MANHATTAN (CN) — After a federal jury swiftly convicted Arizona resident Ahmed Mohammed el-Gammal on Monday of helping Islamic State group, prosecutors hailed the verdict as a vindication of the civilian court system spurned by President Donald Trump.
El-Gammal, 44, now faces decades in prison for helping a 24-year-old New Yorker named Samy Mohammed el-Goarany join up with the designated terrorist group on the Syrian battlefield.
As the first Islamic State-related prosecution in New York, el-Gammal’s prosecution doubled as a test in political circles over the future of the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay.
Trump made his preference for military courts clear during his campaign and even said it would be “fine” to try U.S. citizens there. Earlier this month, a draft executive order surfaced that, among other things, would reverse America’s commitment to closing the military detention camp in Cuba.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara described El Gammal’s conviction Monday as evidence of the strength of civilian courts.
“Once again, we have shown that terrorists and terrorist enablers can be brought to justice fairly, openly, and swiftly in the crown jewel of our justice system – civilian courts,” Bharara said in a statement.
In 2014, el-Gammal coordinated with a Turkish journalist to smuggle el-Goarany across the border to Syria.
Now presumed dead, el-Goarany sent his older brother a handwritten letter last year saying: “If you’re reading this, then know that I’ve been killed in battle and am now with our Lord, inshaAllah.”
Bharara said el-Goarany may not have joined ISIS’s ranks without el-Gammal’s help.
“An ambassador for ISIS right here in America, el-Gammal actively touted and glamorized ISIS online, ultimately recruiting and helping a New York college student travel to an ISIS camp in Syria for military training,” the U.S. attorney said, using a common abbreviation for the Islamic State group. “That New Yorker died waging jihad, and for el-Gammal’s active role in sending him down that trail to terror, he now stands convicted of federal terrorism crimes.”
Describing the jury’s deliberations following the verdict, the foreman told reporters about how his fellow jurors pored over el-Gammal’s communications with el-Goarany on social media.
In one Facebook message, el-Goarany said that beheadings have a “magical effect,” and he proudly declared himself to be “with the state,” referring to ISIS.
The juror, a nonprofit manager from Rockland County, declined to give his name.
El-Gammal’s attorney Sabrina Shroff tried to poke holes in the testimony of el-Goarany’s brother and father, who were both granted immunity in exchange for their testimony on the witness stand.
Shroff characterized el-Gammal as the scapegoat for a family she said had played a greater role in the young man’s recruitment.
The foreman agreed that the jury had been “bothered” by the family’s behavior but that, “at the end of the day, they weren’t on trial.”
Shroff also failed to sway jurors that el-Gammal had been prosecuted for his extreme opinions rather than for his actions.
“This is America,” the foreman said. “We have [the] freedom to say things people dislike. That’s his right. We did not hold it at all against him.”
A sentencing date has not yet been set.