Nabil al-Marabh was No. 27 on the FBI's list of terror suspects after Sept. 11. He trained in Afghan-istan's militant camps, sent money to a roommate convicted in a foiled plot to bomb a hotel, and boasted to an informant about plans to blow up a fuel truck inside a New York tunnel, FBI documents allege. \nPresident George W. Bush's administration set him free, even though prosecutors had sought to bring criminal cases against him and judges openly expressed concerns about possible terrorist ties. \nAl-Marabh served an eight-month jail sentence and was sent in January to his native Syria, which is regarded by the United States as a sponsor of terrorism. The quiet disposition of his case stands in stark contrast to the language FBI agents used to describe the man. \nAl-Marabh "intended to martyr himself in an attack" against the US, an FBI agent wrote in a December 2002 report. A footnote in al-Marabh's deportation ruling last year added, "The FBI has been unable to rule out the possibility that al-Marabh has engaged in terrorist activity or will do so if he is not removed from the United States." \nOne FBI report summarized a high-level debriefing of a Jordanian informant named Ahmed Ashwas that was conducted by the US attorney in Chicago. The informant alleged al-Marabh told him of specific terrorist plans during their time in prison. \nEven the judge who accepted al-Marabh's plea agreement on minor immigration charges in 2002 balked. "Something about this case just makes me feel uncomfortable," Judge Richard Arcara said in court. The Justice Department, however, assured the judge that al-Marabh did not have terrorist ties. \nA second judge who ultimately ordered al-Marabh's deportation sided with FBI agents, federal prosecutors and Customs agents who said al-Marabh was tied to terrorism. \n"The court finds applicant does present a danger to national security," Immigration Judge Robert Newberry ruled, concluding that al-Marabh was "credibly linked to elements of terrorism" and had a "propensity to lie." \nNeither the courts nor al-Marabh's attorneys were given access to the most striking allegations provided by the Jordanian informant. \nAsked to explain the decision to free al-Marabh, Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said the government has concerns about many people with suspected terror ties but cannot effectively try them in court without giving away intelligence sources and methods. \n"If the government cannot prosecute terrorism charges, another option is to remove the individual from the United States via deportation. After careful review, this was determined to be the best option available under the law to protect our national security," he said. \nBut a Senate Judiciary Committee member scoffed at the explanation. "It's hard to believe that the best way to deal with the FBI's 27th-most-wanted terrorist is to send him back to a terrorist-sponsoring country," said Democrat Charles Schumer. He said the Justice Department could have used a military tribunal. "This action certainly raises a lot of questions and demands a lot of answers," Schumer said. \nInternal FBI and Justice Department documents show that prosecutors and FBI agents in several cities gathered evidence that linked al-Marabh to Raed Hijazi, the Boston cab driver convicted in Jordan of plotting to blow up an American-frequented hotel in Amman during the millennium celebrations of 1999. Al-Marabh and Hijazi were roommates at the Afghan training camps and later in the US, and al-Marabh sent money to Hijazi. \nThe released suspect also lived at the Detroit apartment where four men were arrested in the first major terrorism prosecution after Sept. 11. Al-Marabh's name was still on the rental unit when agents raided it. The men were found with false IDs and documents describing alleged terror plots. \nAl-Marabh also figured in several large deposits, withdrawals and overseas wire transfers in 1998 and 2000 that were flagged as suspicious by a Boston bank. The Customs Service first identified al-Marabh in 2001, citing possible terrorist ties to Hijazi. \nFBI documents said al-Marabh denied being affiliated with al-Qaida. But he acknowledged receiving "security" training to handle rifles and rocket-propelled grenades in Afghan mujahedeen camps, sending money to his friend Hijazi, using a fake address to get a truck-driving license and buying a phony passport for $4,000 in Canada to sneak into the US shortly before Sept. 11. \nAl-Marabh's attorney, Mark Kriger, said Wednesday he had never seen the Jordanian informant report and still doesn't believe his client had anything to do with terrorism. He said his client broke ties with Hijazi years ago after a falling-out. \nKriger said he found it unbelievable "that the government, if it believed Ashwas, would have deported Mr. al-Marabh rather than indict him." \nThe Justice Department's criminal division chief, Chris Wray, expressed concern to Congress last month that some suspects were being deported to freedom. "It may be more difficult than people would expect" to make a case against a suspect, even when he trained at terror camps, he said. \n"We may be able to deport the person under the immigration laws," Wray added. "And while that should give us some comfort, the fact is, if we go that route, the person is removed to another country and turned loose there, and we have no ability to make sure that they're not engaged in further terrorist activity." \nAt one point in late 2002, US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago drafted an indictment against al-Marabh on multiple counts of making false statements in his interviews with FBI agents. Justice headquarters declined to prosecute. \nFitzgerald then tracked down Ashwas, the Jordanian who because of minor immigration problems had spent time with al-Marabh in a federal detention cell in 2002. \nFitzgerald had the man flown to Chicago and oversaw his debriefing along with FBI agents from Chicago and Detroit. When contacted for this story, Fitzgerald declined to comment on the case.
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