Palestinian refugee charged with assaulting an INS agent

By Chelsea J. Carter The Associated Press
Saturday March 30, 2002

ANAHEIM — A Palestinian refugee who gained national attention three years ago for his hunger strike protesting INS treatment has been charged with assaulting a federal immigration agent. 

A complaint filed this week alleges that Mohammad Mahmoud Bachir, 43, kicked an agent, screamed he was a terrorist and threatened to bring down the airplane when agents tried to move him from California to New York on a commercial flight. 

Bachir denied the allegations, telling The Associated Press it was Immigration and Naturalization Service agents who assaulted him. 

“I would never say this. There is no sane person who would say this after Sept. 11,” he said Friday in a telephone interview from Kern County Jail where he was placed earlier this week. He is scheduled to be arraigned April 15. 

INS officials did not immediately return a call for comment. 

The assault allegation is the latest in a string of clashes between the INS and the former Anaheim tax accountant dating back to the mid-1990s. 

Bachir’s problems began with a custody dispute with his ex-wife that resulted in his being charged with abduction for taking the couple’s son to Lebanon. The child was eventually returned and Bachir served a two-year sentence. 

The INS sought to deport Bachir, who was born in a Lebanese refugee camp, but court records show Lebanon refused to accept him and he was listed as stateless. 

Meanwhile, Bachir protested his detention with hunger strikes, in numerous media interviews and through the filing of human rights complaints against INS officials. 

In 1999, he helped lead 16 detainees in a hunger strike at Hillsborough County Jail in Manchester, N.H. The group alleged they were physically and verbally abused at the jail, which also was used as an INS detention center. 

Bachir was released from custody in April after a federal judge ruled the INS could not hold immigrants indefinitely. He was detained again in early February for failing to check in with authorities and for violating a restraining order by placing a call to his ex-wife. 

Bachir said he was in constant contact with the INS but missed an in-person appointment because he was being treated at Anaheim General Hospital for a kidney infection. The hospital would not confirm or deny his story, citing patient confidentiality. 

Bachir and his supporters believe his most recent detention stems from animosity over authorities being ordered to release him last year. 

“He has a history of agitating against the INS,” said Mac Scott of the Coalition of Human Rights for Immigrants. “He’s embarrassed the INS with his actions. I think they have carried a grudge against him ever since.” 

Federal authorities have denied any efforts at retaliation. 

“He’s violated a couple of conditions of his release,” David Venturella, a top INS administrator, told The Orange County Register. “Any one of them would have been good enough for us to arrest him.” 

Venturella said Bachir’s penchant for disruptive protests was one of the reason INS officials wanted to move him from Southern California to a more secure facility in Buffalo, N.Y. 

The latest complaint charges Bachir with kicking the INS officer during a scuffle when agents tried to put him on a Northwest flight at Los Angeles International Airport. 

According to the complaint, Bachir kicked the agent and screamed, “I’m a terrorist and I’m going to blow up this plane,” prompting Northwest employees to ask that he be removed from the flight. 

Bachir said his hands and feet were shackled and that agents injured him when they dragged him onto the plane. He acknowledged he didn’t want to be moved to New York because his son and other family members are in Orange County. 

“I wanted to be near my family. I told them this,” he said.