MANHATTAN (CN) — Piecing together how a New York student died for the Islamic State group, a jury heard clashing accounts Tuesday of the man accused of smuggling him into Syria.
Defense attorney Annalisa Miron introduced the court to Ahmed Mohammed El Gammal as “Jimmy,” a 44-year-old, all-American man who smokes Marlboro cigarettes, drinks Red Bull, and had the misfortune of making a bad Facebook connection.
“He goes to the shooting range,” Miron said, showing the jury a photo of her client at the observatory of Empire State Building. “He listens to R&B music. He has a poster of Marilyn Monroe. He is a fan of Jimmy Carter.”
El Gammal’s trial begins just over a year after 24-year-old Samy Mohammed El-Goarany died in November 2015 on the Syrian battlefield.
Prosecutors say the New York-based El-Goarany made it to Syria because El Gammal connected him with someone in Turkey who could help him cross the border.
Ateia Aboualala, an Egyptian journalist and supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, had been living in exile in Istanbul, Turkey, since being shot during the Arab Spring.
El Gammal, of Arizona, insists that he coordinated a meeting that never came to pass, and the men went their separate ways.
Just two weeks after his Aug. 25, 2015, arrest, El Goarany uploaded a video on YouTube in which he took sole responsibility for his arrival in Syria.
"Nobody financed me to come here," El Goarany said, as quoted in court filings. "Nobody bought my plane ticket. All that with my own money. Nobody showed me the way to get here. And nobody helped me along the way to get here — including Ahmed Mohammed El Gammal, in America. And I'm making this video just to let the authorities know this."
Speaking of this video, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew James DeFilippis told the jury: "It is a transparent and almost ridiculous denial."
Pointing at the defendant, DeFilipis denied that El Goarany acted alone.
“He did it with the help of this man, Ahmed Mohammed El Gammal,” the prosecutor said. “He acted as a launching pad for El Goarany’s mission.”
El Goarany’s father and brother will be testifying for the government at trial, but defense attorney Miron noted that both have immunity for lying to the FBI.
DeFilippis told the court that the family found out about El Goarany’s death after receiving an email with a handwritten letter.
“If you are reading this, then know that I have been killed in battle and am with our Lord,” the message said.
The prosecutor highlighted El Gammal’s social media rants, depicting him as an extremist.
El Gammal declared that he was “with The State,” a phrase prosecutors interpret as support for ISIS.
The Arizonan also supported beheadings as having a “magical effect,” and said that he wanted to “torture the Egyptians,” according to the government’s case.
Witness testimony will begin on Wednesday morning.
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