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A Fort Lauderdale-area man who is believed to be the first person ordered out of the United States for alleged terrorist activities is asking the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to rescind that recent ruling to deport him to Lebanon. The case of Adham Amin Hassoun has been blanketed with secrecy in the name of national security. But Hassoun’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking release from federal custody has prompted the government to finally break its public silence about the case. The government claims that Hassoun has ties to al-Qaida terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, has engaged in terrorist activity, was involved in a conspiracy to commit an assassination, and provided support to persons and groups engaged in terrorist activity. But Hassoun, 41, a Palestinian computer programmer in Sunrise, Fla., who is married and has three sons born in Broward County, denies any involvement with terrorists. Without benefit of an attorney, he’s appealing the June 27 removal order issued by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals. His former attorney, Miami immigration attorney Akhtar Hussain, has called the government’s case “ridiculous.” Hussain said his firm no longer represents Hassoun because it was too costly. In December, a U.S. immigration judge in Miami made an initial determination about Hassoun’s involvement with terrorists; that finding was upheld by the appeals board in its June order. The board’s order was disclosed by the U.S. Department of Justice in July, in court papers responding to Hassoun’s federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking his release from the Krome Detention Center in southern Miami-Dade County. Hassoun’s notice of appeal to the 11th Circuit of the board’s removal order did not detail the basis for the appeal. But prominent Coral Gables, Fla., immigration attorney Mario Cano said Hassoun’s chances of success before the 11th Circuit are slim. “I’ve not seen anyone have success there, if you are talking a terrorist scenario,” said Cano, a solo practitioner. “The legal standards are entirely different in these kinds of cases, particularly under this new anti-terrorism background under which we are laboring. It’s almost getting to the level of a Star Chamber.” Authorities have held the Lebanese-born Hassoun at Krome since June 2002, following the discovery of his friendship with alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla by agents with the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force. Hassoun and Padilla once attended the same Broward County mosque. Hassoun initially was charged with overstaying his 1990 nonimmigrant student visa. In December, Hassoun filed the habeas corpus petition in U.S. District Court in Miami after U.S. Immigration Judge Neale S. Foster secretly labeled him a “terrorist,” accused him of having “contact” with bin Laden, and decided he should be removed from the United States. In July, Justice Department attorney Douglas E. Ginsburg, a senior litigation counsel in the Office of Immigration Litigation in Washington, D.C., asked U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore to dismiss Hassoun’s habeas corpus petition. It marks the first time the federal government has publicly addressed the terrorism-related charges brought against Hassoun. Ginsburg declined to comment on the case. The government also is asking Judge Moore “to grant its prior motion to seal the record in this case.” The initial motion to seal was filed under seal and remains secret; that’s true of all other documents filed by the government in Hassoun’s habeas case. Much of the purported evidence in the case, which court papers say was gathered under the Foreign Surveillance Act of 1978, remains classified under the banner of national security. According to the Immigration Appeals Board’s 13-page ruling in June, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security formally accused Hassoun of “being engaged in a conspiracy to commit an assassination … provided material support for persons engaged in terrorist activity … and engaged in terrorist activity.” Details about the alleged assassination plot were not made public. But the order shows the government sought to tie Hassoun to a number of militant Islamic groups and their alleged financial backers. “The evidence of record not subject to the protective order reflects that the respondent was associated with three organizations that have had their assets frozen as a result of their ties to international terrorism,” says the board’s order. Those organizations are the Global Relief Foundation (GRF), the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, and the Benevolence International Foundation Inc. (BIF), a Chicago-based Islamic charity. The latter group’s leader, Enaam M. Arnaout, pleaded guilty in February to racketeering conspiracy for funneling donations to Islamic fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya. The Department of Homeland Security’s assistant district counsel in Miami, Gracian A. Celaya, submitted evidence to the immigration court showing that Hassoun donated $5,100 to the GRF in 1997 and $6,000 in 2000. The GRF was designated a global terrorist organization by the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control last October. Other evidence compiled by the government identified Hassoun as the registered agent for Benevolence International in Florida and distributor of The Call of Islam magazine, “which published articles lauding terrorist leaders” such as Osama bin Laden, the order says. FBI agent Robert Walker submitted an affidavit linking the BIF to bin Laden “and many of his key associates” and asserting — in an apparent reference to alleged dirty bomber Padilla — that “persons trying to obtain chemical and nuclear weapons on behalf of al-Qaida have had contacts with the BIF offices and personnel.” The appeals board’s order includes allegations presented by homeland security officials about Hassoun belonging to a foreign terrorist organization. The spiritual leader of the group, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, is Sheikh Abdel Rahman, who is serving life in prison for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The government also identified Hassoun — an activist in South Florida’s Muslim community — as a “representative for numerous Muslim causes, including the American Islamic Group, Hamas.” In his immigration appeals board case, Hassoun had the burden of showing he was eligible for relief from the removal order. He defended himself on both legal and evidentiary grounds. He argued that Judge Foster erred by admitting “hearsay” affidavits from FBI agents and not letting him cross-examine those agents. Rebutting the government’s accusations, Hassoun produced an affidavit showing he’d resigned as BIF’s registered agent in 1993. He also presented statements from 13 friends and colleagues at MarCom Technologies in Sunrise, where he worked as a computer analyst. But in June, the appeals board, an administrative body that’s part of the Justice Department, held that “documentary evidence in removal proceedings does not need to comport with the strict rules of evidence. While an alien is generally permitted to cross-examine witnesses, an alien is not entitled to examine national security information proffered by the government in opposition to the alien’s admission to the U.S.” The appeals board also was not persuaded by the statements of support from his friends and colleagues at MarCom. “The 13 statements from friends and colleagues do not provide any evidence whatsoever establishing whether or not Hassoun was engaged in terrorist activity,” the order says. “The statements merely indicate that Hassoun interacts well with his colleagues and that he is a family man.” “While respondent denies any involvement in terrorism, he has not provided any evidence demonstrating that he was not involved in terrorist activity.”

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