Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to drop charges against the Afghan-born brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard, saying a key overseas witness was unavailable to testify.
The motion to dismiss was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in the case against Ahmadullah Sais Niazi, who had been accused by prosecutors of lying about his ties to terrorist groups on his citizenship application.
Niazi was scheduled for a November trial on charges of perjury, procurement of naturalization unlawfully, passport fraud and making a false statement. He could have faced up to 35 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
His attorney, Chase Scolnick, declined to comment because a judge has not yet signed off on the dismissal motion. Niazi was not immediately available for comment, Scolnick said.
The government requested the dismissal of the case without prejudice, which means charges could later be refiled.
“After considering all aspects of the case, including the unavailability of an overseas witness, the government decided that it could not move forward with the prosecution,” Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said in a prepared statement.
The statement said no further comment would be provided.
Niazi’s case grabbed national attention when he was arrested in February 2009 and a former FBI informant named Craig Monteilh soon went public with his involvement in building the case.
Monteilh has said he infiltrated Niazi’s Southern California mosque for the FBI by pretending to be a half-French, half-Syrian Muslim convert.
Once there, he secretly filmed and recorded dozens of worshippers at mosques, including the Islamic Center of Irvine, where Niazi worshipped, according to court papers.
The AP has independently confirmed that Monteilh worked for the FBI as a mosque informant from 2006 to 2007.
Monteilh later sued the FBI, alleging he was mistreated by the agency.
Muslims who followed the case said they were pleased with the government’s move to dismiss the case and believed Niazi had been charged because he declined to become an informant for the FBI.
They noted that Niazi had spent more than 18 months in home detention that was downgraded earlier this year to a curfew lasting from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. He also wore a tracking device on his ankle.
“We welcome this corrective action by the government and the FBI,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in greater Los Angeles.
“At this point the government — and specifically the FBI — owes Mr. Niazi, his family and the Muslim community at large a major apology for ruining his reputation and parading him as some sort of vicious terrorist,” Ayloush said.
Monteilh, the former informant, had his first lawsuit against the FBI thrown out but later filed an amended complaint that is pending.