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Is this Iraqi Sacramento resident an ISIS killer, or victim of a mentally ill witness?

Omar Ameen. (U.S. Attorney's Office)

The details of how suspected ISIS leader Omar Ameen allegedly killed an Iraqi police officer on June 22, 2014, are spelled out in chilling detail from witnesses who have accused the Sacramento man now facing extradition back to his homeland:

Ameen rolled into his hometown of Rawah in a three-vehicle convoy on June 21, 2014, as ISIS forces seized the city. Two of the trucks were tan, the third white, and each was adorned with an ISIS flag.

Ameen, now 45, was in the passenger seat of the white truck wearing a black military-style scarf and acting as commander of the convoy as it headed to the home of police Major Ihsan Abdulhafiz Jasim, a former neighbor and friend of Ameen’s.

After a brief firefight, Ameen was seen standing over Ihsan and firing an automatic rifle into his torso, killing him.

“You are an agent of America,” one witness says he heard Ameen say as he shot Ihsan. “You are an apostate.”

This is the account Iraqi and American prosecutors are presenting in a federal courtroom in Sacramento as the U.S. government seeks to extradite the truck mechanic back to Iraq to stand trial on a murder charge.

There’s only one problem: Ameen’s defense attorneys say it is impossible that Ameen killed Ihsan, that he was 600 miles away in Turkey at the time preparing to get past the last of the immigration hurdles that would allow him to move with his wife and three children to the United States.

Instead, they argued Wednesday, Ameen is the victim of witnesses who are either lying or mistaken, including the only purported eyewitness, who they say is a mentally ill trauma victim who regaled investigators with outlandish tales and solicited payoffs from Ameen’s defense team.

“If Mr. Ameen was not in Iraq, if Mr. Ameen did not commit this crime, then clearly he cannot be extradited,” Assistant Federal Defender Rachelle Barbour argued Wednesday as Ameen’s extradition hearing continued after months of delay.

To the defense, the outcome of the extradition hearing is literally a matter of life and death, as they argue that if Ameen is sent back to face trial he will end up facing execution.

Federal prosecutors argue that there is ample probable cause to have Ameen sent back for trial, and that U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Brennan is not required to preside over a full-blown murder trial because that is the province of the Iraqi government, which is seeking Ameen’s return.

Rather, they say, Brennan must simply determine whether there is enough probable cause to certify Ameen should be extradited, and then the final decision will be made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Audrey Hemesath told Brennan that the government has four witnesses – one of them an eyewitness to the slaying – who can place Ameen at the scene of the killing.

“There is nothing inconsistent in their accounts,” Hemesath said.

The evidence includes sworn statements to an Iraqi judge, interviews with FBI agents and a claim by one witness – identified only as “Person 1” – who told the FBI that he grew up in Rawah and “as a child … knew Omar Ameen and would interact socially with him.”

That witness gave investigators the detailed description of Ameen leading the convoy to Ishan’s home, the hearing “a burst of rifle fire” and later being told by family members that Ameen had killed the police officer.

The defense says the claims make no sense, that “Person 1” did not know Ameen as a childhood friend and was born in March 1956, while Ameen was not born until December 1973.

Hemesath countered that the confusion is likely a matter of garbled syntax in translating the witness statement from Arabic to English, that the witness probably meant he knew Ameen when Ameen was young.

She added that the FBI agent involved in that witness statement confirmed “Person 1” was older than Ameen.

But Barbour, who traveled to Turkey to obtain evidence she hopes will exonerate her client, said there are numerous other problems with the government’s case. She contends that the only purported eyewitness, identified as “Person 5,” told investigators Ameen remained in Rawah until December 2014, six months after the slaying.

Ameen entered the United States in early November 2014, arriving at Miami before settling in Salt Lake City and later moving to Sacramento’s Arden Arcade neighborhood.

Barbour also noted that the witness had claimed to have seen Ameen hanging out in the area with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, at the time the most wanted man in the world, something she said was preposterous.

Al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts had been a closely held secret for years until October, when he was tracked down by U.S. special forces and killed during a raid in Syria.

Barbour and co-counsel Ben Galloway contend Ameen, who has been held in the Sacramento County Main Jail since his August 2018 arrest, was living with his family in Mersin, Turkey, at the time of the killing and was dutifully reporting in weekly to Turkish immigration authorities as he awaited approval to move to the United States.

She said Ameen was required to sign in every Thursday at an immigration office and did so on June 19, 2014, and again on June 26, 2014. It would have been virtually impossible for him to have slipped away, crossed war-torn Syria into Iraq to kill the officer, then return to Turkey in time to sign in, she said.

As evidence, Barbour presented documents she said she obtained while in Turkey after asking officials for the June 2014 signature sheets.

But, Brennan noted the documents themselves are not dated and asked how they can be relied upon.

“We asked for the four from June, they gave us these,” she said.

Hemesath also flatly rejected Barbour’s claims that Ameen had no opportunity to go to Iraq while he was living in Turkey. She said there is no concrete evidence from May 22, 2014, through July 7, 2014, that he was in Turkey during that span.

She said Ameen had lied on U.S. immigration documents in the past and that, even if he had signed the Turkish documents the Thursdays before and after the slaying, that does not mean he did not slip out of Turkey and easily make his way through checkpoints on what she said would have been a 13-hour drive.

“The allegation is that Omar Ameen is a member of ISIS,” Hemesath said. “Those are ISIS roadblocks.”

A decision from Brennan is not expected until after additional briefs are filed in the case early next year.


© 2019 The Sacramento Bee