NEW YORK (AP) — A New York college student killed fighting for the Islamic State group in Syria made a video trying to clear the name of an Arizona man who was charged with helping him join, prosecutors said.
The 24-year-old student’s November death was revealed in papers filed Monday and Tuesday in Manhattan federal court. The student was identified in court papers as Samy El-Goarany.
The Arizona man, Ahmed Mohammed el Gammal, who’s accused of helping the student travel to Syria and receive military and religious-style training, was arrested last year and has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers said the video is unreliable and “overly prejudicial” and should be precluded from a trial scheduled for December.
Prosecutors say El-Goarany left his parents’ home in Middletown, New York, in January 2015, telling them he was returning to his Manhattan college. Instead, the government said, he flew to Turkey and then Syria.
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Reached by phone, El-Goarany’s father said the family didn’t wish to speak. Court papers did not identify El-Goarany’s college.
Prosecutors said an unidentified person contacted a relative in November to say El-Goarany was killed fighting in Syria. The person provided photographs of a handwritten note in which the student said, “If you’re reading this then know that I’ve been killed in battle,” prosecutors said.
The government also said it had found a YouTube video in which El-Goarany, clad in military fatigues, said on Sept. 8, 2015, two weeks after el Gammal’s arrest, that he was in the “Islamic State.”
Prosecutors said El-Goarany claimed in the video in an “unabashed effort to falsely exculpate el Gammal — that no one assisted him in traveling to Syria, including ‘Ahmed Mohammed El Gammal.”
Prosecutors argued in the court papers that the video should be admissible at trial to show El-Goarany went to Syria to join the Islamic State group and that he and his co-conspirators took extensive measures to maintain secrecy in the group’s methods for recruiting personnel and helping recruits travel.
El-Goarany’s lawyers said in court papers that the video depicts their client sitting on a mat in a sparsely decorated room. They say he states his name, explains he is a U.S. citizen “currently residing in the Islamic State” and says el Gammal did not assist him in his travels.
The lawyers said the video should not be shown to jurors because it “constitutes inadmissible hearsay.”
“Additionally, the entire video should be precluded as overly prejudicial,” they wrote, noting that El-Goarany is unavailable to testify at el Gammal’s trial and cannot further explain how el Gammal did not facilitate his travel.
The defense lawyers also challenged the admissibility of El-Goarany’s handwritten note, saying claims of his death were “unreliable,” especially since he had written to his brother weeks earlier to say he might have to fall out of contact because he was being monitored.
“It is not beyond the stretch of the imagination that the letter was written so that El-Goarany could ‘disappear,'” the lawyers wrote.
Associated Press Writer Jake Pearson contributed to this report.