MANHATTAN (CN) – During the first day of witness testimony, Justice Department lawyers making the case that an Arizona man helped a New York college student get to Turkey on a fatal journey to join the Islamic State delved into the social media and online footprints left by the pair.
During what the defense called a “pile-on” of ISIL-related videos, the jury was shown the first two parts of the Peabody-award winning 2014 Vice News special “The Islamic State,” which was entered as evidence because defendant Mohammed El Gammal had posted a link to one part of the five-part special on his Facebook page and used Facebook Messenger to send a link to another part to a friend who expressed an ambivalence toward the terrorist group’s extremism.
The second part of the “The Islamic State” shows children and teenagers pledging allegiance to the then-newly established caliphate, explicitly declaring themselves “jihadists” out to fight “infidels” in Europe and the United States.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brendan Quigley and the witness, Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent Komaal Collie, acted out Facebook communications between the 44-year-old defendant and 24-year-old Samy Mohammed El-Goarany, both before and after the latter made it to Turkey.
Collie was a case agent for the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, investigating El-Goarany from July 2015 through November 2015, when the feds seized his Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Collie explained that El-Goarany’s computer would have been a helpful piece evidence in the investigation had it not been smashed and left in dumpster. El-Goarany’s brother Tarek helped El-Goarany destroy the computer, and is expected to take the stand during the trial.
In cases where El Gammal deleted messages on his end, El-Goarany’s Facebook filled in the blanks and – vice versa.
The Facebook messages show the pair discussing encrypted messaging apps including Cryptocat, surespot, Viper and PQ Chat. They also exchanged traveling advice about currency-exchange rates and public transportation.
While the government attorneys sought to expose what they called El Gammal’s “jihadi personality,” his responses to El-Goarany’s Facebook messages were frequently curt and non-engaging – like “cool,” sometimes spelled “kool.”
El-Goarany never mentioned the Islamic State by name in the Facebook messages entered into evidence. Instead, he referred to a “career opportunity in Istanbul,” “an internship in the summer” and told El Gammal, “The sooner I can start the internship the better, u know what i mean?”
Social media silence followed El-Goarany’s arrival in Turkey. He resurfaced on Facebook a couple months later in May 2015, letting friends and family know he settled in Syria and was “safe, happy, healthy and training.”
El Gammal is accused of connecting El-Goarany to Ateia Aboualala, an Egyptian journalist and sympathizer of the Muslim Brotherhood living in exile in Istanbul after being shot during the Arab Spring. El Gammal’s defense insists that the coordinated meeting that never happened, and the men went their separate ways.
Facebook messages between El-Goarany and Aboualala shown as evidence Wednesday suggested that Aboualala did not pick up El-Goarany at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul in January 2015, and that a language barrier between the two proved to be too difficult for El-Goarany, a New Yorker. Facebook messages showed El-Gammel suggested the young man use Google Translate.
Witness testimony continues Thursday.