Associated Press WriterDETROIT (AP) -- The detained co-founder of an Islamic charity is seeking political asylum in the United States because he fears he will not be safe in his native Lebanon if the U.S. government succeeds in deporting him, his attorney said Tuesday.
Rabih Haddad, who appeared in immigration court via a video linkup from the Monroe County Jail, has been detained for more than six months on a visa violation.
"There is a justifiable fear that he will be persecuted" if he returns to Lebanon, his attorney, Ashraf Nubani, said outside the Detroit court. "The United States has cast an aura, unjustifiably, against him as a man with links to terrorism."
Haddad, who helped start the Global Relief Foundation, was arrested Dec. 14 -- the same day the charity's suburban Chicago office was raided. The Ann Arbor resident is accused of overstaying his visa.
The FBI has said it suspected Global Relief of links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network. The Treasury Department froze its assets.
Neither Haddad nor Global Relief have been charged with terrorist activity. Both have denied involvement with terrorists.
U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Charles Miller on Tuesday said Haddad's case is a "matter of special interest," and the deportation efforts are procedural. The department won't say whether it considers Haddad a terror suspect.
Tuesday's hearing was the first public session in the effort to deport Haddad. Nubani said he would file paperwork on the asylum request later in the day.
"Extend my thanks and my gratitude to all these people who came down," Haddad said, referring to supporters who attended the hearing.
The INS is moving to deport Haddad, his wife, Salma al-Rashaid, and three of their four children. Haddad last came to the United States in 1998 on a tourist visa that has since expired.
Haddad has been held at the Monroe County Jail, but the rest of the family is not detained. The couple's fourth child was born in the United States and cannot be deported.
"It has been very difficult for him," said al-Rashaid, who noted that Haddad's father died last week. "This is not right. You're innocent until proven guilty."
Nubani said in attempting to link Haddad to terrorism, the government has made it difficult for Haddad to go anywhere else.
"This is the safest place for him to be," he said.
Miller said the Justice Department had no comment on the request for asylum.
Much of the government's case against Haddad came to light after a federal judge in April ordered the government to open Haddad's immigration hearings and release transcripts. A hearing on the government's appeal of that ruling is scheduled for Aug. 6.
Immigration Judge Elizabeth Hacker has scheduled an Aug. 27 trial on whether Haddad and his family should be deported. Al-Rashaid's lawyer said Tuesday that she and her children will seek to leave voluntarily if the asylum application is rejected.
The nonprofit Global Relief Foundation, based in Bridgeview, Ill., provides food, emergency relief, medical aid and education training in more than 20 countries, including Pakistan, Iraq and Chechnya.
Haddad traveled frequently as part of charity work, before and after he started Global Relief. From 1988 to 1992, he lived in Pakistan. His attorney said that was part of efforts by Muslim humanitarian organizations.
According to court documents, the FBI described "how sources place (Haddad) in the company of leaders and members of al-Qaida-related terrorist organizations." Federal officials also have said in court documents that Global Relief maintained contacts with Wadih el Hage, bin Laden's former personal secretary.
El Hage was convicted last year in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies.