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Can feds use secret court filings to send terror suspect back to Iraq?

Omar Abdulsattar Ameen, 45, here in an undated photo, was arrested in Sacramento, Calif., and was to appear in federal court as part of extradition proceedings to return him to Iraq to face trial on a charge of premeditated murder. (U.S. Attorney's Office/TNS)

The case of the suspected terrorist who federal officials want to extradite back to Iraq has taken a secret turn, with prosecutors filing documents that the defense says even they are not being allowed to see.

The documents were filed under seal in federal court in Sacramento last week, and federal defenders are objecting to the secrecy, saying their client, Omar Ameen, faces the possibility of execution if he is returned to his homeland.

Prosecutors filed two documents Dec. 13 — one a five-page motion, the other a proposed order granting whatever the government is seeking in its motion — but did so under seal “due to a national security interest in keeping the documents nonpublic,” according to a filing by Assistant U.S. Attorney Audrey Hemesath.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento declined to comment further, but federal defenders trying to keep Ameen from being sent back to Iraq say they need access to the documents to have a fair chance of halting his extradition.

“We object to the government’s secret filing,” Chief Assistant Federal Defender Ben Galloway wrote in an emailed response to questions from The Sacramento Bee. “How can we fight what we can’t even see? It violates the court’s procedural rules, and it violates Mr. Ameen’s due process rights.”

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Galloway, who has a security clearance and has handled classified documents in previous cases, said that “at a bare minimum” the defense should have access to the documents “so we can offer a meaningful response.”

“The extradition process is supposed to be an open and fair opportunity for a U.S. court to determine if probable cause exists to send Mr. Ameen to his death in Iraq,” he wrote. “It is troubling enough that Mr. Ameen is being prosecuted on secret evidence in Iraq. It shouldn’t be happening in the United States as well.”

Ameen, a truck mechanic who lived in an Arden Arcade apartment with his family, is being held without bail at the Sacramento County Jail, where he will mark his 45th birthday Thursday.

He is scheduled to face an extradition hearing in February over whether U.S. authorities should send him back to Iraq to face charges that he killed a police officer there and was a well-known Islamic State supporter.

Ameen’s lawyers have argued that he was not in Iraq at the time of the June 2014 slaying of an Iraqi police officer in Anbar province, and have said he denies any involvement.

Ameen, who came to the United States in November 2014, does not face any charges in this country, but is being held under a 1934 treaty with Iraq, pending the outcome of extradition proceedings.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Brennan has declared him a danger to the community and ordered him held in custody.

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Prosecutors and Iraqi officials describe Ameen in court documents as a “terrorist” and accuse him of leading both Islamic State and al-Qaida forces. They also say he helped plant improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, as roadside bombs and executed captured soldiers.

Prosecutors contend he lied about his status as a refugee to gain entry to the United States.

Brennan has ordered a hearing on Iraq’s extradition request to begin Feb. 25, and that proceeding is expected to last two days.

Brennan does not have authority to decide whether Ameen is returned to Iraq. Instead, he must determine whether there is enough evidence to support the murder charge. A final decision of extradition will come from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the hearing.

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© 2018 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.