HAMMOND — The widow of an ISIS terrorist is scheduled to be tried in early 2020 on charges she conspired to provide material support and aiding and abetting the terrorist organization.
However, the defense lawyer of Samantha “Sally” Elhassani, 32, of Elkhart, cautioned the trial might be more than 18 months in the future given the complexity the defense faces in locating witnesses overseas where she spent nearly a year in Syria.
She appeared Monday before U.S. District Court Magistrate John E. Martin for arraignment on new federal terrorist charges and then before U.S. District Court Judge Philip P. Simon to arrange a timeline for pre-trial preparations.
Elhassani is accused of conspiring with others from fall 2014 through summer 2015 to provide personnel, money, tactical gear and other material support and resources to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, court records show.
Between March 23, 2015, and April 7, 2015, Elhassani also aided and abetted “Individual A” and “Individual B,” by providing them tactical gear and funds “for their use in fighting for ISIS,” court records state.
Elhassani has a right to be tried within 70 days of her indictment, but she has given her speedy trial right and the judge designated her case as so complex additional time is needed for the government to produce and the defense to digest tens of thousands of pages of evidence and recordings in preparation for trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua P. Kolar and defense attorney Thomas A. Durkin jointly asked for additional preparation time.
Kolar said the government's case is based on information classified as secret. He said it would take as long as four months for government agencies to complete background checks of court's staff who may handle the evidence.
Durkin said he will be looking for overseas witnesses in connections with her confinement in an ISIS "prison camp where she was tortured" and a Kurdish camp in Syria. He said it is questionable whether the witnesses can be identified or located although he expects to hire an investigator he has previously used in other terrorist defense cases.
Durkin said he will file a budget with the court containing anticipated defense expenses that will include a second defense attorney, a clerk and possibly others. They and Durkin are being provided to Elhassani at taxpayers' expense.
Durkin also asked the court to request Elhassani receive mental health testing for anxiety and depression that could be a result of post-traumatic stress from her ordeal in Syria.
In April, Elhassani painted herself in an interview with PBS’ “Frontline” as a reluctant wife of an ISIS terrorist who was forced to move with her family to Syria, where her husband became an ISIS sniper in the midst of a long-simmering civil war.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is a militant group that gained control of large parts of Syria and Iraq four years ago. Hundreds of Americans traveled to fight for militants. U.S.-backed forces in the Middle East have expelled the terrorists from most of that territory during months of heavy fighting.
Her husband died in the fighting and she was detained by U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces after fleeing with her U.S.-citizen children and returned to the United States and arrested by federal agents.
A federal grand jury indicted her in March, the same month Elhassani was transferred from the SDF’s custody to U.S. law enforcement and charged in the Northern District of Indiana.
Elhassani’s children, all minors, were reportedly in the custody of the Indiana Department of Child Services as of July.