NEW YORK (AP) — An Arizona man charged with conspiring to help a terrorism group provided a "launching pad" for a New York college student to join the Islamic State group in Syria, a prosecutor told jurors at the opening of his trial.
But a defense lawyer said her client was being blamed as a scapegoat.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew DeFilippis urged Manhattan federal court jurors to carefully listen to evidence against 44-year-old Ahmed Mohammed el-Gammal before convicting the Avondale, Arizona, resident at a trial expected to last up to a month. He said el-Gammal wasn't a fighter or a terrorist operative but assisted the Islamic State by helping Samy el-Goarany reach Syria, where he trained and fought for the group.
DeFilippis said el-Gammal helped the Islamic State "find one more person, one more recruit, one more fighter who was willing to train, to fight and to kill."
He said el-Gammal communicated online with el-Goarany and visited him in New York for two days in October 2014, just weeks before el-Goarany flew to Turkey on his way to Syria.
DeFilippis said jurors would see a video el-Goarany made after el-Gammal's arrest in which the 24-year-old, clad in military fatigues, insists he got himself to Syria without help from others. The prosecutor called it "a transparent, almost ridiculous denial, powerful proof of what did happen."
He said el-Goarany's parents and brother were desperately trying to get him to return home when they received a letter in fall 2015 saying he was killed in battle. He said trial witnesses would include family members who will describe the words and actions of el-Goarany in the days before he left the United States.
"He was too far down the path the defendant had helped pave for him," DeFilippis said. "He acted as a launching pad for el-Goarany's mission."
Defense attorney Annalisa Miron said the trial should end in acquittal.
"Mr. Ahmed el-Gammal is not guilty," she said.
Miron said her client was a typical American who smokes cigarettes, listens to rhythm and blues music and takes weekend trips to Las Vegas.
She said members of el-Goarany's family, including his brother and a cousin, knew he was going to join the Islamic State group. She said the Baruch College student planned his own trip to Syria.
"The government is looking for somebody to blame," she said.
If convicted, el-Gammal could face decades in prison.