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Release Ordered for Man Dubbed Terror Suspect

Abdel Jabbar Hamdan, the president of an Anaheim mosque, was held for two years. Only immigration charges had been pursued.

July 28, 2006|H.G. Reza | Times Staff Writer

A Buena Park man jailed for two years because of his alleged ties to terrorism was ordered freed Thursday by a federal judge in Los Angeles who rejected the government's argument that he was a national security threat.

The order came two years to the day after Abdel Jabbar Hamdan was arrested and incarcerated in the immigration detention facility at Terminal Island. The Palestinian father of six U.S.-born children was later ordered deported to Jordan, where he grew up, for overstaying a student visa issued 27 years ago.

U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter issued the order to free Hamdan, the president of the Anaheim mosque West Coast Islamic Society, on Thursday, but a written copy was not immediately available, said his courtroom deputy, Yolanda Skipper. Hatter's decision was in response to a petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on Hamdan's behalf last July.

Yaman Hamdan said her family was "happy but cautious" about her father's pending release.

"I spoke with my dad and he was ecstatic. My mom was happy and crying. But we don't want to get our hopes too high because we don't know what else the government can do. But it was definitely good news," said Yaman Hamdan, a law student at Chapman University in Orange.

ACLU attorney Ranjana Natarajan said it was not clear whether Hamdan would be released Thursday evening or today.

Hamdan, 45, is still facing deportation to Jordan and has an appeal pending in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Lori Haley, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency was still waiting for written instructions from Hatter.

"ICE is attempting to obtain a copy of the judge's ruling, and the agency will study it to determine a course of action," Haley said.

The Hamdan case has become a symbol among those who maintain that the Bush administration has wrongly used terrorism allegations to jail Muslims, sometimes holding them for months without bond. In cases such as Hamdan's, suspects are charged with immigration law violations.

Last year, immigration officials were forced to free four Iranian brothers from Los Angeles after keeping them locked up more than three years. The Mirmehdi brothers were accused of supporting a terrorist group and being national security threats but instead were prosecuted on immigration charges. They were ordered deported, but their deportations to Iran were blocked by immigration judges.

In March, a federal appeals court ordered the release of Ahilan Nadarajah, a Sri Lankan who had been locked up since October 2001 in San Diego as a suspected terrorist and security threat. Nadarajah, who is not Muslim, had twice been granted asylum but the government appealed and kept him jailed without bond.

Hamdan, a fundraiser for the Islamic charity Holy Land Foundation, was arrested in 2004 along with three board members of the Dallas-based organization. The U.S. government shut down the charity in December 2001 for allegedly raising money for Hamas, a Palestinian group the State Department designated as terrorist.

The others arrested were the foundation's president, chairman and director of endowments, who were charged with terrorism-related crimes and await trial. They were ordered released on their own recognizance in 2004 by a federal judge in Texas, who said the government failed to prove they were a danger to the community or a flight risk.

Hamdan, 45, was accused of violating U.S. immigration law and ordered deported. Normally, he would qualify for bond while awaiting deportation, but Department of Homeland Security officials said he should remain jailed because of his alleged ties to terrorism and as a security risk. An immigration judge in San Pedro ordered him held without bond.

But the same judge also blocked Hamdan's deportation to his native Jordan on grounds that his alleged ties to Hamas would subject him to torture and persecution there.

An immigration appeals board overturned the judge's ruling and said Hamdan could be deported to Jordan and denied his request for asylum. Hamdan's lawyers appealed the immigration board's ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case is still pending.

In March, a U.S. magistrate who first considered Hamdan's petition for release recommended to Hatter that he be freed while his immigration case wound its way through the courts.

The magistrate, Jeffrey W. Johnson, said the government was violating a Supreme Court ruling prohibiting an immigrant's indefinite detention and called his continued jailing unreasonable.

The government appealed Johnson's recommendation. Johnson denied the government's appeal on Wednesday and again forwarded his recommendation to Hatter, who ordered Hamdan released Thursday.

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