Criminal Justice

Community activist with law degree hid bomb-plot conviction to get US citizenship, indictment says

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A suburban Chicago resident, who earned a law degree and is a valued member of a community organization that promotes Arab-American civil rights, was convicted in a terrorist attack decades ago and lied on an immigration application to become a citizen of the U.S., federal officials contend.

Rasmieh Yousef Odeh, 66, served ten years in an Israel prison after being convicted in a military court in 1970, along with four others, in 1969 bombings that killed two people. Then she was released in a prisoner exchange in which her sentence was commuted, according to the Associated Press.

The Chicago Tribune provides further details and links to the indictment (PDF).

It says Odeh failed to reveal her conviction in a 1994 immigration application and a 2004 citizenship application. She initially lived in Michigan after emigrating to the U.S., then moved to the Chicago area.

The AP says Odeh works as an associate director at the Arab American Action Network, and notes that the organization’s website says she earned a law degree and has worked as a lawyer. An “activist profile” on the AAAN website suggests that she practiced in Jordan. It says she earned a law degree there, and is now working on a master’s degree in criminal justice, apparently in the Chicago area.

Odeh was one of 23 individuals, described by the AP as Palestinian and left-wing activists, whose homes in Chicago, Minneapolis and Grand Rapids, Mich., were raided around 2010 by the FBI. No indictments have resulted.

Odeh, whose work focuses on domestic violence prevention, “is a leader in the community—a stalwart, an icon,” said director Hatem Abudayyeh of the AAAN, a nonprofit that seeks to help immigrants and to combat anti-Muslim and anti-Arab prejudice.

He came to the federal court building in support of Odeh and said of her arrest, “It’s an escalation of attacks on our community. … We are very, very angry,” the AP reports.

Attorney James Fennerty, who represents Odeh, said she is a close friend and “one of the nicest people. … She’s always caring. She’s not a threat to anyone.”

Charged with immigration fraud, Odeh will be deported if convicted and could face a prison sentence of as much as 10 years, says an FBI press release.

“An individual convicted of a terrorist bombing would not be admitted to the United States if that information was known at the time of arrival,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade in the release. “Upon discovery that someone convicted of a terrorist attack is in the United States illegally, we will seek to use our criminal justice system to remove that individual.”

Odeh was released on $15,000 bond this week after a hearing in federal court in Chicago and ordered to appear in federal court in Detroit on Nov. 1.

The ABA Journal emailed both Odeh and Abudayyeh for additional comment, but did not receive a response.

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