NEW YORK (AP) — The outcome of Manhattan's first Islamic State-related terrorism trial may hinge on the testimony of family members of a New York college student who died in Syria, a likelihood illustrated Thursday when a legal fight erupted over photographs that may confirm his death.
The yet-to-occur testimony by the family members in the trial of an Arizona man, Ahmed Mohammed el-Gammal, was promised in opening statements by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew DeFilippis. He told jurors the family members could describe how the student, Samy el-Goarany, acted before he headed to Syria in January 2015 to join the Islamic State.
El-Gammal has pleaded not guilty to charges that he aided the Islamic State terror group by helping el-Goarany get to Syria.
On Thursday, defense attorney Annalisa Miron told U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos that she had asked prosecutors to provide original versions of photographs given to the government by el-Goarany's father, Mohamed, that "purport to depict" his son's death.
She said the defense team for el-Gammal, who lives in a Phoenix suburb, only learned in November about the pictures after they noted that there was no proof that el-Goarany was dead beyond a letter sent to his family in late 2015 claiming that he had been killed while fighting.
She said the defense may challenge introduction of the pictures as evidence at the trial on the grounds that they cannot be authenticated and it can't be explained exactly when and how they were received by the family.
DeFilippis said the father does not recall exactly when he received the pictures and a recent search he conducted of his electronic devices did not reveal the information either. The prosecutor said the father apparently received the pictures through an electronic transmission and then had another son email it to prosecutors.
Miron suggested in her opening statement earlier this week that el-Goarany may have had plenty of help getting to Syria, including from family members. She said el-Gammal was not guilty and would be proven so.
Already, prosecutors have introduced evidence that el-Goarany, after leaving for Syria, communicated electronically with his father, his brother Tarek el-Goarany and his cousin, Ahmed el-Goarany.
Prosecutors say there is little evidence of el-Gammal and el-Goarany speaking directly about the Islamic State because they usually spoke in code.
Over objections by the defense, prosecutors have shown jurors two videos depicting violence involving the terror group. In one, a prisoner is seen falling in a field after being shot and, in another, the heads of decapitated Syrian regime soldiers are seen on fence posts.
Miron has told jurors that el-Goarany had attended Baruch College in New York City. Prosecutors say he told his parents he was returning to school when he left for Syria instead.