SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) – A 21-year-old California man originally charged with lying on a passport application so he could travel to Syria pleaded not guilty Monday in federal court to new charges that allege he also tried to provide support to a terrorist organization.
Adam Dandach entered the plea during a brief hearing in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana less than two weeks after federal prosecutors enhanced their case against him to include trying to help the Islamic State forces in Syria.
“Mr. Dandach posed a threat to national security by expressing sympathy with, and a willingness to join” Islamic State forces, Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, told reporters. “We’re committed to protecting American resources and personnel by preventing, whenever we can, the expansion of their forces.”
His attorney, Pal Lengyel-Leahu, has said Dandach is innocent and will fight the charges in court.
Dandach had already pleaded not guilty to the earlier charges of passport fraud.
Dandach was stopped in July in the Orange County airport while trying to board a flight to Turkey with an expedited replacement passport he got after he said he accidentally threw his old one away.
Authorities said his mother had confiscated his passport when she heard about his plan to go overseas.
The FBI said Dandach told agents he planned to pledge allegiance and offer to help the Islamic State in Syria and believed the killings of American soldiers were justified.
When told he could face criminal charges for lying to get an expedited passport, Dandach said he was more disappointed about not going to Syria than about getting in trouble with the law, according to court papers.
A June 16 trial date has been set for Dandach, who is a resident of Orange and may also be known as Fadi Fadi Dandach. He remains in custody.
Dandach grew up “like every American kid” and was a community college student and deeply religious person, his attorney said. He was traveling overseas on his own to help widows and orphans, Lengyel-Leahu said, but he could not specify where Dandach would provide the assistance.
“He’s always said the same thing, he was going over there to help,” Lengyel-Leahu told reporters after the hearing. “He hasn’t done anything wrong.”
If convicted, Dandach could face up to 15 years in federal prison on the terrorism charge, and up to 25 years on each of the other counts, federal authorities said.