Unterrorist unwelcome

Sep 17, 2003 at 12:00 am

Nabil Almarabh may be deported to Syria despite claims that he will likely be tortured or killed if sent there. The fate of the 36-year-old Kuwaiti is now in the hands of Immigration Judge Robert Newberry, who presided over Almarabh’s deportation trial in Detroit last week, and who, by the way, regularly yawned, inspected his nails, and appeared to be daydreaming at points during the proceedings.

Hey, it’s only a guy’s life.

Almarabh has been in federal custody since Sept. 19, 2001, after being picked up as part of a nationwide dragnet seeking suspected Middle-Eastern terrorists in the wake of Sept. 11.

Almarabh had all the markings of a terrorist. He entered the United States illegally. He traveled in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the early 1990s, where he had self-defense training in small arms at a training camp. While in Detroit, he obtained a commercial driver’s license that allowed him to truck hazardous material. He briefly lived in Boston with a man who was later convicted of attempting to bomb a hotel in Jordan. That same man allegedly told the FBI that Almarabh was an associate of Osama bin Laden. When he was arrested, Almarabh had $22,000 in a bank account in Kuwait and $25,000 worth of amber (used for jewelry) in his possession.

But, like so many of the suspects nabbed immediately after 9/11, the government never brought terrorism charges against him. In fact, last fall a federal prosecutor admitted at Almarabh’s sentencing (for entering the country illegally) that there was no evidence linking him to any terrorist activity or organization.

Still, the feds want him out of the country and are intent on sending him to Syria. Almarabh was born in Kuwait but is considered a Syrian citizen since his parents were born there. He hopes to avoid deportation to Syria by invoking “the convention against torture,” says his lawyer, Tamara French. If granted, the government can deport him to any country except Syria, or it could let him stay in the States. French says that Almarabh may be tortured if returned to Syria “because he was portrayed in the media as a terrorist.” He cannot return to Kuwait because the government there won’t allow it, says his other attorney, Mark Kriger.

At last week’s trial, Kriger said that Almarabh’s case should be considered in light of American foreign policy. Kriger explained that while Almarabh was in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the early 1990s, he worked for a charity group that provided medicine, food and money to refugees. That is how Almarabh met the muhajadeen, Muslims who fought the former Soviet Union during the Afghanistan invasion. At the time, the United States backed the muhajadeen, providing them with money and weapons, said Kriger. Some muhajadeen later became anti-American terrorists. Now Almarabh is being targeted for associating with people the U.S. government once backed, said Kriger.

During a break, News Hits spoke to Almarabh’s wife, Van Huynh. A Vietnamese immigrant who became an American citizen five years ago, Huynh traveled to Detroit from Boston. She said that this was the first time she’d seen her husband in more than three years. Almarabh left Boston in August 2000 to get his trucking license in Detroit, where tuition was cheaper. Huynh stayed in Boston with her son. The couple was in touch until Almarabh’s arrest in 2001. Huynh said that she didn’t know where he was during the first eight months of his detainment. A New York Times reporter helped her track him down, she said.

Huynh’s testimony was painful to watch. With a very limited command of English, she often seemed confused by the proceedings.

Following the trial, Kriger requested that his client be allowed to visit with his wife. The judge left that decision to the discretion of a court security guard, who displayed limitless depths of compassion. He snapped his fingers, motioned for her to move as he uttered the word “andele” (Spanish slang for “Let’s go!”) and then told her to make it snappy because the three-minute visit he allowed the couple was “cutting into his dinner time.”

Asked by News Hits how she feels seeing her husband at the trial, Huynh said, “I feel better now. I feel happy. This time, I follow him. I don’t leave him alone.”

Unless, perhaps, he is sent to Syria. Newberry said that he would decide Almarabh’s fate by Oct. 6.

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