Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer – 2011-02-18 02:28:52
SAN MATEO, CA (February 17, 2011) — A Palestinian blocked from joining his family in the Bay Area four years ago after being stopped at San Francisco International Airport with material on the Islamist group Hamas in his computer can be deported as a potential terrorist, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday. The man’s lawyer said, however, that the United States has not yet found a country that will accept him.
Tareq Abufayad, then 24, was returning from college in Egypt to join his family in San Mateo four years ago today when he was questioned at the airport by a customs agent who said Abufayad had a “confrontational” attitude.
A search of his computer hard drive produced what an agent described as “jihadist materials,” including some that referred to Hamas. The group governs Gaza, where Abufayad lived, and the US government considers it a terrorist organization.
Abufayad has been in immigration jails ever since. He said he had never joined or supported Hamas and that the items in his computer concerned current events in Gaza, some of which he hadn’t read.
But the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said immigration officials had reasonably concluded, based on testimony by a Department of Homeland Security expert, that Abufayad was likely to engage in or support terrorism if allowed into the United States.
The court said Abufayad, as a youth, had lived in a town in Gaza that was a Hamas stronghold, and attended a mosque whose imam later joined the Hamas government. Two of his cousins were Hamas members, and he briefly shared an apartment with four Hamas members or sympathizers as a college student in the West Bank, the court said.
The court also said the government’s expert had found that Abufayad, who had studied computer science in college, would have been an “exceptionally attractive target for recruitment” by Hamas.
“The government plainly presented some evidence of Abufayad’s future likelihood to engage in terrorism,” Judge Ronald Gould said in the 3-0 ruling. Under the law, he said, Abufayad must disprove that finding “clearly and beyond doubt” to avoid deportation.
The court also accepted US assurances that Abufayad could be deported safely to the Palestinian territories, despite an immigration judge’s conclusion that he was likely to be tortured as a suspected Hamas sympathizer by either Israel or the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ rival.
However, Abufayad’s attorney, Love Suh, said Israel would prohibit Abufayad’s return to either Gaza or the West Bank. She said immigration officials have told her that both Saudi Arabia, where Abufayad was born, and Egypt, where he studied, have refused to accept him.
“No one says he is a terrorist, but they say he’s likely to engage in terrorism” based on an expert’s assessment, Suh said. “That’s enough, because there’s no way to disprove it beyond a doubt.”
Abufayad’s father, a US citizen, runs a limousine company and has sponsored his other five children’s immigration to the United States, Suh said. She said she is trying to get Abufayad released from an immigration jail in Bakersfield to stay with his family under electronic monitoring while the government looks for a country that will take him.
(c) 2011 Hearst Communications Inc.
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