PHOENIX (AP) — An Iraqi immigrant who ran a Phoenix driving school and was arrested two months ago on charges of participating in the killings of two police officers in Iraq nearly 15 year ago should remain jailed until his extradition case is over, federal prosecutors said.
Ali Yousif Ahmed Al-Nouri, who became a U.S. citizen in 2015, faces allegations that he led an al-Qaida group that fatally shot the officers in 2006 on the streets of Fallujah. His lawyer has denied the accusations.
A detention hearing for Ahmed was scheduled for Tuesday, though information in online court documents suggested it could be postponed. Lawyers preparing for the hearing filed documents last week over the issue of whether Ahmed should be released while his extradition case plays out.
Ahmed’s lawyer, Jami Johnson, disputed arguments by prosecutors that Ahmed poses a danger to the community and poses a flight risk. She also said he could be killed if he is sent back to to Iraq.
In arguing for his release, Johnson cited Ahmed’s earlier work in the U.S. as a cultural adviser to military and said that her 42-year-old client, who suffers from heart and lung ailments, is vulnerable to being infected with coronavirus in the Florence, Arizona, detention center where he is being held.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
In both attacks on the two officers in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, armed men emerged from cars, fired on the officers and fled.
In the first shooting, a masked attacker held a gun to a witness’ head, while another masked man tried to open fire at a police officer but his gun malfunctioned.
Another attacker then killed police Lt. Issam Ahmed Hussein. The witness later identified Ahmed, who was not wearing a mask, as the group’s leader, according to court records.
Four months later, Iraqi authorities say Ahmed and other men fatally shot Officer Khalid Ibrahim Mohammad as the officer sat outside a store. A witness recognized Ahmed, whose mask had fallen off, as one of the assailants, according to court records.
Ahmed has denied involvement in the killings and in being member of a terror group.
Johnson said violence and turmoil in Iraq traumatized her client and prompted him to flee to Syria, where he lived in a refugee camp for three years before moving to the U.S.
After settling in Arizona, Ahmed volunteered in Phoenix’s refugee community and worked as a military cultural advisor, traveling to bases in other states to help personnel as they prepared to deploy to the Middle East to fight the Islamic State, his attorney said. He bought a home in Surprise on the northwestern edge of metro Phoenix and operated the driving school serving largely Middle Eastern immigrants.
In the court records, prosecutors arguing for Ahmed’s continued detention said he left Iraq after the killings to avoid prosecution.
They also questioned Ahmed’s credibility, saying he gave conflicting explanations on how he suffered gunshot wounds while in Iraq and that they could not determine why he spent time in a Syrian prison before moving to the United States.
Johnson countered that the Ahmed would have a difficult time fleeing because the coronavirus pandemic has closed many borders and made international travel nearly impossible.
Johnson questioned why the Iraqi criminal case against Ahmed took 14 years to be filed, doubts her client would get a fair trial in Iraq and alleged that there is pervasive corruption in the Iraqi justice system.
“Mr. Ahmed cannot return to Iraq, or he will almost certainly be killed,” Johnson wrote.
While the Trump administration isn’t mentioned in Johnson’s filing, she previously claimed the case emerged from information provided by informants who had “everything to gain by delivering the Trump administration a supposed ‘terrorist refugee’ in an election year.”
It’s unclear whether Ahmed came to the United States as a refugee.