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Iraqi Lawyer Who Led U.S. Marines Granted Asylum in U.S.

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 30, 2003 – The Iraqi lawyer who led American Marines to prisoner of war Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch has been granted asylum and is safe in the United States with his family.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge made the announcement during an April 29 speech at the National Press Club here, in which he outlined his department's progress in its first 100 days.

Mohammed Odeh al Rehaief was visiting his wife, a nurse at the Iraqi hospital in Nasiriyah, when he saw Iraqi agents hitting the badly injured 19-year-old American soldier who had been captured March 23 when her unit made a wrong turn and ran into an ambush. She and five other members of her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Texas, were captured. Several others were killed.

Rehaief later said in interviews that compassion made him walk several hours to reach U.S. Marines and tell them of Lynch's status and location.

He returned to the hospital twice more, gathering information for the rescue mission. U.S. special operations troops launched a successful raid to save Lynch April 1. She is recovering from her wounds at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

"Mr. Al Rehaief should know that Americans are grateful for his bravery and for his compassion," Ridge said in announcing that the man, his wife and young daughter arrived in the United States earlier in April. "And the Iraqi people should know that America stands beside them."

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services had granted the family "humanitarian parole" into the country. The agency granted them asylum April 28, Ridge said.

Homeland Security assets are assisting Operation Iraqi Freedom in several ways, the secretary pointed out. Immigration and Customs agents are in Iraq working with the U.S. military to trace nearly $700 million in U.S. currency found in the country.

The Coast Guard deployed 1,100 service members to the region, Ridge said, adding that this marked "the largest war effort by the Coast Guard since the Vietnam War."

Ridge's department has also sent law enforcement agents to Iraq to help recover stolen artifacts and investigate money laundering and smuggling.

On American soil, the DHS has begun Operation Iraqi Heritage, "an initiative to recover and return stolen Iraqi art works smuggled into the United States," the secretary said.

Throughout this period, the department continues to fight terrorism. "Terrorism in all its forms and all its followers is still a real and daily threat to this country and countries around the world," Ridge said. "The mission of the Department of Homeland Security is really a mission with no end until terrorism should one day meet its own end.

"And knowing our foes as we do now, the demise of hatred and the threat it carries for this nation is unlikely," he added.

Still, the secretary said, this country's enemies have been disappointed. "Because America has never lost its enduring spirit. America has decisively gained ground," he said. "Today we are not only a stronger nation, but a more secure nation as well."

Ridge also took a moment to recognize the dedication of members of the press corps who covered the conflict in Iraq.

"From the blustery, sometimes blazing desert to the besieged streets of Baghdad, the best of the best mustered all courage and commitment to get the story, get it right and get it to the world," he said. "And in doing so, the Fourth Estate lost some of its finest in David Bloom and Michael Kelly and many others who left us far too soon and, as all good reporters do, left us wanting more.

"Yet this time they left us wanting more of them," he added. "Their good efforts and their good hearts will be sorely missed."

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