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Thursday, February 2, 2023


Oct. 25, 2001- A day after federal agents picked them up at a Charlotte Amalie hotel, eight men who identified themselves as Syrian nationals were charged Thursday with entering the United States illegally.
The men were led out of U.S. District Court on St. Thomas in handcuffs Thursday afternoon after Magistrate Judge Geoffrey Barnard placed them in the custody of U.S. marshals. They all have been charged with misdemeanor illegal entry. Barnard appointed the federal Public Defender's Office to represent them and scheduled their next court date for Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hugh Mabe would not say whether investigators were looking into possible connections between the eight and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. mainland.
A court affidavit signed by Immigration and Naturalization Service Special Agent Raysa Reynoso stated that the men had been picked up at the Bunker Hill Guest House by a team of agents from the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service, FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration and local police.
On Tuesday, such a team of investigators raided three Plaza Extra supermarkets on St. Thomas and St. Croix and conducted searches at various other markets and convenience stores owned by people of Arab descent. Witnesses on Thursday said the team was searching a business in the area of Rothschild Francis "Market" Square in Charlotte Amalie.
People interviewed during the earlier searches have said the agents asked them questions relating to the terrorist attacks.
The affidavit states that the men picked up Wednesday at the hotel told investigators that they were all Syrian nationals and that they entered St. Thomas illegally in August by a boat that came from St. Martin. Court papers identify the defendants as Kamil Achkar, 23; Souliman Bitar, 29; Adnan Halawi, 35; Hussam Halawi, 25; Salem Hatwik, 28; Ilyas Patsch, 22; Hatwak Talat, 29; and Jak Touman, 18.
Illegal immigration cases make up the majority of criminal cases in District Court in the Virgin Islands, and Mabe noted that his office has a policy of prosecuting all immigration matters.

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