Hamas-linked Palestinian deported from US, refuses to deplane in Israel

A deported Palestinian ex-convict who served 11 years in a U.S. prison in a case related to the Hamas terror group was returned to America after refusing to disembark in Israel.

By World Israel News and AP

Palestinian Abdelhaleem Ashqar, who was living in northern Virginia, is back in the U.S. after remaining on the airplane that brought him to Israel when U.S. immigration officials deported him last week.

A judge’s order forced immigration authorities to reverse his deportation and bring him back from Israel before he ever got off the plane.

Ashqar served 11 years in prison for refusing to testify to a grand jury investigating the Palestinian terror group Hamas in connection with the Holy Land Foundation terrorism financing case. In 2005, he ran to succeed Yasser Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority, while confined to his Alexandria home on house arrest as he awaited trial. He finished fourth in a field of seven.

Hamas issued a statement Thursday condemning the deportation and holding the U.S. “accountable” for his treatment.

The Hamas statement called Ashqar “a [Palestinian] icon who is known for his sense of nationalism and loyalty for his people.”

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“Indeed, all the Palestinian people are proud of him,” Hamas added. Ashqar came to the U.S. in 1989 on a temporary visa to study at the University of Mississippi.

According to court papers and interviews, U.S. authorities arrested Ashqar on Tuesday and quickly deported him on a chartered flight.

By Thursday, though, Ashqar, 60, was back in the U.S. He’s now at a detention facility in Bowling Green, Virginia, as his case awaits an expedited ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

The turnaround followed a late-night emergency hearing Tuesday in federal court in which the judge inquired about turning around the plane carrying Ashqar mid-flight.

After the hearing, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III issued a ruling in which he largely said he had no authority to intervene in the deportation. He did say, though, he was concerned that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was not carrying out the deportation properly. Ashqar’s removal order specifies he be deported to Jordan, so Ellis barred immigration officials from turning Ashqar over to Israeli authorities in any way.

Ultimately, though, the plane landed in Israel, where U.S. officials say they planned to make arrangements to turn him over to Palestinian authorities.

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Deportations to Palestinian territory must be conducted through Israel, said Ashqar’s immigration lawyer, Patrick Taurel. So Israel could either intercept and interrogate Ashqar before handing him over to the Palestinians, or the Palestinians might simply hand Ashqar over to the Israelis, Taurel said.

While Ashqar claims he fears “torture” at the hands of Israeli authorities, infighting between Palestinian terror factions such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in addition to bloody feuding among members of the Palestinian Authority regime, represent significant dangers within Palestinian society.

In Judge Ellis’ ruling last week, he explicitly stated that his decision “must not be construed in any way as accepting as true petitioner’s (Ashqar’s) claim that he was tortured by Israeli officials in the past and that he has a bona fide fear that he will be tortured.”

ICE officials issued a statement Saturday saying the bureau fully complied with Ellis’ order. The statement said officers returned Ashqar to the U.S. Thursday because they were “prohibited from executing the removal if Ashqar was delivered to Israeli authorities.”

Taurel said authorities can’t deport Ashqar to Jordan because the Jordanians won’t accept him. Indeed, Taurel said records in one of Ashqar’s court proceedings show that then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen raised the issue directly to her Jordanian counterparts to no avail.

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In 2017, the U.S. deported convicted Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh to Jordan for lying on her immigration application when she came to the U.S.

After Ashqar finished serving his prison sentence, he spent another 18 months in immigration custody as officials looked for a way to deport him. He was finally released in December after his lawyers successfully petitioned to get him out.