FBI officers search an Arden Arcade apartment
Lawyers for the Sacramento man accused of being an ISIS terrorist who killed a police officer in Iraq in 2014 have set forth a key part of their defense argument: Omar Ameen wasn’t in the war-torn country at the time of the alleged killing.
Ameen, a 45-year-old father of four who has lived in Sacramento since early 2016, faces a court hearing in federal court Monday as part of the government’s efforts to extradite him back to his home nation of Iraq to face charges in the June 22, 2014, slaying of a police officer in Al-Anbar province.
But Chief Assistant Federal Defender Ben Galloway argues in court documents filed in advance of the hearing that sending Ameen back to Iraq virtually guarantees his execution by hanging.
“In the end, the sentence for any such offense is usually death by hanging, accomplished within hours of presidential ratification of the sentence,” Galloway wrote, adding that Iraq has one of the highest rates of execution in the world.
Ameen, an auto mechanic arrested Aug. 15 at his Arden Arcade apartment on Eastern Avenue, is being held without bail at the Sacramento County Main Jail and is due in court Monday for a hearing to establish that he is, indeed, the suspect named by Iraqi authorities as Omar Ameen.
Galloway does not dispute that, saying in his court filings that Ameen “acknowledges being the person identified in the Iraqi arrest warrant” and will waive an identity hearing.
But Galloway added that Ameen “adamantly denies having been involved in the charged offense and, in fact, was not even in Iraq at the time.”
Ameen’s attorneys provide no alibi for him in the latest filing, saying they need more time to investigate the case and are asking U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Brennan to schedule another hearing in December.
Galloway notes that the Iraqi request for extradition is based on “a single purported eyewitness to the alleged murder” and that a statement that witness gave to an Iraqi court in April “is both internally inconsistent and extensively contradicted by that witness’s earlier statement taken in October 2017 by the FBI.”
Court documents filed by prosecutors describe Ameen as a danger to the community and say he has been a member of al-Qaida in Iraq and ISIS since at least 2004, including time he allegedly spent planting improvised explosive devices while U.S. forces were fighting in Iraq.
He faces charges in Iraq of being part of a four-vehicle convoy that drove to the home of Ihsan Abdulhafiz Jasim and opened fire on the officer, killing him.
“In response to the attack on his home, the victim returned fire with his Kalashnikov rifle,” court documents state. “Ameen then fired his weapon at the victim while the victim was on the ground.”
The documents also say the slaying was later announced on social media by ISIS, and that witnesses identified Ameen through several photos.
“The FBI has interviewed at least eight witnesses who identify the Ameen family — including Ameen himself, his father, brothers and paternal cousins — as affiliated with AQI and ISIS,” court filings say.
He is accused of being a wealthy Iraqi businessman who lied to immigration officials and sought refugee status that allowed him into the United States in November 2014.
Ameen faces no charges in the United States, but instead is being held for an extradition hearing that could send him back to Iraq under a 1934 treaty between his home country and the United States.
Such hearings differ greatly from trials in federal court, with the suspect having no right to faces his accusers and no requirement for live witnesses to appear. If witnesses are called, suspects in extradition proceedings have no right to cross examine them.
Suspects in such hearings also have no Fifth Amendment right against double jeopardy, meaning the government could pursue his extradition through multiple hearings, if necessary.
The judge in the case does not have authority to order Ameen extradited, prosecutors say. Instead, he can determine whether there is enough evidence “sufficient to sustain the charge” Iraqi officials have alleged, and the matter will be forwarded to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a final decision.
Those conditions make Ameen’s lawyers’ jobs difficult, and Galloway says in his court filing that he needs more time to investigate “how this incredible allegation was procured,” noting that other extradition cases lasted nine to 15 months from the time a suspect was arrested.
“The defense believes that its investigation will result in admissible evidence that will obliterate probable cause,” Galloway wrote. “Given the incredibly high stakes in this case — a virtually-ensured death sentence should Mr. Ameen be returned to Iraq — defense counsel respectfully requests that this court provide reasonable time for a full investigation.”