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ISIS killer or ‘nicest guy’? Lawyers feud over sending Sacramento man to trial in Iraq

A witness positively identified Omar Abdulsattar Ameen from this photograph, according to court filings. (Court documents/TNS)

The extradition hearing to decide whether accused ISIS killer Omar Ameen should be sent back to Iraq from Sacramento began Tuesday with his lawyers arguing there is no evidence Ameen killed a police officer there in 2014 or was even in Iraq at the time.

Instead, federal defender Rachelle Barbour continued the defense’s assault on evidence being used to try to extradite Ameen, arguing that witness statements provided by Iraqi officials are contradictory and appear to include forged signatures.

She also maintained that federal prosecutors have built their extradition case on only one witness who claims to have seen Ameen shoot a police officer in 2014 in Rawah, Iraq, and that the witness has given different statements to investigators about whether they actually were outside watching when the officer was gunned down.

Federal prosecutors are seeking to extradite Ameen, who settled in Sacramento after coming to the United States in November 2014, to his homeland of Iraq to face murder charges in the slaying of the officer.

Iraqi authorities have presented an extradition packet to the U.S. government claiming Ameen was among an ISIS convoy of pickup trucks that rolled into Rawah on a Sunday night and targeted the officer’s home because he was believed to have been helping American forces.

One witness, identified in court papers only as Person 5, has allegedly indicated that they saw Ameen standing over the officer and shooting him.

But Ameen’s federal defenders, who say Ameen faces certain execution if returned to Iraq, argue that the claim is impossible because by then Ameen and his family were 500 miles away living in Turkey working their way through the process to come to America.

“Mr. Ameen could not have committed this offense if he was far away,” the defense argued in court filings that say such a journey would take weeks and require passing through numerous checkpoints. “He cannot be extradited if he was not in the Republic of Iraq.”

As part of their efforts, defense attorneys have sought cellphone records, Facebook and other social media account information and sworn statements from Ameen family and friends who say he was in Turkey around the time of the killing and that there is no way he could have slipped into Iraq to kill the officer.

They say Ameen had nothing to do with ISIS or extremist groups, and note that he was also accused of kidnapping three brothers in Iraq in 2016 – two years after he moved to the United States.

“Ameen is the nicest person I have ever met in my life,” one acquaintance from a Sacramento mechanic shop told the defense.

His lawyers also say Ameen was required to have signed in to immigration authorities once a week in Turkey to keep his hopes of emigrating to the United States alive, and that he did so the Thursday before the killing and the Thursday after it.

But federal prosecutors say none of the evidence the defense points to means Ameen didn’t kill the officer, and that claims by people in Rawah who say they would have known if Ameen had returned to the city to shoot the officer are meaningless.

“He would have made his way to Rawah stealthily” if his plan was to join an ISIS convoy to kill the officer, Assistant U.S. Attorney Audrey Hemesath argued.

She also dismissed the notion that conditions in Iraq were too dangerous and difficult for Ameen to have gotten there from Turkey.

“The defense is right,” she said. “Travel through the areas is difficult, unless you are a member of ISIS.”

The government says it must only show there is probable cause to have Ameen returned to Iraq to face trial, and that it is up to Iraqi authorities to determine in a trial whether he is guilty.

But Ameen’s defense lawyers say there are serious questions about evidence produced by Iraqi authorities — including signatures that they say appear to be forged.

The identities of three main witnesses — Person 5 and “witnesses A and B,” who claim to have been inside the officer’s home at the time of the shooting, have not been disclosed because of fears of retribution by ISIS, the government says.

Despite that, the latter witnesses appear to be the officer’s parents, according to statements made Tuesday, and the defense claims their stories have changed over time and that more investigation must be done.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Brennan must decide whether to recommend to the State Department that Ameen face extradition, and the final decision will come from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Brennan set the next hearing in the case for June 17, and said he wants to see additional evidence from the Iraqi government that is expected to be submitted to supplement the original extradition packet.


© 2019 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.