SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento man the FBI says lied about his involvement with a rebel group in Syria — one that the U.S. considers a terrorist organization — was back in federal court Friday. Twenty-three-year old Aws Al Jayab heard the charge against him, and as a formality, according to his attorney, pleaded not guilty.
Al Jayab looked noticeably different as he entered the federal courtroom in Sacramento, smiling as his attorneys greeted him. Al Jayab’s hair was longer, beard more unkempt. Ben Galloway, his attorney, told the judge his client is in total isolation at the Sacramento County Jail, and only has 30 minutes every two or three days to leave his cell. During that time, Galloway says, Al Jayab barely has time to shave, shower and call his family.
"He looked really drained there. He looked like he wasn't eating, he looked tired. I just wish this would all be over,” said a friend of Al Jayab who didn’t want to be named.
Attorneys requested a delayed start to trial so they could pour through the 280,000 pages of evidence, which include videos, interviews and Facebook posts.
Despite the seemingly vast case against him, Al Jayab only faces one count — lying to federal agents.
"In federal court it's very serious to make an indictment. They may not have sufficient evidence to indict him on a more serious charge,” said attorney Mark Reichel, who has handled clients with ties to terror groups in the past.
Reichel says Al Jayab's own words on social media, and his expressing allegiance to a terror group through conversations, isn’t enough evidence to charge him as a terrorist.
Still, Reichel says it'll be tough to find jurors who'd be sympathetic, given what evidence the FBI has provided.
"Getting a fair trial is another thing. Finding a cross section of the community who would hear allegations like this and not rush to judgement is going to be very difficult,” said Reichel.
Al Jayab's trial won’t begin any time soon, but his encounter with the federal court system is just beginning.
He’ll return to court at 9:00 a.m. on March 17, and for the time being will remain in Sacramento County Jail.