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    Reno blocks Al-Najjar’s release

    © The Associated Press, published December 12, 2000


    BRADENTON -- Attorney General Janet Reno today blocked the release of a Palestinian man jailed for three years without charges, a congressman who has criticized U.S. handling of the case said.

    Just moments before Mazen Al-Najjar was to be released, attorneys received a phone call telling them of Reno's action, said Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., who has been advocating the man's release.

    The government has maintained that Al-Najjar, 43, had links to Mideast terrorists and was a threat to national security.

    Al-Najjar denied the allegations. Not even his lawyers have ever seen the evidence against him.

    "I'm stunned and disappointed," Bonior said. "We have to be strong and keep fighting and it will happen."

    Officials with the Justice Department in Washington did not immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

    Last week, U.S. Immigration Judge R. Kevin McHugh ordered Al-Najjar's release on $8,000 bond, saying the government failed to give him enough information to defend himself. McHugh had viewed the classified evidence in chambers. The Board of Immigration Appeal then held up the release, but the board lifted its own order Monday.

    Outside the Manatee County Detention Center 45 miles south of Tampa, Al-Najjar's wife and children, other family members, his attorney Martin Schwartz and Bonior had gathered Tuesday to await the release.

    The case has been championed by lawyers, civil rights groups and members of Congress who say Al-Najjar's detention without charges -- based on evidence to which he has no access -- is unconstitutional.

    Bonior last week called for Reno's resignation because of Al-Najjar's case and that of Anwar Haddam, who has been held on secret evidence for four years in Fredericksburg, Va.

    They are among about 20 immigrants, mostly Arabs living in America, held in U.S. jails without criminal charges on the basis of classified evidence.

    Al-Najjar, who was raised in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, has been in the United States since 1981. His student visa expired years ago and the INS contends he has been living illegally in this country for years. He is married and has three American-born daughters.

    He and his brother-in-law were associated with the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, an academic think tank affiliated with the University of South Florida, and the Islamic Committee for Palestine, a group that said its mission was fostering better understanding of Muslim issues.

    The U.S. Government maintained the Florida organizations fronted for the Islamic Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for terrorist bombings in the Middle East.

    Al-Najjar has denied any ties to terrorists.

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