Terror suspect continues battle to get out of prison

Steven Harbaugh

The Department of Homeland Security has decided to appeal the release of Ashraf Al-Jailani, a 39-year-old Yemeni geochemist and former resident of Kent, who has suspected terrorist ties.

Al-Jailani has been in prison since October 2002. The latest developments mean that Al-Jailani will continue to be held in prison while the results of the appeal are pending.

Michele Swensen, Al-Jailani’s wife, has faced an uphill custody battle to have control of the couple’s three children as she has dealt with depression as a result of her husband’s incarceration. Last week, she regained custody of their children.

Soon the entire family may be back together if Al-Jailani’s lawyer Farhad Sethna has his way.

“I’m here for the long haul. I’m going to keep fighting for my client,” he said. “I’m not afraid of the Department of Homeland Security. What is most critical for people to understand is that this is not just the fight for one person to get out of jail. This is a fight that affects us all as Americans. We have to stand up for our civil liberties and hold the government accountable.”

Al-Jailani is currently being held at the Berks County Jail outside York, Pa.

In 1999, Al-Jailani’s business card was found on an al-Qaida money-launderer in New York, and it was discovered that he dialed some phone numbers in New York that were also dialed by Yemeni money-launderers. Three years later, following the Sept. 11 attacks, he was arrested at his job at GoJo Industries in Akron as police raided his Kent apartment and confiscated some of his belongings. Since then, he has been held without bail and without charges brought against him. He is currently being held on the basis of a prior domestic violence conviction.

Sethna said the fact that a terrorist suspect had his business card is not grounds to hold his client.

“I hand out hundreds of business cards a year,” he said. “If that were to end up in some criminal’s pocket, would that make me a criminal?”

Al-Jailani’s defense is that he was sending out business cards with resumes and at networking events to find a job.

Al-Jailani is very scared about deportation, Sethna said.

“He has a well-founded fear that he will be tortured if he were to be returned back to Yemen, because the FBI has made all these allegations against him,” Sethna said. “Yemen is a key ally in the War on Terror and he is fearful of being unfairly victimized.”

Michele Swensen, Al-Jailani’s wife, manages a Web site at www.helpashraf.com, where those that sympathize with her situation can submit contributions or read more about the case.

Aman Ali, president of the Muslim Student Association and columnist for the Stater, said the group organized a summer fundraiser and helped to raise $400 for Swensen.

Contact religion and culture reporter Steven Harbaugh at [email protected].