Classified material ‘complicates’ area ISIS case
The case of a former Elkhart woman accused of providing funds and supplies to Islamic State fighters is going to involve classified information, which attorneys and a judge will have to sort through.
“This is a totally new thing for me,” Judge Philip Simon said.
Samantha Marie Elhassani, also known as Samantha Sally, appeared Thursday in federal court in Hammond for a status conference. Elhassani, wearing a red jail uniform, was released from chains before she joined her attorneys.
Elhassani, 32, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, and aiding and abetting individuals in providing material support to the Islamic State group.
The government began investigating Elhassani “and her co-conspirators several years” before she was charged, court records state.
Between fall 2014 and summer 2015, “within the Northern District of Indiana and later occurring elsewhere,” Elhassani provided support and resources to the Islamic State group, knowing that the organization was a designated terrorist organization that engaged in terrorism, the indictment alleges.
Elhassani also procured tactical gear and provided funds to support two people, identified in court records as Individual A and Individual B, who were personnel for the Islamic State group, the indictment states.
Elhassani was previously charged with lying to the FBI, court records show.
Before Elhassani goes to trial in January 2020, attorneys will have to sort through classified information in the case, they said. Simon said he guessed “this is going to be challenging and complicated.”
“I’m trying to understand the process,” Simon said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua Kolar and Assistant U.S. Attorney Abizer Zanzi filed a document “as kind of a primer” for Simon about the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA, which would come into play in Elhassani’s case.
“CIPA will ensure that (Elhassani) is provided with all required discovery and receives a fair trial, without any undue and unnecessary disclosures that would adversely impact national security,” the document states.
The attorneys said they will have to hold closed hearings with the judge to discuss their theories about the case, what classified information may be involved and how it will be used at trial.
“We’re going to have to air all this out,” Simon said.
Simon’s court reporter and law clerk are still going through the security process to deal with the material, he said.
Zanzi said he thinks this process will make more sense to everyone as they get into it.
At t o r n e y Thomas Durkin, who was appointed to represent Elhassani, has worked on similar cases. The Wall Street Journal wrote an article, headlined “A terror suspect’s best hope in court,” about Durkin in 2016 after one of his clients, who admitted to trying to join the Islamic State group, received 40 months in prison.
While Durkin said he could be wrong, he said Elhassani’s case is “unique factually” to what he and his co-counsel, Joshua Herman, are accustomed to and “is potentially the most complicated case” he’s dealt with in terms of classified evidence.
Elhassani previously waived a detention hearing in her case. While the defense is not ready yet, Durkin said he may request a hearing in the future to see if Elhassani could be released before trial. Prosecutors indicated they would contest that request.
Durkin said he’s still figuring out proposed conditions of release and has had a doctor evaluate Elhassani.
“It’s a complicated situation,” he said.
There’s also been progress made on where Elhassani’s four children will be placed, Durkin said. When Elhassani was transferred from the custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces and was brought back to the U.S. in July, her children were put in the custody of the Indiana Department of Human Services. Elhassani is hoping the children could go live with her parents in Oklahoma, Durkin said.
CNN published a story in April after interviewing Elhassani while she was held in Syrian-Kurdish custody in northern Syria. At the time, Elhassani was waiting to hear whether she’d be able to return to the U.S., according to CNN.
She said she felt she had to go with her husband, Moussana Elhassani, to Syria to remain with her children, CNN reported.
Samantha Elhassani told CNN that her husband, an Islamic State sniper, was killed in a drone strike last year. She was arrested after the Islamic State group’s collapse in Raqqa, according to CNN.