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Judge will hear secret evidence

A judge will review information offered by officials wanting to keep Mazen Al-Najjar in jail.

By SUSAN ASCHOFF

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 11, 2000


The federal government says it will present secret evidence to a judge to try to keep a Tampa man in jail after losing its case in open court.

Mazen Al-Najjar, a former University of South Florida teacher, has been detained 31/2 years in an Immigration and Naturalization Service facility in Bradenton. He is accused of fundraising for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

But after a weeklong hearing, Immigration Judge R. Kevin McHugh ruled Oct. 27 that the government failed to prove any of its allegations. Al-Najjar is not a threat and may be released, McHugh said.

The government had until Friday to file court papers to force the hearing into a second phase and did so late Thursday. Under immigration law, it may now share information it deems sensitive with the judge alone.

Al-Najjar was ordered deported for overstaying a student visa. In a hearing three years ago, McHugh denied him bail during appeals. McHugh heard secret evidence and told Al-Najjar it showed "an association with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad" and that he posed a threat to national security.

Al-Najjar got another chance at freedom when a federal judge in May ordered a rehearing. Al-Najjar's rights to due process had been violated, said U.S. District Judge Joan A. Lenard.

She did not forbid the use of secret evidence, but said McHugh must first make a ruling on the public case.

Then if secret evidence is used, Lenard said Al-Najjar must be given enough information about its contents to defend himself.

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