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California judge refuses to extradite refugee back to Iraq in murder case

Federal defender Ben Galloway stands outside of the Sacramento County Main Jail (Daniel Kim/The Sacramento Bee/TNS)

In a major blow to federal prosecutors, a federal judge in Sacramento ruled Wednesday that Omar Ameen may not be extradited back to Iraq to face trial in the 2014 murder of an Iraqi police officer.

The decision came in a 30-page order by U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Brennan, who labeled parts of the government’s arguments “dubious” and said they call for “some degree of skepticism.”

Ameen’s federal defenders had waged a two-year battle to stop their client from being extradited, arguing that he was in Turkey with his family when the officer, Ihsan Abdulhafiz Jasim, was killed in Iraq.

FBI and sheriff’s officers are seen outside an Arden Arcade apartment (Julia Sclafani/The Sacramento Bee/TNS)

Prosecutors had claimed Ameen was an ISIS terror leader and produced various witnesses claiming to have seen the killing or seen Ameen in Iraq. They had dismissed defense claims that Ameen’s cell phone records showed conclusively that Ameen was in Mersin, Turkey, with his family at the time of the slaying, saying the records only showed his phone was there.

Brennan, who had been asked by prosecutors to certify Ameen eligible for extradition and hand the matter over to the U.S. State Department for its final decision, declined to do so.

“It is regrettable that the case has taken more than two years to litigate,” Brennan wrote. “Whatever procedural doubts precede it; the court is convinced that the decision not to certify Ameen’s extradition is correct.

“The evidence strongly supports that Ameen never left Turkey in June 2014, and the record before the court, taken in its entirety, does not establish probable cause that he was responsible for Jasim’s murder.”

Ameen’s defense lawyers had argued strenuously that there was no way their client could have been in Iraq at the time of the slaying, and said that if he was extradited back to Iraq he faced the very real possibility of execution.

Federal defenders Ben Galloway and Rachelle Barbour told The Bee by phone Wednesday as they were entering the Sacramento County Main Jail to see Ameen that they were “elated” by the decision.

The two lawyers emerged from the jail Wednesday afternoon, and Barbour described Ameen as “tearful, very grateful.”

“There are very few moments of a public defender’s life that are as exciting as telling someone that they’ve been found not guilty or, in this case, that they are going home,” said Barbour, who traveled to Turkey as part of the effort to free Ameen.

“So, it was absolutely amazing. What an incredible thing to go through, and what a lot of pain,” she said.

Galloway said Ameen has a wife and four children, ages 16 and under, who are waiting for him to come home.

He added that Ameen’s initial reaction upon his arrest convinced him that the government was looking for the wrong man.

“This man is innocent,” Galloway said. “I would bet my life on it.”

Galloway and Barbour both said they did not understand the zeal with which federal prosecutors went after the case.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento had no immediate comment.

In late afternoon, Ameen’s lawyers were told by the U.S. Marshals Service that Ameen would be handed off to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, though why he would remain in custody was not clear. Ameen has been in custody since August 2018 when was arrested at his Arden Arcade home.

“Unless there are pending domestic charges on which the government can justify Ameen’s continued detention, it is ordered that Omar Abdulsatar Ameen be immediately released from custody,” Brennan wrote in an order. “At the time of writing, the court has not been made aware of any such pending charges.”


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