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The U.S. Justice Department is asking a federal appeals court to consider the Sept. 11 attacks and the government’s “paramount” interest in national security when it hears the case of a Palestinian-born professor accused of supporting terrorist groups. Mazen Al-Najjar spent more than three years detained as a threat to national security although he was never charged with a crime. He was freed last December after a judge ruled that Al-Najjar’s rights were violated by the use of secret evidence. In a hearing Thursday, the government will argue that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in Miami should reverse the lower court’s ruling. The government is not alleging Al-Najjar is connected to the attacks on New York and Washington. But in filings to the appeals court earlier this week, the Justice Department referred to the attacks, saying recent congressional action shows a “deference owed the Executive Branch in national security determinations and the paramount nature of this government interest.” The Justice Department did not return calls for comment Thursday. “We believe their trying to address the court with the events of Sept. 11 is inflammatory and has nothing to do with the legal issues at hand,” said Martin Schwartz, Al-Najjar’s Tampa attorney. “It’s not relevant.” Schwartz said he believes the government is trying to argue it should be allowed to use secret evidence in light of the recent attacks. Another defense lawyer, David Cole, said it appears the government now sees the case as crucial in the intensified fight against terrorism. The case could have implications for hundreds of immigrants who have been detained in the wake of the attacks, Cole said. “They have a broader interest in asserting they have the constitutional authority to lock people up without showing them the evidence that supports their detention,” Cole said. Al-Najjar helped run a University of South Florida Islamic studies group and a Palestinian charity in the early 1990s. Al-Najjar and the groups’ founder, Sami Al-Arian, have denied any ties to terrorists and have condemned the Sept. 11 attacks. They say their groups existed only to foster understanding of Middle East issues and to care for Palestinian orphans. The groups were disbanded following FBI raids in 1995. Two years later, Al-Najjar was detained on a visa violation, but the government blocked his request for bond, saying he was a security risk. That led to his three-year incarceration. Al-Najjar and his wife, who have three American-born daughters, also continue to fight their deportation. This week, the 11th Circuit denied their request for a rehearing, but attorneys said their are still other avenues for appeal. After the attacks, Al-Arian was placed on indefinite, paid leave by USF officials who said his presence on campus in the wake of the attacks was a safety risk. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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