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“Not guilty.” The plea tumbled off the eager lips of the graying man in the blue jumpsuit in unison with his lawyer at a federal court arraignment hearing Friday in West Palm Beach, Fla. After 19 months, terrorism suspect Adham Amin Hassoun finally emerged from the U.S. government’s closet of secret cases. The government claims that Hassoun, 41, has ties to al-Qaida terrorist leader 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 for the first time since Hassoun was locked behind razor wire at the Krome Detention Center in southern Miami-Dade County in June 2002, the Sunrise, Fla., computer programmer got to make a public appearance in a federal courtroom. In secret proceedings last year, he was ordered deported by immigration officials for alleged Islamic terrorist activities. Still, many aspects of his case remain shrouded by judicial order. Hassoun, who was born in Lebanon but claims Palestinian citizenship, appeared in shackles for arraignment before U.S. Magistrate James M. Hopkins on a single count of illegally transporting a firearm. That charge stems from the circumstances of Hassoun’s arrest in June 2002, when agents of the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force allegedly found the handgun. A status conference in the government’s gun case against Hassoun was set for Feb. 12 before U.S. Magistrate Linnea R. Johnson in West Palm Beach. Outside the courtroom, Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell R. Killinger declined to comment on why the government waited so long before having Hassoun indicted. Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Fred Haddad, retained by Hassoun’s family on Jan. 15, could not be reached for comment before deadline. Hassoun is an intriguing figure at the convergence of two major terrorism investigations. Originally detained for overstaying his 1990 nonimmigrant student visa, Hassoun came to the attention of federal agents because of his friendship with alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla. The men attended the same mosque in south Broward County, Fla. Federal authorities also have linked Hassoun to a Chicago-based Islamic charity, the Benevolence International Foundation Inc. The charity’s leader, Enaam M. Arnaout, pleaded guilty last February to racketeering conspiracy for funneling donations to Muslim fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya. Hassoun was once the group’s registered agent in Florida. 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. Hassoun’s 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. Until about a year ago, Hassoun’s case proceeded in secret in U.S. immigration court. But Hassoun, whose Saudi-born wife and three Broward-born sons live in Sunrise, made public many details of the case in a habeas corpus petition seeking release from custody. He filed that petition, with the help of an attorney, in U.S. District Court in Miami. Hassoun did so after U.S. Immigration Judge Neale S. Foster ordered his deportation last year, declaring Hassoun to be a terrorist and accusing him of having “contact” with bin Laden. Foster also accepted government assertions that Hassoun had engaged in terrorist activity, including a conspiracy to commit an assassination. The target of that murder conspiracy was not identified. Hassoun denies any wrongdoing. But Foster’s judgment was upheld on June 27 in a removal order issued by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals; that order would send Hassoun to Lebanon, the country where he was born but hasn’t lived in for many years, and where he says his life would be in danger. Hassoun subsequently filed a pro se appeal of the removal order before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. The appeal is pending. Meanwhile, Hassoun’s habeas corpus case in Miami before U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore has quietly gone away. Early last year, in a sealed motion to the court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami asked Judge Moore to make the entire case secret. Moore’s response, if any, isn’t included on the public docket. In November, though, Moore dismissed the case as moot “for the reasons stated in the report of the magistrate judge.” Those reasons for the dismissal remain confidential. The report, apparently written by U.S. Magistrate Patrick A. White, isn’t public, nor is its existence acknowledged on the public docket.

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