- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 30, 2010

SAN DIEGO — An immigration judge tentatively granted asylum Wednesday to the son of a Hamas founder who turned his back on his father’s terrorist group and became a spy for Israel.

The ruling came after the federal government abruptly dropped concerns that Mosab Hassan Yousef was a terrorist threat.

Yousef, 32, was greeted by a small group of cheering supporters as he left an immigration detention center where the 15-minute hearing was held under heavy security.

He had argued that he would be killed if he was deported because he spied on Hamas for Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency and abandoned Islam after becoming a Christian.

“I will keep fighting the ideology that is behind terrorists because I know how they think,” he told reporters in the parking lot. “I know that this is the real danger that is facing liberty, facing freedom, facing humanity.”

The Department of Homeland Security initially denied Yousef’s asylum request in February 2009, saying he had been involved in terrorism and was a threat to the U.S.

Kerri Calcador, a government attorney, gave no explanation in court Wednesday for the sudden change in the U.S. position.

Yousef said he could not explain the turnaround. His attorney Steven Seick said he was “totally surprised.”

Four months ago, Yousef published memoirs in which he claimed to be one of Shin Bet’s best assets while working as the Green Prince, a reference to his Hamas pedigree and the Islamists’ signature green color.

In recent weeks, Yousef rallied support from members of Congress, national security experts and Christian groups.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey said deporting Yousef would discourage other potential spies.

“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 released by Seick. “Mosab’s deportation would be such an inhumane act it would constitute a blight on American history.”

Immigration judge Rico Bartolomei said Yousef will be allowed to remain in the U.S. after he is fingerprinted and passes routine background checks.

Homeland Security said in a previous court filing that Yousef “discusses his extensive involvement with Hamas in great detail” in his recent memoir.

The filing cites a passage in which Yousef identifies five suspects in a 2001 suicide bombing to a Shin Bet official and admits driving them to safe houses.

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