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Jury finds San Antonio man was not involved in terrorist organization

By GUILLERMO CONTRERAS | San Antonio Express-News (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 21, 2015

A federal jury found Friday that a San Antonio man the FBI accused of having ties to Hezbollah was not involved with a terrorist organization.

But after deliberating over two days, jurors did find Lebanese-born Wissam “Sam” Allouche, 45, guilty of falsely claiming he was still living with a U.S. Army officer who is now his ex-wife so he could get U.S. citizenship. He was also convicted of withholding his prior membership in the Amal militia as he sought a national security clearance for contract work with the Defense Department as a linguist.

Prosecutors asked Senior U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth to strip him of his U.S. citizenship, but the judge declined and will take up the matter at Allouche’s sentencing, which is tentatively set for April 27. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

The judge also declined a request by Allouche’s lawyers, Cynthia Orr and Christopher Griffith, for bail. Orr argued that Allouche has not been involved in terrorism, but that his habit of embellishing his background is what got the feds on his tail.

“There’s inconsistencies in the verdict,” Orr said. “We plan to file a motion for a new trial and a motion for acquittal, not withstanding the verdict.”

The charge Allouche was acquitted of alleged that he wrongly procured U.S. citizenship by answering “no” when he was asked on a naturalization form, “Have you ever been a member of or in any way associated (either directly or indirectly) with a terrorist organization?”

Federal prosecutors Mark Roomberg and Jay Hulings argued that Allouche, as a young teen, was a fighter with the Amal militia in Lebanon during the group’s guerrilla war with Israel in the 1980s, that he was taken prisoner by Israel, and when freed he was made an Amal commander.

They also alleged he had sway over fighters of Hezbollah, which is considered by the U.S. to be a terrorist organization. The allegations stemmed from stories Allouche reportedly told his in-laws and an undercover counterterrorism agent, including one story in which Allouche claimed he had killed a downed Israeli pilot.

Hulings suggested during closing arguments that, even now, Allouche is a Hezbollah sympathizer who hung the group’s flag in his garage, had it as his computer’s screensaver, was on the website to Al-Manar (Hezbollah’s TV station) so much that he bookmarked it, and had a DVD of Al-Manar — “a piece of terrorist propaganda” — in his home.

Hulings also said Allouche gained access to military bases and could have tricked someone to give him access to national secrets because he donned an Army uniform denoting the rank of major, when he was never in the service, and had faux credentials that could have been mistaken as a pass to sensitive areas or information.

During deliberations, the jury was confused whether Amal was also a terrorist organization and asked for clarification. The judge told the jury to rely on the evidence they heard and saw during the week and a half of trial. Nowhere in the three-page indictment does it say that Amal is, or has been, a terrorist group.

Orr argued that Allouche embellished stories to make himself look important in the eyes of his former in-laws, or — in his desperation for work — to be picked for a spy operation that in reality was an undercover FBI ruse to ensnare him. After serving as an interpreter with U.S. troops in Iraq, he later had trouble finding work because he was placed on a terror watch list when the FBI began investigating him in 2009.

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