Friends of Terror Suspect, Brother Questioning Federal Charges

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Two days after a Sacramento man was arrested for lying to federal agents about traveling to Syria, those who knew him and his brother are speaking on their behalf.

Twenty-three-year-old Aws al-Jayab is facing terrorism charges after the federal government said he lied about traveling to Syria. His brother, 19-year-old Samer Mohammed al-Jayab, was also arrested on charges in another case unrelated to terrorism. Samer al-Jayab, has since been released from Sacramento County Jail in his case of possessing stolen cellphones.

"They're really good guys, and they would always just hang around, like pretty much just go out with their friends," said Vanessa Ponce, a friends of both brothers, and an ex-girlfriend of Samer. "They would never get into trouble from what I would see. We would go out like just to Starbucks drink coffee and that's it."

Ponce said she met the brothers at the Alpine Terrace apartments on Fulton Ave. where they live with their father. No one answered when FOX40 knocked, but an FBI agent and interrupter also visited their apartment Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, Ponce said Aws didn't seem like the join ISIS type, and she has serious doubts about the federal government's charges, which are related to his trip to the middle east in 2014, and his possible contact with terror groups.

"I find it unbelievable. I think he's a really good guy, and that's just non-sense," Ponce said.

Ponce said neither brother was religious that she knew of, although they would talk about how they missed Iraq, their home country they left in 2012.

"(They never talked politics.) I didn't even think they knew about those kind of stuff," Ponce said.

Another woman who knew Al-Jayab, but who didn't want to be identified, says the terrorism label doesn't fit.

"I think he's a really good kid, I have a lot of experience with him and his family and I think they're really good people," she said.

She lives near Al-Jayab, and says he embraced life as an American since he arrived as a refugee from Iraq in 2012.

Her description fits the narrative drawn by his social media pages, portraying Al-Jayab as a working college student, a Computer Science major with an active social life.

"If I knock on their door and ask them for something minor they tell me to come in, they'll cook a whole meal for me."

"He wasn't planning anything here in the united states, he didn't have any weapons. I don't understand what this kid did to be called a terrorist, and terrorist has such a heavy-word with it, it's like getting a scarlet letter," she said.

According to an FBI affidavit Al-Jayab lied to us customs officials about traveling to Syria and denied his involvement with Ansar Al Islam, which the u.S. Has designated a terrorist group.

The affidavit states while there Al-Jayab fought against forces within the Syrian government.

While there's no evidence al-Jayab ever committed or planned any violent action toward the U.S. or Americans, his alleged involvement in Syria is legally problematic.

"The U.S. Government designates certain entities as designated foreign terror organizations. Everyone's charged with knowing who those are," said attorney Mark Reichel, who has handled clients with ties to terror organizations. He says Al-Jayab's actions, as the FBI tells it, could warrant more charges than just lying to federal officials.

"If you give any material aid which is money, which is any type of support, or physical support by traveling there that's the crime. These are really serious federal crimes," said Reichel.