An Islamic scholar and computational biologist sentenced to life in prison 15 years ago has been ordered released pending his still-unresolved appeal.
Ali Al-Tamimi, a native of Washington, D.C., was convicted in 2005 of soliciting treason and other charges for actions he took following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. He is currently an inmate in the U.S. Penitentiary in Florence, Colo., also known as Supermax.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema cited two primary reasons for Tamimi’s release: the possibility of his contracting COVID-19 while in prison and recent Supreme Court decisions that make his appeal likely to succeed.
The charges against Tamimi stem from a dinner in an Alexandria, Va., mosque five days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Tamimi, a lecturer in religious subjects, told a group of young men at the dinner that it would be necessary to defend Islam by fighting its enemies, including U.S. military forces that were expected to deploy to Afghanistan.
Several of the men trained with paintball guns in the Virginia woods and subsequently traveled to Pakistan, where they received military training at a camp run by Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group later defined as a terrorist organization by the U.S.
Tamimi and a number of men who were present at the dinner were charged with a range of crimes, though none actually carried out attacks.
In a 16-page memorandum, Brinkema wrote that several recent Supreme Court opinions, including United States v. Davis in 2019, “have changed much of the legal landscape underlying” the most serious charges against Tamimi. The various opinions concluded that the government’s definition of a “crime of violence” was impermissably vague and has led to a number of convictions in other cases being overturned.
Brinkema wrote that because Tamimi had not been detained during his trial and had been a model prisoner, he did not now pose a flight risk.
Brinkema also wrote that Tamimi’s medical conditions, the details of which were redacted, “sufficiently increase Al-Tamimi’s risk of severe illness from COVID-19 … [so that] his continued detention is not appropriate.” Brinkema ordered Tamimi to be quarantined for 14 days and then confined to his mother’s home.
Tamimi’s attorneys filed a court motion for his release April 27. He has maintained that his conviction was because of unpopular speech. Tamimi’s appeals have been unresolved for more than a decade.