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Arizona man charged for helping N.Y. student join ISIS

NEW YORK -- An Arizona man was indicted Thursday on charges that he helped a New York college student join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria, where the student underwent religious and military training earlier this year.

Ahmed Mohammed el Gammal, also known as Jammie Gammal, was indicted in Manhattan federal court, where the case is being prosecuted. He was arrested Monday in Avondale, Arizona, on a criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday in Manhattan. A bail hearing was scheduled for Friday in Phoenix federal court.

A message left with a lawyer representing Gammal was not immediately returned.

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In the complaint, FBI Agent Le T. Nguyen described how the 24-year-old student at a Manhattan school began communicating in August 2014 with the 42-year-old Gammal, who helped arrange for him to meet a contact in Turkey in January. That contact then helped the student get to Syria, the complaint said.

"These relationships were allegedly made and solidified through the internet while Gammal was in Arizona," said Assistant Director in Charge Diego G. Rodriguez of the FBI's New York Field Office. "This is another example of how social media is utilized for nefarious and criminal purposes around the world."

The student, identified in court papers as "CC-1," was described in the complaint as a U.S. citizen who lived in Queens and whose parents live in Orange County, New York.

In the student's communications with Gammal, the contact in Turkey identified in court papers as "CC-2," and with his brother, he sometimes spoke in code, using "Internship" or "Interview" to refer to joining the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, court papers said.

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New York Police Department Commissioner William J. Bratton said the investigation "demonstrates how easily people can support a terrorist organization without ever meeting, from the anonymity of their own computer and hidden behind obscure social media accounts and the veil of the Internet."

According to the court papers, the student's brother expressed skepticism during a social media exchange in May about whether certain ISIS acts were justified in the Quran, causing the student to ask whether he was talking about "the bonfire, or the one on the beach."

The complaint said the references were apparently to the widely publicized mass execution of Christians on a Libyan beach in April 2015 and the immolation of a Jordanian pilot in February.

"The National Security Division's highest priority is counterterrorism, and we will continue to pursue justice against those who seek to provide material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations," said Assistant Attorney General Carlin.

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The complaint said the student expressed reservations about the mass execution of the Christians but said he supported the execution of the pilot because "this guy was dropping tons of campfires on our people living all over the forests."

The complaint said the student told Gammal on May 7 that he was "doing well and I just wanna let u know im safe and secure and everything is going according to plan."

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Gammal had touted his support for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria online, attracting the attention of the student.

Prosecutors said Gammal met the student in New York City last October as he helped with his travel plans.

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