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Judge blocks deportation of Palestinian activist refusing to testify against Hamas

Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 60, was deported to Israel on June 4, but ordered to return to the United States after his plane landed in Israel.

Abdelhaleem Ashqar. Credit: Screenshot.
Abdelhaleem Ashqar. Credit: Screenshot.

A Virginia man who served 11 years behind bars for refusing to testify to a grand jury against Hamas had his deportation to Israel halted by a U.S. federal judge after discovering that the removal order specified that he be sent to Jordan.

Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 60, was deported to Israel on June 4, but U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III ordered him to return to the United States after Ashqar’s plane landed in Israel.

Israel planned to hand him over to the Palestinian Authority. Ashqar expressed concern that Israeli authorities would instead torture him were he to be handed over to them before Palestinian officials.

In a footnote, Ellis 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.”

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Saturday that the agency complied with Ellis’s order, and that immigration officials sent Ashqar back to the United States due to them being “prohibited from executing the removal if Ashqar was delivered to Israeli authorities.”

Ashqar, who arrived in the United States in 1989 on a visa to study at the University of Mississippi and finished fourth out of seven in the 2005 election to replace Yasser Arafat as Palestinian National Authority president as he awaited trail, is currently at a detention facility in Bowling Green, Va., while he seeks an expedited decision from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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