Darwishahmad, 34, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Memphis to one count of making a false statement to an 81-word question on an immigration document. The tall, slightly-built man, who had to sit down in a chair for part of the hearing, will be deported and cannot return to the United States as part of the agreement under which two other charges were dropped. He will not have to serve any more prison time.
For reasons that are not clear, the case drew the attention the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, which has been aggressively pursuing immigration violations. FBI Special Agent In Charge My Harrison attended the hearing as did Darwishahmads wife, a Tennessean who sobbed audibly at one point in the hearing when her husband looked back at her. Darwishahmad said he has a five-year-old child. He came to the U.S. in March of 2001.
He has been in custody since his arrest on February 26th. He told U.S. district judge Jon McCalla that he had not been mistreated during his confinement, but the judge thought he looked so frail that he suggested Darwishahmad be seated for the rest of the hearing. The defendants first language is Arabic and he spoke in a voice barely above a whisper.
The hearing shed little light on what brought the former Germantown car salesman and real estate investor to the attention of the terrorism task force. Under questioning by McCalla and with assistant U.S. attorney Fred Godwin standing by, Darwishahmad said that in 1990 he threw a grenade-like bomb at an Israeli bus and a Molotov cocktail at Israeli soldiers. It is not clear if anyone was hurt. He said he was recruited by the militant group Fatah, which the U.S. government has identified as a terrorist group. He was convicted at some point by a military court in Israel but he has no previous criminal record in the U.S. The United States attorneys office in Memphis characterized him as a former Palestinian Authority intelligence officer but this was not explained in court Tuesday.
Darwishahmad was seeking permanent resident alien status in the U.S. The question on the immigration form to which he answered no reads as follows:
Have you ever engaged in, conspired to engage in, or do you intend to engage in, or have you ever solicited membership or funds for, or have you through any other means ever assisted or provided funds for, or have you through any other means ever assisted or provided any type of material support to any person or organization that has ever engaged in or conspired to engage in sabotage, kidnapping, political assassination, hijacking or any other form of terrorist activity? U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Leigh Anne Jordon said no additional information about the timing of the case was available.