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A judge erred in holding a secret hearing in November to consider evidence against an Egyptian immigrant accused of forgery, and for excluding the suspect and his lawyer, a New Jersey state appeals court ruled Tuesday. After the hearing, Superior Court Judge Marilyn Clark doubled bail to $500,000 for Mohamed el-Atriss, who is accused of selling phony driver’s licenses used by two of the Sept. 11 hijackers. The judge had allowed Passaic County, N.J., prosecutors to present witnesses in secret for fear the case involved national security. But the appeals panel found that the proper federal authorities were never asked whether national security was at stake, and ordered Clark to hold the hearing again in public by the end of the month. “We’re very happy,” said Miles Feinstein, the lawyer for el-Atriss, who has been jailed for five months. “This is a victory for somebody who is innocent of such charges, and in fact, it’s a victory for constitutional rights.” Phone calls placed after normal business hours to several county prosecutors were not immediately returned. There is no allegation that el-Atriss knew of the Sept. 11 plot, but his case gained wide notice when police raided his home and business in July. El-Atriss was in Egypt at the time. He was arrested several weeks later after returning home. Whether federal officials are still monitoring the case was unclear. “At one time, he was a person of interest to us,” said FBI Special Agent Steve Koda, spokesman for the Newark, N.J., office. “I cannot confirm or deny any part that we have in it.” Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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