California doctor jailed by Israel for alleged terrorist ties

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

SANTA ANA, Calif. -- An American doctor jailed in Israel for having alleged ties to Palestinian terrorists arrived home in California on Monday.

"It really has been a nightmare, folks" Dr. Riad Abdelkarim, 34, said after an airport greeting by family and friends.

"It's great to be home. It's great to be free and it's great to be among friends," he said.

His 12-year-old daughter, Rasmieh, held a sign that said, "My dad is a hero."

Abdelkarim would not answer reporters' questions about his captivity, but stuck to prepared remarks.

"Even though my captors denied me the right to speak to my wife and children except for a very brief, monitored phone call, I could feel their love and prayers," he said.

"I always believe in the end truth prevails. My presence here today is proof of that."

On Sunday, Abdelkarim was taken by Israeli authorities to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv after a hearing to show why the doctor should continue to be held was canceled without explanation.

Israel said they detained Abdelkarim "on suspicion of membership of a terror organization" -- the Holy Land Foundation. The Texas-based Islamic charity's assets were frozen in December after the Bush administration accused it as being a front for the militant Palestinian organization Hamas.

Associates said they did not believe Abdelkarim's membership in the group was the reason he was detained.

Before he was detained, the physician had traveled to a Palestinian refugee camp on behalf of two medical aid groups. In e-mail he described his visit to Jenin, where scores were killed in an Israeli military attack.

"I feel an uncomfortable mixture of sadness, grief, anger and shame. I also feel guilt," he wrote. "My tax dollars helped pay for those bullets."

Abdelkarim, born in California of Palestinian parents, is a frequent commentator on Middle East issues. He has taken positions against both Arab extremism and Israeli army abuses. He was questioned by the FBI after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Government officials in Israel made no announcement about Abdelkarim's release.

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