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Deported from S.D., Somalian back home

 

Omar Abdi Mohamed, a Somali community leader who successfully battled allegations that he was a conduit for terrorist funds but ultimately was convicted of immigration crimes, is back in Somalia.

Mohamed was escorted by three armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on a commercial flight from San Diego to Mogadishu, with stops in several countries, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego.

He arrived yesterday and was immediately released, she said.

Mohamed came to San Diego 11 years ago as a tortured refugee from war-torn Somalia.

He was arrested during crackdowns on possible terrorist organizations after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and he successfully fought the most serious criminal charges against him.

But after almost three years in custody, Mohamed was so desperate to get out of a San Diego immigration jail that he gave up his fight against deportation and asked to be returned home as soon as possible.

Ironically, a government so determined to see Mohamed removed from the United States was unable to make it happen quickly because of a court order barring deportations to Somalia, which has no central government and is wracked with violence and political upheaval.

Mohamed's immigration attorney, Jonathan D. Montag, petitioned the Seattle court that issued the ruling, asking that Mohamed be excluded from the class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of immigrants to protect them.

A judge granted that request March 14, paving the way for last week's deportation.

Mohamed, 46, was never charged with terrorism. He was convicted in two trials of six felony charges that he lied on visa and naturalization applications.

He was acquitted of more serious charges, particularly that he lied during a citizenship interview about his association with the charities Global Relief Foundation and Al-Haramain, which the U.S. government has linked to terrorist fundraising.

In December, U.S. District Judge John Houston took the unusual step of tripling the suggested sentence for Mohamed, saying the harsher sentence was justified because of national security concerns.

Houston sentenced Mohamed, a self-described Muslim missionary, to 18 months in prison, which was less than the time Mohamed already had served while awaiting the outcome of his case. If he had continued to fight deportation, he might have remained in jail for up to four more years while the matter was litigated.

Mohamed's criminal attorney, Mahir Sherif, at the time blamed Houston for “intentionally” boosting the sentence over the 12-month threshold to make Mohamed ineligible for bond pending appeal.

Mohamed's case, which was investigated by members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force and prosecuted by members of the U.S. attorney's counter-terrorism unit, is part of the Bush administration's practice of using immigration laws to “neutralize” and deport people who are considered potential threats to national security.

Mohamed's immigration case was unusual because of the terrorism and national security overtones. In pretrial motions, prosecutors and the defense clashed on the disclosure of classified information and whether the word “terrorism” could be mentioned in front of a jury. Ultimately, the judge ruled that the classified information would remain secret and prosecutors could say “terrorism.” Foremen from both juries later said they were not prejudiced by the terrorism aspect of the case.

Mohamed, a father of eight and prominent community leader who had as many as 100 supporters attend his court hearings, founded a small Koranic school in City Heights, was a Saudi-financed preacher of Islam, and started a charity, the Western Somali Relief Foundation, to aid the hungry in Ethiopia.

Jurors found that Mohamed lied to immigration officials about the number of children he had; that he failed to disclose that the Saudi government was one of his employers; and that he never worked for the mosque that sponsored his religious-worker visa.

Sherif had argued that the Saudi government merely was paying Mohamed a stipend as a Muslim missionary. Sherif said that Mohamed received the money from the charities before they were designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. Treasury Department.


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