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Americans keep getting busted for allegedly trying to join the Islamic State

Three US citizens were either charged with or convicted of attempting to join the militant group on Tuesday.

by VICE News and Reuters
Jun 22 2016, 3:40pm

Nader Elhuzayel, 25, is pictured going through security at LAX on May 21, 2015, the day he was arrested in this handout photo. (US Attorney's Office (Los Angeles)/Handout via Reuters)

Three Americans were charged with or convicted of attempting to join the Islamic State on Tuesday, according to the US Justice Department.

In Indiana, an 18-year-old man who authorities say planned to fly to Morocco and travel to Islamic State-controlled territory to join the group was arrested in Indiana.

And in California, a jury convicted two men on several charges related to their attempt to enlist one of them as a fighter for the Islamic State.

In the Indiana case, FBI agents arrested Akram Musleh of Brownsburg as he was attempting to board a bus from Indianapolis to New York, from where he planned to fly to Morocco, the bureau said in a statement.

"The criminal complaint alleges that he planned to provide personnel (himself) to ISIL," the statement added, referring to the militant Islamist group.

If convicted, Musleh faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a lifetime of supervised release and a $250,000 fine, the statement said.

Related: DOJ releases uncensored transcript of Omar Mateen's 911 call during the Orlando shooting

In the California case, two men from Anaheim were found guilty on Tuesday of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants, one of them going so far as to attempt to travel to the Middle East to join the extremist group, federal prosecutors said.

A US District Court jury in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, returned the guilty verdicts against Nader Elhuzayel and Muhanad Badawi, both 25, after deliberating for just over an hour, according to the US Attorney's Office. The decision caps a two-week trial.

In addition to convictions on charges of plotting to provide material support to a terrorist organization, Elhuzayel was found guilty of actually attempting to provide such support and Badawi was found guilty of aiding and abetting those attempts.

Those counts stem from aborted arrangements the two men made for Elhuzayel to travel to Syria, where he intended to enlist as a fighter for Islamic State, prosecutors said.

Moreover, the jury convicted Elhuzayel on 26 counts of bank fraud, and Badawi on a single count of financial aid fraud in connection with their conspiracy, according to a US Attorney's Office statement.

Both men were arrested on May 21, 2015, when Elhuzayel tried to board a Turkish Airlines plane at Los Angeles International Airport for a flight to Turkey, from which point he planned to make his way to the Syrian border, prosecutors said.

Elhuzayel's one-way plane ticket, for a flight to Israel that included a layover stop in Istanbul, had been purchased by Badawi, authorities said.

Related: The Islamic State is shrinking but it's still bigger than al-Qaeda ever was, CIA director says

Weeks before, according to prosecutors, Elhuzayel had tweeted his support for two gunmen who had attacked an exhibit of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad in Garland, Texas, and were shot to death by police.

According to court documents, Elhuzayel previously appeared in a video swearing allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and pledging to join the militant group as a fighter.

Prosecutors said Badawi and Elhuzayel also used social media to express their support for Islamic State. In recorded conversations they "discussed how it would be a blessing to fight for the cause of Allah, and to die in the battlefield," according to the US attorney statement.

Sentencing was set for September. Elhuzayel faces up to 30 years in prison on each bank fraud count, Badawi up to five years for financial aid fraud. Both men face up to 15 years on each charge related to material support for terrorists.

More than 250 Americans have joined or tried to fight with Islamic State in Syria and Iraq since 2011, according to a September 2015 bipartisan congressional taskforce report.

At least 80 men and women have been charged by federal prosecutors for connections to Islamic State, and more than 30 have been convicted.

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