FLAGSTAFF, AZ - An Arizona congressman is questioning why an Iraqi native charged with detonating a homemade explosive device outside a federal building hadn't been deported despite his criminal history and being denied citizenship.
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Thursday that Abdullatif Ali Aldosary's previous arrests on harassment charges and a probation violation in Maricopa County weren't considered deportable offenses. Aldosary, who came to the United States legally in 1997, was denied a green card in 2008 because he fought with anti-government forces trying to overthrow former Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein in Basra, Iraq, in 1991.
He again has requested a green card, the first step toward citizenship, ICE spokesman Gillian Christensen said.
Federal immigration officials flagged Aldosary for a potential review of his status in the U.S. after he was booked into the Maricopa County jail last week on charges of maliciously damaging federal property by means of explosives and being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Authorities say Aldosary, 47, had researched bomb-making materials and gathered chemicals before detonating a small explosive outside the Social Security Administration office in Casa Grande. No one was injured in the blast, and authorities say the damage was minimal.
Authorities tracked him down after witnesses reported his license plate on a vehicle fleeing the scene, according to a criminal complaint.
In 2008, Aldosary pleaded guilty to felony aggravated harassment charges. He was sentenced to two months in jail and three years of probation. But his probation was revoked a year later, and he was ordered to serve a year in prison.
Rep. Paul Gosar's office wrote to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday looking for an explanation of Aldosary's status. Officials wouldn't say whether Aldosary has a temporary visa or has refugee status.
Aldosary's federal public defender didn't immediately return messages left Thursday by The Associated Press.
Aldosary sought help from Gosar's office last year in obtaining permanent residency. Gosar said he contacted Homeland Security, which responded in a letter that Aldosary's case had been put on hold "pursuant to the terrorism-related grounds of inadmissibility" under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Gosar's chief legal counsel, Thomas Van Flein, said Aldosary should have been deported promptly if he was denied citizenship due to terrorism-related activity.
"But for the grace of God, no one was injured in the bombing," Van Flein wrote in the letter to Homeland Security. "It appears to the congressman that a known terrorist was allowed to travel freely in Arizona and was allegedly able to engage in terrorism more than a year after DHS had already determined he engaged in terrorism activity."
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, federal immigration laws were changed to bar from the country any immigrants who have engaged in "terrorism-related activities." Aldosary's application for a green card was denied on those grounds. The law generally applies to anyone who fights against a government; it does not provide automatic exceptions for so-called freedom fighters who may have fought against totalitarian governments.
According to a U.S. official, a few months after Aldosary's application was denied, immigration officials reopened his application as part of a review of cases involving people who may be exempt from the law. His request for a green card has been pending since. The official was not authorized to discuss details of Aldosary's immigration case and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
About 4,400 immigration cases are on hold because no exemption applies, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Chief James McCament wrote in a letter to Gosar in December 2011.
Authorities say a recent search of Aldosary's home in Coolidge turned up documents explaining how to build a bomb that were hidden behind a picture. Aldosary also sought information on how to create an explosive material known as RDX, "considered one of the most powerful of the military high explosives," the criminal complaint read. "RDX is believed to have been used in many bomb plots, including terrorist plots."
Authorities a seized a handgun and rifle at Aldosary's home, along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition and several gallons of chemicals that could be used to make a bomb, according to court documents.