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Three defense attorneys in a Miami terrorism case who were trapped in war-torn Beirut while interviewing witnesses got tired of waiting for the U.S. Marines to evacuate them. So they hitched a ride on a Norwegian freighter. The attorneys — Orlando do Campo of the federal public defender’s office in Miami, Andrew Patel of New York City and William Swor of Detroit — along with an Arabic-speaking interpreter they hired arrived in Cyprus on July 19 and caught flights home the next day. “I’m just glad we didn’t wait for the Marines,” Patel said in an interview from home Friday. “I don’t see why the U.S. government couldn’t just bring a boat into the harbor like all the other countries did. Most other countries, like Thailand and Bulgaria, found simpler ways to get their people out.” The four men were among an estimated 25,000 Americans trapped in Lebanon when Israeli forces began bombing Hezbollah targets there July 12. The United States has drawn criticism for not coordinating rescue operations for its citizens as quickly as other countries did. Do Campo and Patel are representing one of the most high-profile terrorism defendants in the country, Jose Padilla. Swor is representing one of Padilla’s four co-defendants, Kifah Jayyousi. They are facing trial in U.S. District Court in Miami in September on charges of conspiring to commit terrorism and funding Islamic terrorist efforts throughout the world. All have pleaded not guilty. Patel, while he would not reveal details of whom they interviewed, said that his defense group’s mission was successful. The bombing of Beirut by Israel did not begin until the day the group was set to leave, July 13. The group started the trip on July 2 and stopped in other countries, which Patel declined to identify, before arriving in Beirut on July 9. After the Israeli bombardment began, the four men were stuck at their hotel, the InterContinental Hotel Phoenicia. As places to be stranded go, the digs weren’t bad. The four-star hotel overlooks the Mediterranean and features a spa, fitness center, four restaurants, indoor and outdoor pools and high-speed Internet access. The hotel was occupied by foreign journalists and a United Nations delegation. Patel said he never felt in any real danger. “It’s a strange war,” he said. “It’s incredible how accurate the Israeli shelling was. It’s very precise, targeted bombing. It’s not like they’re leveling all of Lebanon. “In Beirut, there was a Hezbollah neighborhood. If you were driving on one side of the street, you knew you could get hit, while the other side of the street was safe.” Still, the experience was “disconcerting,” he said. “There were 6 a.m. bombing runs every day,” he said. “It’s strange how you get to know the difference between a sonic boom and an artillery shell.” As the days went by, the hotel went from being 70 percent occupied to practically empty. The only remaining guests were journalists and the four men on the legal defense team. The hotel closed all but one restaurant due to staffing shortages. Still, the staff was “wonderful,” Patel said. The men did not go to the U.S. Embassy to register for evacuation but rather tried to register on the State Department’s Internet site. Frustrated by the seemingly endless red tape — including notices that the U.S. government would bill the men later for evacuating them — do Campo made some phone calls and learned about a Norwegian freighter arriving in port. The men got to the dock at 7 p.m. that same day and were warmly welcomed by the Norwegian crew, as were about 1,100 other passengers. “It was like a mini-U.N.,” he said. “There were people of every race and religion aboard.” The voyage to Cyprus took 11 hours. Once they arrived in Cyprus, the four men got hotel rooms and were able to make plane reservations home. Patel said he doesn’t know whether the Norwegians will bill him for the cruise to Cyprus. The Norwegian authorities collected names and passport information from all passengers. “It’s great to be home,” he said. “The wife, the kids, the dog, they were all happy to see me. But I’ll be in Miami soon. There’s a lot of work to be done on this case.”

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