tampabay.com

Hammoudeh clutches at hope

Five months after his acquittal, Sameeh Hammoudeh sits in jail awaiting deportation to the West Bank.

By MEG LAUGHLIN
Published May 6, 2006


TAMPA - Today marks five months of incarceration for Sameeh Hammoudeh since his Dec. 6,

2005, acquittal in the terrorism trial of Sami Al-Arian.

Hammoudeh is being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Manatee County Jail, awaiting deportation.

ICE officials say they have been working for five months to deport Hammoudeh to the West Bank, but there are Israeli objections to overcome. Israeli spokesmen for three ministries told the St. Petersburg Times in late February that they know of no problem with his return and that his paperwork is in order.

Hammoudeh has a transit visa from Jordan, but it expires May 28. While he has papers to cross through Jordan to get to the West Bank at any time, the visa allows him to spend two months in Jordan. Hammoudeh's family left Tampa in early February expecting him to follow them to the West Bank within a week, based on what ICE officials said. But he was not released.

At a March 22 hearing, U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore told ICE if Hammoudeh is still in jail on May 25, the bureau will have to present evidence showing why.

"I'd be very surprised if ICE lets that happen," said Hammoudeh's attorney Stephen Bernstein.

Said Sameeh Hammoudeh: "On the five-month anniversary of my incarceration since being acquitted, I can only say I am trying to forget what is happening to me. I am trying to have some hope."