Six-month rule does not release Al-Najjar

Fedaa Al-Najjar, wife of former USF professor and government detainee Mazen Al-Najjar, has waited a long time for her husband’s release.
His lawyers told her that according to federal law, her husband could only be held for six months without being deported.
That was in November, and now that six months have come and gone, she still waits for his return.
“I don’t think this is fair,” Mrs. Al-Najjar said. “(My husband) has been in this country for 20 years.”
Although he has been suspected of having terrorist connections, Mrs. Al-Najjar said she cannot understand why her husband is being held with no apparent governmental evidence against him.
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s because he’s an Arab or because he’s a Muslim,” she said. “It’s kind of discrimination. Are they doing that with everybody, I really don’t know.”
The current situation is just the latest in a long saga for Al-Najjar, who is the brother-in-law of the embattled USF professor Sami Al-Arian. Al-Najjar has been fighting deportation for more than five years.
He caught the attention of the FBI while heading a USF campus Islamic group allegedly tied to Palestinian Jihad, a known terrorist group.
Al-Najjar was jailed for more than three years based on secret governmental evidence. He was released in 2000 after his imprisonment was ruled unconstitutional.
His latest imprisonment revolves around a governmental deportation order. The current trouble for both the government and Al-Najjar is centered on the fact that no other country has agreed to accept his aplication for entry.
Martin Schwartz, one of Al-Najjar’s lawyers, said an action has been filed at the U.S. District Court in Miami calling for the prisoner’s release. The hearing is scheduled to take place in June, and Schwartz said he is confident the judge will order his client released.
“It’s illegal. You cannot hold somebody more than six months in order to deport,” Schwartz said. “The law is on our side at this point.”
Schwartz said he isn’t sure why Al-Najjar is still behind bars. He said it is probably related to government claims of Al-Najjar’s supposed terrorist connections.
“Recently, the government has produced no new information as to why he has been detained,” Schwartz said. “It leads one to believe the government may well be trying to make an example of him.”
As for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the branch of the government that handles deportation, Schwartz said they no longer have control over this case.
“I don’t believe the INS is the one calling the shots in this case,” he said. “(I think) it’s someone very high up in the U.S. Department of Justice, probably John Ashcroft himself or someone at a level very close to his.”
The INS refers all inquiries into the case to the justice department. Officials from the department did not return repeated phone calls Wednesday.
Schwartz said the possibility exists that the case will end up in the Supreme Court. He said Al-Najjar, without the legal action, could be detained inevitably.
“The government can do it until somebody challenges it in federal court,” he said.
But for Mrs. Al-Najjar, she will have to wait another month to see her husband. She said she will continue to believe the detention is a case of government discrimination.
“My husband has done nothing,” she said. “I’m positive about that.”

Rob Brannon can be reached at