An Egyptian student at a Southern California flight school is being held by immigration authorities and facing possible deportation after allegedly posting on Facebook that if he killed Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump he would be doing the world a favor.
Emad Elsayed, 23, was taken into custody Feb. 12 by officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for allegedly violating the terms of his admission to the United States, said Virginia Kice, an agency spokeswoman. Elsayed was arrested at a flight training school and is being held in an Orange County jail pending a hearing on his deportation Friday. The agency would not provide further details.
Elsayed posted an article on Facebook on Feb. 3 about Trump calling for the banning of all Muslims from entering the U.S. with a comment, his attorney said. In that comment, according to a court filing that sought to keep him in custody, Elsayed said he would not mind being sentenced to life in prison for killing Trump and that if he did so he would be doing the world a favor.
His attorney, Hani Bushra, said that the next day U.S. Secret Service agents turned up at the flight academy where Elsayed has been training to become a pilot after the owner reported the Facebook comment to federal authorities. The agents questioned Elsayed about the post and it was obviously not a serious comment, Bushra said, noting that he could find thousands of similar comments on social media.
"The U.S attorney declined to charge him criminally, so they chose to pursue immigration action," Bushra said. Elsayed's student visa was revoked after his flight school, Universal Air Academy in El Monte, withdrew its support for his visa, his attorney said. Without an educational institution's backing, a student loses that immigration status and can be kicked out of the country. "They literally had him terminated from the flight school while the government agents were in the room. The government asked the owner to terminate him from the academy and he did it" Bushra said.
Bushra said the owner of the flight school has now signed a statement saying that he is willing to reinstate Elsayed, who came to the U.S. last September to study for a pilot's license and paid $41,000 in tuition, the lawyer said.
When Bushra tried to get Elsayed released from custody, the lawyer said, the government cited Elsayed's statement about Trump as evidence that he is a danger to society and should not be released. At this point, he said, his client wants to get out of jail and get back some of his tuition money.
Secret Service officials declined to comment.
A federal law enforcement source who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly said that when Elsayed was interviewed by a Secret Service agent he did not withdraw the statement.
There has been heightened scrutiny of U.S. flights schools since some of the 9/11 hijackers who flew commercial airliners into the World Trade Center and and the Pentagon attended such schools before the attacks.
Alex Khatib, owner of Universal Air Academy, told the Associated Press that federal agents detained Elsayed and federal officials asked him to "terminate paperwork from the school that made the student eligible to study for a pilot's license."
Elsayed's sister Ohoud El Sayed, 21, said that when the family did not hear from him they contacted the academy and learned that he been questioned about a Facebook post and taken into custody. "We are all very worried," she said. "No one even told us who officers who took him work for ..."
"We don't what the post was about, we kept looking for it on Emad's Facebook page but didn't find anything on Trump or U.S. politics," she said. She said her brother had never been interested in politics and didn't take part in Egyptian elections.
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