A suspected Iraqi terrorist was ordered Monday to remain in jail as flight risk and danger to the community while U.S. authorities determine whether he should be extradited to his home country to face a murder charge.
Omar Ameen, who was arrested last week in an FBI raid in Sacramento County, made a brief appearance in federal court but did not speak and had his case pushed back to a hearing set for Sept. 5.
Ameen, wearing an orange Sacramento County jail jumpsuit and shackled at his waist and ankles, was making his second court appearance since last week.
Federal defender Ben Galloway asked for a postponement to allow him to determine whether the man in custody is, in fact, Ameen.
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“We are conducting an investigation of our own,” Galloway told U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Brennan.
After the court appearance, Galloway sent out a statement that said the extradition hearing might be Ameen’s only chance for a fair trial on the murder charge.
“Mr. Ameen and his family have lived peacefully in this community for several years. The Iraqi government’s allegations against him have come as a great shock,” Galloway said. “Because the potential penalty is so severe, and because the American court system may be the only meaningful justice system available to Mr. Ameen, we intend to investigate this matter thoroughly and do everything we can to protect his rights here in the United States. It is critical that he be afforded every opportunity to address these accusations in this extradition proceeding. We would wish no less for an American citizen being held in a foreign country.“
Confirming the suspect’s identity is one of two issues to be decided before the actual extradition hearing begins. Ameen’s lawyers also may seek to have him released from custody pending the extradition case, but federal prosecutors already have filed court documents arguing strongly against such a move.
Ameen’s wife, who has declined to speak to reporters, attended the hearing, and he appeared to scan the 13th floor courtroom for her as he entered.
Ameen, 45, was arrested last week during a raid on his family’s apartment on Eastern Avenue in Sacramento County’s Arden Arcade neighborhood, where he lived with his wife and child and worked as an auto mechanic.
Federal officials and Iraqi authorities say in court documents that Ameen is wanted for the June 22, 2014, slaying of a former Iraqi police officer in Ameen’s hometown of Rawah in Al-Anbar province.
The documents describe Ameen as a leader of both ISIS and al-Qaida forces, and call him a “terrorist” who captured and executed soldiers, planted roadside bombs and drove a Kia Sportage with a machine gun mounted on the rear.
The documents also say that Ameen, whose court-appointed federal defenders say has assets of only $3,000, was a wealthy businessmen in Iraq who lied about his past to seek refugee status and be allowed into the United States in November 2014.
Iraqi authorities want the United States to allow Ameen to be extradited back to his home country under the terms of a 1934 treaty to face charges that could result in the death penalty.
Brennan does not have the authority to order Ameen’s extradition, but instead may hold a hearing to determine whether enough evidence “sufficient to sustain the charge” exists, court documents say.
The judge’s finding then must be forwarded to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“The Secretary of State, and not the court, then decides whether the fugitive should be surrendered to the requesting country,” court documents say. “If the court finds that the requirements for certification have been met, it must provide the certification to the Secretary of State, together with a copy of any testimony taken before the court, and must commit the fugitive to the custody of the U.S. Marshal to await the secretary’s final determination regarding surrender.”
The documents note that the extradition hearing “is not to determine the guilt or innocence of the fugitive.”
“That determination is reserved for the foreign court,” the documents say.
Extradition hearings differ greatly from federal court trials, with testimony from live witnesses not required or anticipated, court documents say. If a witness is called, the suspect has no right to cross examine them.
The suspect also has no right to a speedy trial, no right to confront his accusers and no Fifth Amendment right against double jeopardy, meaning he could face multiple extradition hearings, if necessary, prosecutors say in court filings.
“A fugitive may not introduce evidence that contradicts the evidence submitted on behalf of the requesting country, but rather may only introduce evidence explaining the submitted evidence,” court papers say.