MANHATTAN (CN) — Before dying for the Islamic State group, a New York college student logged on to Facebook for help getting himself to the Syrian battlefield where he died almost a year ago, federal prosecutors said.
In a legal brief filed Monday, federal prosecutors disclosed for the first time that the New York college student, Samy Mohammed El-Goarany, is believed to have died at 24, fighting for the terrorist group.
The revelation came on the road to trial for El-Goarany’s Facebook acquaintance Mohammed El Gammal, who is accused of helping smuggle the student to Syria.
Detailing El-Goarany and El Gammal’s social media chatter in a 38-page memorandum, prosecutors say the men employed encrypted communications used by investigative reporter Glenn Greenwald and National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
El-Goarany shared a link to the Vice News documentary that gave Western viewers a then-unprecedented glimpse into the terrorist group wreaking havoc in the Levant.
According to the prosecutors’ brief, El-Goarany began his Facebook conversation with El Gammal on Aug. 14, 2014, sending him a link to an application to encrypt their communications.
Referring to the software, El-Goarany wrote: “Glenn Greenwald used it when he was in Hong Kong to keep his messages with Edward Snowden private,” prosecutors said.
Greenwald had published in the English newspaper The Guardian a Top Secret order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court leaked to him by Snowden. It was the first of his revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance capabilities that set off national debate about privacy and national security.
Greenwald’s investigative journalism, based on Snowden’s disclosures, sparked legislative reform and multiple federal court rulings finding the NSA’s bulk telephone-data collection program to be illegal.
In the memo in support of their motion in limine, prosecutors ask the court to bar El Gammal’s attorneys from referring to evidence prosecutors obtained through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the justification used for the government’s broad spying powers.
El Gammal’s attorneys say the government’s FISA application has “several possible deficiencies.”
Shining a spotlight on the media, prosecutors claim that El-Goarany sent El Gammal a link to a Vice News documentary in Raqqa, Syria.
The day before this chat, Vice had unveiled the first episode of a five-part series offering unprecedented access to the terrorist group.
Prosecutors said the two men continued to chat over encrypted communications before El Gammal traveled from Phoenix to New York to meet with El-Goarany on Oct. 7, 2014. They say El Gammal connected El Goarany with an unidentified intermediary in Turkey.
Once smuggled into Syria, El Goarany’s social media presence became “more sporadic,” but he kept in touch with El Gammal in a series of coded messages, according to the brief.
After El Gammal was arrested on Aug. 26, 2015, El Goarany and the Turkish intermediary scrambled to cover their tracks.
“Indeed, the evidence at trial will show that this is one of the goals of ISIL, namely, to conceal from law enforcement its means and methods of recruiting as well as the routes and facilitators who assist foreign fighters in traveling to ISIL-controlled territory,” the brief states.
In what prosecutors call an “unabashed effort to falsely exculpate el Gammal,” El Goarany uploaded a video on YouTube on Sept. 8, 2015, insisting upon sole responsibility for his decision to travel to Syria.
“Nobody financed me to come here,” El Goarany said, as quoted in the brief. “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.”
El-Goarany died in Syria roughly two months later, around November 2015.
Prosecutors want U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos to allow them to introduce the evidence to a jury.
El Gammal’s attorneys Daniel Habib and Sabrina Shroff want to bar these chats as “hearsay,” and bar a letter El-Goarany purportedly wrote to his family, stating: “If you’re reading this then know that I’ve been killed in battle.”
“The rule barring the admission of hearsay evidence is generally concerned with the reliability of evidence, as well as fairness and due process,” the 32-page defense brief states. “As far as the defense is aware, the statements regarding El-Goarany’s projected death in battle are unreliable.”
El Gammal’s attorneys filed their motion to suppress the evidence on Tuesday.
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