Lady Justice 4 16-9

A man who was arrested last year at John Wayne Airport while holding a fake passport and allegedly trying to board a flight to Istanbul, Turkey, with the intention of joining ISIS terrorists in Syria pleaded not guilty Monday to federal terrorism-related charges

Adam Dandach, 21, of Orange, was indicted March 4 on a charge of trying to provide support to the ISIS terrorist group. He had previously been indicted on charges of making a false statement on a passport application and using a passport obtained through a false statement.

In the superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana nearly two weeks ago, Dandach was charged with two counts of making a false statement on a passport application obtained to facilitate international terrorism, and single counts of attempting to provide material support and resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization and obstruction of justice, for allegedly trying to destroy records after his arrest last July.

Dandach has been jailed without bond since July 2014. He is tentatively set to go on trial June 16.

Dandanch’s attorney, Pal Lengyel-Leahu, said after the hearing that his client had been bound for the Syria area to help refugees of the civil war, not terrorists.

“He’s always said the same thing. He was going to help with widows and orphans,” Lengyel-Leahu said.

It’s unclear how Dandach intended to help the refugees, his attorney said.

“We don’t know. It was very amorphous, because there’s no specific plan,” Lengyel-Leahu said. “From what I could tell, it was all very vague, kind of naive.”

Dandach, whose father lives in Lebanon, was born and raised in Orange, his attorney said. The defendant legally changed his name while he was in high school.

“I think he’s deeply religious,” the attorney said of his Muslim client.

Lengyel-Leahu said his client has done nothing wrong and that investigators did not do enough to find out why the defendant was headed to Istanbul.

“Certainly, the FBI didn’t care. Their investigation just focused on where he was going,” Lengyel-Leahu said.

Court papers allege that when he was arrested last year, Dandach told federal agents he was traveling to Syria to pledge his allegiance and assistance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, “and that he believed the killings of American soldiers are justified.”

According to the new indictment, Dandach also tried to obstruct the investigation into his activities by instructing a website administrator to delete his posting history.

“It seems really absurd they turn a case like that into a terrorist case,” Lengyel-Leahu said.

U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Thom Mrozek disagreed.

“As alleged in the indictment, Mr. Dandach posed a threat to national security by expressing sympathy with and a willingness to join ISIL,” Mrozek said. “ISIL is a foreign terrorist organization that threatens our interests in several important parts of the world and we’re committed to protecting American resources and personnel by preventing wherever we can the expansion of their forces, and we’re particularly interested in preventing Americans from joining terrorist organizations abroad.”

According to federal court papers that resulted in his detention without bail, he told investigators that “he was traveling to Syria for the purpose of pledging his alliance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, a known terrorist organization, that he would assist ISIS with anything that ISIS asked him to do, and that he believed the killings of U.S. soldiers are justified killings.”

Dandach had applied for an expedited replacement passport in June, stating in the application that he had accidentally thrown the original in the trash while cleaning.

Authorities said his mother actually hid the original passport in a closet to stop him from flying to the Middle East in December.

If convicted, Dandach faces 15 years in federal prison on the material- support charge, 25 years on each of the passport fraud charges and up to 25 years on the obstruction of justice charge.

—City News Service

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