The terrorist organization that Gandomani claimed connections with is Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, authorities said in court papers. According to the U.S. State Department, MEK was strongly aligned with Saddam Hussein, the deposed dictator of Iraq. Now, the US is investigating to determine if Gandomani is dangerous.
The strange case of Abbas Gandomani is one that puzzles federal terrorism investigators and even his lawyer.
Since his arrest Oct. 11 in Niagara Falls, the Iranian citizen has been held in a federal jail in Batavia. He is accused of making false statements to agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force of Western New York.
According to court papers, he told federal agents four different times that he is a former member of an Iranian terrorist organization and that he once took part in the assassination of a government official in Iran.
Then, after taking a polygraph examination that indicated he was lying, Gandomani told the agents that he made it all up.
Now, the 42-year-old Gandomani and his family are hoping the United States government will grant him asylum and eventually allow him to move to Toronto to be with his parents and other relatives.
"It's an unusual case," said Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr., who handles most of the region's counterterrorism cases. "I've never been involved in a case before where a person has claimed to be a member of a terrorist group and then tried to discount it."
"The statements are puzzling," said Kimberly Schechter, a federal public defender assigned to represent Gandomani. "But please put it into context by pointing out that the polygraph tests showed that he was lying about being a terrorist. The polygraph also indicated that he had no intent to carry out acts of terrorism in or against the United States."
His sister, Shahrzad, of Toronto, said Gandomani made some ill-advised remarks to the agents because he fears for his life in Iran and is desperately trying to avoid being deported there.
"He told me he made a mistake," Shahrzad Gandomani said. "I swear to God, the cause of all this suffering is that he was trying to find a safe place to live."
The terrorist organization that Gandomani claimed connections with is Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, authorities said in court papers. According to the U.S. State Department, MEK was strongly aligned with Saddam Hussein, the deposed dictator of Iraq.
But MEK also has American supporters - including several members of Congress - who say the group backs the United States and is strongly opposed to Iran's current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Shahrzad Gandomani said her brother never was associated with MEK. She said her brother hoped that by claiming ties to MEK he would impress federal agents and improve his chances of staying in America.
"Abbas has nothing to do with MEK, but he opposes the government of Iran, and he wanted to let your country know that his life would be in danger if he is sent back there," Shahrzad Gandomani said.
The strategy backfired, and now the U.S. government is investigating Gandomani to determine whether he is a dangerous individual.
"We've never specifically called him a threat to the community, but the statements he made concern us greatly and will continue to be investigated," Hochul said.
According to court papers, two agents from the Joint Terrorism Task Force went to a motel on Niagara Falls Boulevard on Oct. 11 after receiving a tip that an Iranian who may have entered the country illegally was staying there.
Agents said Gandomani initially told them he was a citizen of Sweden and claimed he had lost his passport and other personal papers. Later, he told the agents that he was Iranian and that he had paid $8,000 to be smuggled from Mexico into the U.S.
Gandomani told agents four times about his alleged association with MEK. But after a polygraph Oct. 14 indicated he was lying, he retracted what he said and said he wants asylum in the United States, according to the court papers.
His brother said Gandomani now regrets lying to the agents and desperately hopes he will not be deported to Iran. She said Gandomani was a law-abiding citizen who worked on the docks at Port Abbas, Iran, loading and unloading cargo ships.
"He is not a terrorist," Shahrzad Gandomani said of her jailed brother. "He was just trying to get away from a dangerous country to a land where there is freedom. . . . He wants to be with his family in Canada."
Legal proceedings in the case will be held next month in U.S. Immigration Court and U.S. District Court.
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