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    Al-Najjar bids family farewell at prison

    The former USF instructor faces deportation this week.

    By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 20, 2002
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    Mazen Al-Najjar's family gathered for the last time Monday at the federal prison where he is being held as preparations continued to deport the longtime Tampa resident to an unspecified country.

    Al-Najjar, a former University of South Florida instructor jailed for overstaying his work visa, should be gone by the end of this week, the family said.

    "The meeting was really emotional. They all broke down," said Al-Najjar's brother-in-law, Sami Al-Arian, who could not attend because he is under federal investigation in a suspected link to terrorism. "The trouble is, there is still no guarantee that the family will be together again."

    Egypt has granted Al-Najjar's wife, Fedaa, travel documents, but that does not guarantee she and their three daughters will be able to reunite in the country that has accepted Al-Najjar. If all goes well, the family hopes to reunite in about a month.

    Immigration and Naturalization Service officials have confirmed that Al-Najjar is in the process of being deported, but they won't say where he is going.

    Family members refused to identify where Al-Najjar will move except to say it is an Arab country with friendly relations with the United States, and that the country previously rejected his requests for entry.

    Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, South Africa, Guyana, Egypt, Lebanon and Bahrain previously rejected Al-Najjar's requests. The family fears publicity about the move will cause the country to renege on its promise, something Guyana did in 1998 after it appeared Al-Najjar was headed there.

    A stateless Palestinian, Al-Najjar came to the United States in 1981 but overstayed a student visa. Government prosecutors jailed him in 1997 in Bradenton on classified evidence allegedly linking him to the terrorist group Islamic Jihad. They never charged him with a crime.

    He was released 3 1/2 years later in December 2000, after a Miami federal judge ruled his constitutional rights were violated by the government's refusal to divulge the evidence so that he could mount a defense. Last November, a federal appeals court upheld a deportation order for overstaying the visa and ordered him back into custody.

    -- Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com

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