SACRAMENTO — A clearer picture is emerging about Omar Ameen’s life in the U.S. and back in Iraq.
Ameen was arrested Wednesday in a Sacramento apartment for allegedly leading an ISIS convoy in Iraq to murder an Iraqi police officer in the al-Anbar province in 2014.
But 45-year-old Ameen was a welding student at American River College and an employee at a local auto body shop. As neighbors described him, Ameen seemed like a hard-working family man.
“We were shocked, you know,” said neighbor Greg Hutson. “We couldn’t believe it was happening, to be honest.”
“Back in Iraq, in Rawa, he was a very good person and his family doesn’t do anything bad,” said a man who knew Ameen.
A man FOX40 spoke to, who did not want to be identified, was close to Ameen both in Iraq and Sacramento. He believes the government’s case, based in part on one eyewitness, according to unsealed court documents, is weak.
“Just someone like reports him from Iraq, maybe have something with him,” the man said.
But the intel gathered against Ameen in court records tells another story. It is an extensive history of alleged terrorism dating back to 2004, with al-Qaida and ISIS.
Think back to Iraq in the early 2000s.
It’s in that war-torn turmoil, specifically in 2004 with the rise of the insurgency and two major battles in Fallujah, that international agencies had to reach back in to look for clarity about Ameen.
Court documents say he helped create an al-Qaida terror cell that year and became close with an eventual founder of ISIS, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Omar Dajani is an international and constitutional law professor, who worked with the U.S. Special Envoy on the Middle East Peace Process for four years. Dajani does not defend Ameen but with murder claims coming out of a country whose society was under siege for so long he says, “We don’t know if there were scores being settled. We don’t know if the allegations against him are genuine or if they are a function of his political opinion expressed.”
“There is a lot of conflicting information in which it’s sometimes difficult to ascertain immediately who a person is, whether he or she is who they say they are,” Dajani said.
Ameen’s federal public defenders have not decided if they will contest that he is the man actually wanted by Iraqi authorities. Court records show Ameen and three of this brothers were charged with terrorism in Iraq in 2010.
The 45-year-old first applied for refugee status two years later, after he’d fled his home country for Turkey. Documents indicate he claimed he was a refugee because he was a victim of terror, not an instigator of it.
“The first body that screens refugees is a United Nations body, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees,” Dajani described.
Dajani says upon application and that first round of review, the U.N. would have referred him on to the U.S., ushering him into a whole separate round of screening involving biometrics and America’s own security infrastructure.
In June of 2014, just 17 days after being approved to come to the U.S. as a refugee, prosecutors say Ameen returned to Iraq to kill that police officer.
“Everyone would agree that this is a failure of the system to let this happen,” said attorney Mark Reichel.
Reichel told FOX40 with his extensive history Ameen should never have been let into the country under refugee status.
“The system is really stringent,” Reichel said. “I mean, this is the exception. The screening process is meant to prevent this.”
“We’ve never had one case of an alleged or even an actual terrorist in our region,” said Debrah Ortiz.
Ortiz is with Open Doors, a refugee resettlement agency. She says cases like Ameen’s are incredibly rare and should not reflect the larger refugee population.
“The commitment of those who come here under refugee status who work hard, who attend our schools, who contribute to our local economy, who are raising their families,” Ortiz said.
Despite what vetters appear to have missed in this case, Dajani points to statistics compiled by the Council on Foreign Relations over the last 40 years.
“More than 3 million refugees have been admitted to the U.S. and during that time only three have been implicated in crimes that have killed Americans,” Dajani said. “And all three of those were prior to robust security protocols put in place in 1980.”