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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, May 29, 2024


Oct. 30, 2001 — Eight Syrian nationals who were arrested at the Bunker Hill Hotel in Charlotte Amalie last week pleaded guilty Tuesday to misdemeanor illegal immigration charges.
Speaking through an Arabic interpreter, the eight men told Magistrate Judge Geoffrey Barnard they were guilty of entering St. Thomas illegally by boat from St. Martin in August.
Because they offered the guilty plea, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hugh Mabe indicated that prosecutors would not bring any more serious charges against the Syrians.
Barnard sentenced each of the men to time already spent in custody and turned them over to officials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The men, who have indicated they face persecution in their native Syria because they are Christian, are expected to apply for political asylum in the United States.
The INS hearings could include deportation proceedings or other actions, Mabe said.
The men were picked up last week by a team of federal agents from the FBI, INS and Drug Enforcement Administration and local police. During operations last week, a similar task force executed search warrants at Plaza Extra stores on St. Thomas and St. Croix, searched several other Arab-owned groceries and convenience stores and also arrested four Jordanian nationals at the Miller Manor guesthouse in downtown Charlotte Amalie.
The four Jordanians also appeared in court before Barnard on Tuesday, but Mabe said prosecutors were still investigating that case and were not prepared to offer plea agreements. He said prosecutors expect to file additional felony charges against at least one of the Jordanians, Ra Ed Awad Mustafa Alghazawi, while the other three men could be held as material witnesses in that case. Those men have been identified as Eyad Ahmad Abdel Mustafa, Yaser Mohammad Hammad and Amer Abdel Rahim.
Barnard ordered that the Jordanians remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service for a 10-day period while investigators decide what charges to file.
Prosecutors have asked that the four be detained until the case is resolved, but Douglas Bevers, assistant federal public defender, has asked for a hearing on the detention issue. "Such detention without a hearing is a violation of the constitution," Bevers said.
Barnard scheduled the next hearing in the Jordanians' case for Monday.

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