2 arrested in Calif. terror probe wanted to be martyrs
Santa Ana, Calif. — Two California men arrested by the FBI wanted to join the Islamic State group and bought a plane ticket for one of them to travel to Turkey with the hope of becoming a martyr, federal prosecutors said Friday.
The U.S. attorney’s office charged 24-year-olds Nader Elhuzayel and Muhanad Badawi with conspiring to provide material support to a terrorism group. The men are expected to make a court appearance Friday afternoon in Santa Ana.
Elhuzayel was taken into custody at Los Angeles International Airport, and Badawi was arrested late Thursday in Anaheim, where both men live, authorities said.
The two men discussed their support for the Islamic State on social media and in conversation, saying it would be a blessing to join the fight and die on the battlefield, prosecutors said in a complaint.
About two weeks later, Badawi let Elhuzayel use his debit card to buy a one-way Tel Aviv, Israel-bound plane ticket with a six-hour layover in Istanbul, Turkey, the complaint said.
Elhuzayel had met a Palestinian woman on the Internet he planned to marry who shared his support of the Islamic State group, according to the complaint. Badawi told another man about Elhuzayel’s plan, saying “I’m gonna join soon. I don’t know how soon, but I will go,” the complaint said.
After his arrest, Elhuzayel told authorities he was planning on getting off the plane in Turkey and traveling to fight with the Islamic State, the complaint said.
If convicted, each man could face a maximum sentence of 15 years, prosecutors said.
Salem Elhuzayel, Elhuzayel’s father, told the Orange County Register that he had dropped off his son for an Israel-bound flight so he could visit Palestinian aunts and cousins.
“I think they’re looking for a victim,” he said. “He’s an innocent human being.”
FBI and SWAT officials searched the family’s Anaheim motel room, where they have been living since they were evicted from their home, after they returned from the airport, Salem Elhuzayel said.
Badawi’s sister and brother declined to comment on the allegations.