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Saudi Witch Hunt Nets U.S. Citizen as "terrorist" [Maybe facing torture]:
Student at Medina University
Br. Hammad Abdur-Raheem and Others Facing Similar Persecution in U.S.

By KAREN BRANCH-BRIOSO Post-Dispatch updated: 06/22/2003 06:24 PM

WASHINGTON - Saudi officials have arrested U.S. citizen Ahmed Abu-Ali as part of their inquiry into the suicide bombings May 12 in Riyadh, and federal agents followed up with a search of his parents' home in Virginia last week, according to the family's lawyer.

Ashraf Nubani, a Washington-area attorney, was contacted by relatives after they heard of Abu-Ali's arrest about two weeks ago. Nubani said he has tried to get details of the arrest ever since from State Department officials. But details are scarce.

"The only information we've been getting is he was first in Medina, then moved to Riyadh under local authorities' custody, (and) it's part of this investigation with the recent bombings, but we need to know that our government has seen him," Nubani said.

"What concerns me regarding Ahmed is our government can't get details to see, was he tortured, has he been fed, what exactly he is being charged with. If it were a Gibson or Schwartz, we'd have information the same day, but because his name is Ahmed, they haven't been to see him."

Kelly Shannon of the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs said U.S. consular officials had informally asked local Saudi law enforcement officials for access to Abu-Ali without success. They made a more recent formal request, she said.

"We formally requested through a diplomatic channel through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," Shannon said Friday. "I believe it was done yesterday. We have not had access to him yet."

Shannon said she could not discuss other details of the arrest, due to privacy considerations. But when asked whether an FBI search of his home had in some way delayed State Department efforts in the case, she said no. "Even when an American citizen has committed a crime, we always request access," Shannon said.

Nubani insists that Abu-Ali, 22, has done no wrong - and would not have had any role in the suicide bombings in Riyadh that killed 35, including nine Americans and nine Saudi attackers.

"I know Ahmed. I've known him since I came to Virginia five years ago," Nubani said. "He wouldn't have anything to do with that at all."

Abu-Ali, born to parents of Jordanian heritage, left his Falls Church, Va., home at least a year ago to study Islam at Medina University, in Saudi Arabia's second-holiest city after Mecca, Nubani said.

It was there where he was arrested as part of the anti-terrorism crackdown by the Saudi government since the attacks in Riyadh, Nubani said, citing reports from U.S. consular officials. Officials at the Saudi embassy in Washington could not be reached for comment Friday night.

FBI agents arrived Monday at the home of Abu-Ali's parents with a search warrant, Nubani said. Listed on the search warrant were the names of several other men - including others whose suburban Washington homes were also searched last week. Most of the men are part of a group that played paintball together until after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said Hammad Abdur-Raheem, also of Falls Church.

Abdur-Raheem, 35, is one of nearly a dozen suburban Washington Muslims whose homes and cars were searched in recent months by FBI agents. The search warrants sought evidence that the men had traveled abroad and supported terrorist groups. The search warrants for Abu-Ali's home were no different.

Nubani said the warrants sought evidence that the men had participated in "military-style training" or "jihad." Among the items taken from Abu-Ali's home, Nubani said, was the family's computer.

2003-06-28 Sat 09:03ct