Two Southern California men arrested, accused of trying to join ISIS

Story highlights

NEW: "He'd never be a terrorist," father of one of the men tells CNN affiliate

The two men made initial court appearances Friday afternoon

One of the men was arrested at LAX allegedly en route to joining ISIS in Mideast, feds say

Los Angeles CNN  — 

Two Southern California men have been arrested on federal charges of conspiring to support ISIS, authorities said.

FBI agents arrested Muhanad Badawi, 24, and Nader Elhuzayel, 24, both of Anaheim, on Thursday night.

They made initial court appearances Friday afternoon in a federal court in Santa Ana, according to a statement by the office of U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura in Los Angeles.

The men and their attorneys couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

CNN affiliate KTLA talked to Salem Elhuzayel, father of Nader Elhuzayel, who said his son was traveling to a town in southern Israel. He said it was not possible that his son was secretly trying to join ISIS.

In the courtroom on Friday are defendants Nader Elhuzayel (in red, in foreground) and Muhanad Badawi (in upper right). Behind them, to left, is a U.S. marshal.

“(He’d) never be a terrorist,” Salem Elhuzayel told the Los Angeles-based station. “No way that he kept that from us. Nader is just an innocent human being who was traveling to go home to see his (relatives).”

Nader Elhuzayel’s mother said her children have always lived in the United States.

Badawi and Elhuzayel allegedly used Twitter and other social media to discuss terrorist attacks, authorities said. The two allegedly expressed a desire to die as jihad martyrs and made arrangements for Elhuzayel to leave the United States to join ISIS, authorities said.

Badawi allegedly allowed Elhuzayel to use his credit card on May 7 to buy a one-way flight from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv, Israel, via Istanbul, Turkey, on a Turkish Airlines flight scheduled to depart on May 21, authorities said in a statement.

Badawi planned to travel to the Mideast at another time in the future, authorities said in affidavit.

Elhuzayel was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport, authorities said.

In the courtroom on Friday are defendant Nader Elhuzayel (in red, at left) with his attorney and defendant Muhanad Badawi (in gray shirt, center right) with his attorney Kate Corrigan. Magistrate judge is Robert Block.

Elhuzayel was read his Miranda rights and later gave a statement to investigators that he planned to disembark in Istanbul to join ISIS and didn’t intend to travel to Israel, authorities said.

Conversations between the two men about their plans were recorded, authorities said.

Authorities outlined the two men’s plans in an affidavit filed by FBI Special Agent Ashley Mericle.

In recorded conversations last month, Badawi and Elhuzayel “discussed how it would be a blessing to fight for the cause of Allah, and to die in the battlefield,” authorities said, citing the affidavit.

When Badawi expressed concerns about ISIS struggling due to airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition, Elhuzayel responded that they had to be patient and added, “Can you imagine when al-Qaeda joins with Islamic State,” authorities said.

Badawi responded, “We will be huge,” authorities alleged.

If convicted of the charge in the criminal complaint, Badawi and Elhuzayel each would face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years, authorities said.

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