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Yitzhak (left) and Yousef (AP/Photo by Denis Poroy)

Shelter granted

Middle East | Homeland Security drops its objections to granting one-time Israeli spy Mosab Yousef asylum

The Department of Homeland Security no longer deems Mosab Yousef a terrorist threat. The son of a founder of Hamas who became a Christian as well as an agent for the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet was granted asylum in the United States after a hearing Wednesday in San Diego.

"Of course as a believer, I believe in the power of prayer. But prayer alone is not enough," Yousef said. "I've been working very hard to show the government that I am not a terrorist."

The U.S. government had planned to deport Yousef, but in a hearing that lasted only 15 minutes, Homeland Security, with no explanation, abruptly dropped its objections to granting him asylum. Yousef said he thought the immigration judge, Rico Bartolomei, was "surprised" but he immediately granted him asylum on the condition of a background check. Yousef fears returning to the West Bank, where his life would be in jeopardy.

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Yousef worked for a decade with Shin Bet and "prevented killing," according to his Israeli handler, Gonen Ben Yitzhak. He also became a Christian, a story he details in his autobiography, Son of Hamas. (See "Declaration of war," by Mindy Belz, April 10, 2010.)

Leading up to the hearing, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Knesset, the Israeli legislature, issued a letter thanking Yousef for his service as a spy. And former CIA director James Woolsey condemned Homeland Security for refusing to grant him asylum last year.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that such an action would set us back years in the war on terrorism," Woolsey wrote in a letter. "Mosab's deportation would be such an inhumane act it would constitute a blight on American history."

Yousef said after the hearing that he intends to continue combating terrorism, but perhaps through different means than Shin Bet employs: "This is a small step in the journey. It's a very important one. It gives me a shelter. Our biggest victory is when we see the new generations in the Middle East changing . . . when we would be able to change the ideology that supports fanatics, fundamentalists, and terrorists."

Yousef also had a message for his fellow Palestinian Christians, who he hinted had criticized him for working for Israel: "I know this is heavy-all I can say is that they need to be more effective . . . instead of being silent most of the time." He went on to urge Palestinian Christians to speak out against terrorism in the name of "resistance."

"You don't have the right to come and judge me as a traitor-because I did what was right," he said.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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