Judge grants ex-Israeli spy US asylum

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Hilary Leila Krieger
Jerusalem Post

The son of a Hamas founder who spied for Israel will be granted asylum in the US, a judge in San Diego ruled Wednesday.

Mosab Yousef, 32, had been threatened with deportation for engaging in terrorist activities, as detailed in his recent autobiography, though it was done in the service of Israel during his nine years as an undercover agent.

Wednesday’s hearing lasted 15 minutes, with the judge ruling that Yousef can stay in the United States – where he has lived since 2007 – after he passes a routine background check.

US Department of Homeland Security attorney Kerri Calcador said she was dropping objections to asylum, with no further explanation given of the rationale behind the decision.

In response to a query from The Jerusalem Post concerning the case, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Brian P. Hale said that during the hearing, “DHS attorneys recommended to the court that Mr. Yousef be granted the requested relief.”

Yousef, who has been living in San Diego, was cheered by supporters as he left the hearing.

He said he loved living in California, wanted to become a US citizen and hoped to pursue a master’s degree in history and geography.

“I will keep fighting the ideology that is behind terrorists because I know how they think,” he said outside the courtroom.

Yousef said he could not explain the government’s abrupt decision, but that authorities may have had second thoughts after reviewing his case more closely.

“For 10 years, he fought terrorism in secret, hiding what he was doing and who he was,” his attorney, Steven Seick, wrote in a court filing. “He deserves a safe place away from violence and fear.”

Yousef had argued that he would be killed if he were deported, because he spied on Hamas for the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and abandoned Islam for Christianity.

Four months ago, Yousef published a memoir, Son of Hamas: A Gripping Account of Terror, Betrayal, Political Intrigue, and Unthinkable Choices, in which he claimed to be one of the Shin Bet’s best assets and to have been dubbed The Green Prince, a reference to his Hamas pedigree and Islam’s signature green color.

Yousef has said his intelligence work for Israel required him to do anything he could to learn about Hamas and that neither he nor Israel knew at the time that some Hamas men to whom he gave rides were suspects in a suicide bombing.

“Yes, while working for Israeli intelligence, I posed as a terrorist,” he wrote on his blog last month. “Yes, I carried a gun. Yes, I was in terrorist meetings with Yasser Arafat, my father and other Hamas leaders. It was part of my job.”

Yousef has rallied support from members of Congress and others. Former CIA director James Woolsey has called him a “remarkable young man” who should be commended for “extraordinary heroism and courage.”

Gonen Ben-Itzhak, Yousef’s former Shin Bet handler, traveled to the hearing from Israel, but no witnesses were called to testify because the government dropped its opposition to his asylum application.

“Basically, I wanted to say that Mosab was not a terrorist,” Ben-Itzhak said after the hearing. “He was not affiliated with Hamas. He’s a great guy and he should get asylum.”

Israel has not commented on Yousef’s claims, though members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee wrote him this month to thank him and recognize his work for the Shin Bet.

In his book, co-written with Ron Brackin, Yousef described growing up admiring Hamas and hating Israel, which led him to buy a couple of machine guns and a handgun in 1996. He said the guns didn’t work and that he was arrested by Israeli forces before he killed anyone.

Yousef said he had started working with the Shin Bet after witnessing Hamas brutalities in prison that left him disillusioned. He gravitated toward Christianity after his release in 1997, joining a Christian study group after a chance encounter with a British tourist at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.

Yousef said he had joined his father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, at many meetings with Palestinian leaders and reported on them to the Shin Bet. His father, a senior Hamas leader who is serving a six-year sentence in an Israeli prison, disowned him in March.

Yousef wrote in The Washington Post Wednesday ahead of his hearing that he would face “a certain death” if deported to anywhere in the Middle East.

The piece, co-written with Ben-Itzhak, also warned that “gathering human intelligence in the war against terrorism will become impossible if the United States does not protect those who risk their lives on behalf of American values.”

Several members of Congress had called on the Obama administration not to deport Yousef, with close to two dozen signing a letter to Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano arguing that he would be in “grave danger” if he returned to the Middle East.

The Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a Jewish organization that had championed Yousef’s cause, welcomed the ruling.

“EMET is enormously grateful to all those who played a part in standing with Mosab during this time, and in helping the Department of Homeland Security come to understand what a grave error deporting Mosab would have been,” the group said.

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