Terror Tipster Sent To Jordan A Judge Ordered Walid Arkeh, Who Had Warned Authorities Of The Sept. 11 Attacks, To Be Deported. March 12, 2003|By Doris Bloodsworth, Sentinel Staff Writer BRADENTON -- Walid Arkeh will be tasting freedom soon, but it won't be in the United States, as he and his family had hoped.
Immigration Judge Keith Williams said Tuesday in a Manatee County courtroom that even though Arkeh tried to warn FBI agents about terrorist attacks before Sept. 11, he will be deported to his native Jordan. The judge said a child-abuse conviction from when Arkeh slapped his daughter almost four years ago ruled out any consideration for political asylum because of the seriousness of the crime.
Articles in 2002 and 2003 about Walid Arkeh, a Jordanian national from Altamonte Springs who told the Federal Bureau of Investigation in August 2001 of threats against the United States, contained several inaccuracies. The Sentinel re-examined the articles after recent complaints from federal law-enforcement officials. Arkeh was in the Seminole County Jail in the summer of 2001 after extradition from England, where he had fled after being convicted of child abuse and dealing in stolen goods. He tried to gain freedom and asylum by using information he said he had gleaned in a London prison from three suspected associates of Osama bin Laden. One of the flawed articles, which appeared Oct. 30, 2002, on the front page, stated that federal authorities had confirmed that Arkeh had knowledge during the summer of 2001 that bin Laden was planning to attack the World Trade Center and government buildings in Washington, D.C. That statement was misattributed and overstated. The actual source was a lawyer representing Arkeh at the time, and the statement misstated the lawyer's information. The lawyer said that federal authorities found Arkeh to be credible, but neither the lawyer nor federal authorities confirmed that Arkeh told them he had advance knowledge of what targets would be attacked. Similarly, an earlier front-page article, on Jan. 6, 2002, overstated a comment by Steve Cole, the Tampa-based spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida, and Tom Turner, then the managing assistant U.S. Attorney in Orlando. They said they regarded the information Arkeh provided as neither fabricated nor a coincidence. They did not, however, say that Arkeh's information was specific to the September 2001 attacks. Additionally: The Jan. 6 article misspelled the last name of then-supervisor of FBI special agents in Orlando, Bill Hajeski. The Oct. 30 article described Arkeh's legal status incorrectly. He was not being held as a material witness. Both those articles and 12 others -- on Jan. 11, June 9, Nov. 10 and Nov. 22, and Dec. 18, 2002, and Jan. 9, Jan. 11, Jan. 27, Feb. 6, Feb. 7, March 10 and March 12, 2003 -- incorrectly characterized the child-abuse conviction against Arkeh. He pleaded no contest to felony charges that he hit his 8-year-old daughter twice in the head with a closed fist, threw her on a bed and bit her on the buttock.
Arkeh, dressed in tan jail clothes, told the judge he did not wish to appeal the decision.
"I would like to be removed as soon as possible," said Arkeh, who turned to smile at his father, Abdul Arkeh, several times while the judge read his opinion during the afternoon hearing.
Immigration counsel Tony Maingot told Arkeh he would start working on the deportation plans immediately.
A disappointed Barry Brumer, Arkeh's Orlando attorney, said afterward that his client likely will be flown to Jordan within days, accompanied by U.S. marshals.
"Walid said he wants to get on with his life," Brumer said.
Arkeh's parents, who live in Orlando, dropped off a suitcase of clothes for their son to wear on his flight to Jordan, where he has no relatives and has not lived since he was 2 months old.
"I'm sad they made that decision," his brother Mo Arkeh of Orlando said of the court ruling.
Arkeh's case made international news, appearing in newspapers and broadcasts across the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. He became a popular figure on numerous Web sites that touted his case as proof of everything from a government conspiracy to proof of the apocalypse.
"This case had more issues than a typical illegal worker at a construction site," Brumer said.
Florida FBI agents had sought to discredit Arkeh's information. But Labe Richman, Arkeh's New York attorney, said federal authorities there called his client's testimony "credible."
Brumer hoped the introduction Tuesday of letters from Arkeh's 12-year-old daughter and estranged wife might sway the judge.
"I do not think my dad should be deported because it's not fair," the girl wrote in her March 8 letter to the judge. "I would like one day to have a father-daughter relationship."
It will be several years before he can apply to visit the United States.
The girl's mother also wrote the judge. "Walid does not have a history of child abuse, and I don't believe that he is a threat," she wrote, adding that the child should have "the right to decide whether or not she wants her father removed from her life completely." The mother and daughter live out of state and asked not to be identified because they fear terrorists.
In his detailed opinion, the judge seemed sympathetic to Arkeh's case, noting his loving family and acknowledging the risk he had taken to speak out about terrorism.
But Williams said he had to base his decision on the law and the facts, not on "what should be" and "not the court of public opinion."
The judge reviewed Arkeh's life in the United States, which began in 1987 when his parents sent him from the United Arab Emirates to live with a brother attending college in Wisconsin. The following year, Arkeh married a U.S. citizen, and the couple had a daughter a few years later. After the couple separated in 1991, he moved to Central Florida to live with his parents and brothers. His legal residency expired.
In 1999, while the then-8-year-old daughter was staying with Arkeh in Seminole County, Arkeh said he lost his temper during a fight about the child's bedtime and slapped her. The incident, along with a charge of trying to sell a stolen ring, earned Arkeh 30 months in prison.
While waiting to be sentenced, and fearing deportation, he fled to England, where British authorities arrested him in September 2000 and sent him to London's Brixton prison. Arkeh said he became a confidante of three fellow inmates who he later learned were indicted as co-conspirators of Osama bin Laden's in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa.
Arkeh said he became alarmed when he heard the men discussing plans of imminent attacks involving the World Trade Center and government buildings in Washington.
After he was extradited to the Seminole County Jail, Arkeh sought the help of a fellow inmate, who arranged for the FBI to come to the jail Aug. 21, 2001. Arkeh said he told the agents about the Brixton prisoners and about the planned attacks. He asked for a lawyer, protection and asylum but did not receive them.
Although Florida FBI agents shunned Arkeh's warnings, they returned on Sept. 11, hours after the attacks on the twin towers and Pentagon and the crash of a flight hijacked by terrorists. Federal authorities investigating terrorism took Arkeh to New York City as a material witness for four months last year.
Arkeh's family members, who have said many times that they fear al-Qaeda members will kill their son if given the opportunity, are working out details of what they will do once deportation plans are final. Arkeh's mother said she might try to fly over at the same time, and he has a brother and sister living in the Middle East. Abdul Arkeh said his son might eventually live in Canada with other relatives.
Arkeh's attorney and family said after the hearing that they are trying to be optimistic.
Brumer, a member of the Messianic Jewish faith, said the experience has given him a new appreciation for Palestinians after getting to know Arkeh, a Palestinian Muslim, and his family. Abdul Arkeh said he thinks his son has grown from the experience of the past few years.
Brumer said he thinks the case ultimately was about doing the right thing.
"Walid did what he thought was right, regardless of the consequences," Brumer said. "People should do the right thing."