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Orange County, which includes the following agencies: the Anaheim Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, the Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the United States Secret Service, IRS – Criminal Investigation, the City of Orange Police Department, the Irvine Police Department, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Orange County Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory. The Department of Education, Office of Inspector General provided substantial assistance in the investigation.

          The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Judith A. Heinz and Deirdre Z. Eliot of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section, and Julius J. Nam of the General Crimes Section.

Updated May 7, 2018

Press Release Number: 16-139