June 30, 2010
Reformed Ex-Hamas Operative A Step Closer to U.S. Asylum
Ex-Hamas member Mosab Yousef, whose undercover work for Israel’s Shin Bet yielded intelligence that prevented terrorist attacks and saved Israeli and Palestinian lives, this morning won a key victory in his struggle to settle in the United States when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) abruptly withdrew its case to deport him.
DHS attorney Kerri Calcador announced in a San Diego court this morning that the department now agreed with Yousef’s application for political asylum, conditional on investigations to verify that he is not a security threat.
The announcement came in the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review and “stunned” Yousef, his lawyer Steven Seick, said outside the building.
Seick was preparing to summon his first witness, ex-Shin Bet agent Gonen Ben-Yitzhak, from the adjoining courtroom, when Calcador announced the reversal. Ben-Yitzhak, who was Yousef’s point of contact with the Israeli domestic security agency, laughed when he heard the news and hugged Yousef, Seick related.
Judge Rico Bartolomei agreed to Calcador’s withdrawal of the motion to deport Yousef, a vital step in locking in the decision, Seick said.
Yousef, a Southern California resident and a convert to Christianity, said afterward that his “faith in America is restored” by the decision and vowed to “continue to fight” for the Palestinians “and for peace in the Middle East.”
He thanked DHS for “recognizing that my actions in associating with terrorists in Hamas” — described in his new book, “Son of Hamas,” which unintentionally formed the basis for DHS’s move for deportation — were “purely to bring them to justice and save lives in my role as an operative for the Shin Bet.”
Yousef said that he is “especially grateful for my friend and former Shin Bet handler, Gonen Ben-Yitzhak, who revealed his true identity, and traveled here at the risk of his own freedom and safety, to testify on my behalf.”
The sudden turn resulted from a combination of factors, including last week’s Capitol Hill dinner in which Yousef and Ben-Yitzhak were honored by the pro-Israel organization EMET: Endowment for Middle East Truth, Seick said.
Ben-Yitzhak’s affidavit and letters written on Yousef’s behalf by the Israeli Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, former CIA director James Woolsey and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado) — all of which Seick filed with the court Tuesday — added up to “enough pressure” on the DHS to reconsider the case’s viability, Seick said.
In his letter to the court, Woolsey said he had learned that testimony Yousef provided to the U.S. government was “critical” in obtaining a conviction in a key counter-terrorism case and in shedding light on Hamas’s workings.
Yousef’s possible deportation would have led to his “certain death,” torpedoed the cultivation of counter-terrorism agents, “set us back years in the war on terrorism” and “would be such an inhumane act it would constitute a blight on American history,” Woolsey wrote.
Yousef applied for American asylum in August 2007 and was interviewed by the DHS that October. Last April, DHS referred his case to immigration court for possible deportation.
With yesterday’s reversal, however, the security review could be completed within a month and the official order granting Yousef asylum issued by mid-August, Seick said.
Read the background story here.