Man convicted of terror offences attempts to stop stripping of Irish citizenship

Ali Charaf Damache would be the first person to have citizenship revoked

Ali Charaf Damache is serving a 15-year sentence in a maximum security facility in the United States. Photograph: Collins Courts

Ali Charaf Damache is serving a 15-year sentence in a maximum security facility in the United States. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

An Irish citizen convicted of providing support to Islamic terrorists is taking a High Court case against Government attempts to strip him of citizenship.

Last month, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan decided to strip Ali Charaf Damache (53) of his Irish citizenship on the basis that he broke the oath he took to declare “fidelity to the Irish nation and loyalty to the State”.

It is the first time the State has moved to remove citizenship from a naturalised resident.

When Damache (53), who is serving a 15-year sentence in a maximum security facility in the United States, was informed of the Minister’s decision he instructed his legal team here to mount a challenge in the High Court.

Solicitor for Damache, Caroline Egan, lodged a judicial review with the High Court on Monday. She will argue the stripping of citizenship should be a decision for the courts and not the Government.

The case is scheduled for hearing on Monday when it will likely be adjourned while the Department of Justice prepares a response, sources said.

Damache holds citizenship in Algeria, where he was born, and in Ireland due to his marriage to an Irish woman in 2003.

The US has said it will deport him to either Algeria or Ireland when his sentence is served.

It is understood Damache is eager to retain his Irish citizenship as he is worried about being tortured or killed if he is returned to his native country. He will also argue he has relations in France and revoking his citizenship will isolate him from them as he will no longer be an EU citizen.

Committee

It is understood the Minister felt Damache’s conviction in the US for terrorism offences opened the way to revoking his Irish citizenship. *

Decisions on the revocation of citizenship of another 35 people are currently in the system.

While living in Waterford, Damache was wanted in the US on charges of conspiring to support and facilitate Al Qaeda-linked terrorists.

He successfully fought extradition in the Irish courts but was arrested when he travelled to Spain in 2015 where police said he was plotting with others to murder Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist who had drawn caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

Plea deal

The Spanish police handed him over to the US authorities two years later. Last year he agreed a plea deal with federal prosecutors in Philadelphia and was jailed for 15 years for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists.

Damache is being held in a federal detention facility in Philadelphia. He will be moved to a permanent maximum security prison when the US government shutdown ends.

The revoking of citizenship for naturalised Irish people is likely to become a significant issue in the coming years as the some 50 Irish people who went to fight in the Syrian Civil War, including on the side of Islamic State, return home or are captured as the conflict winds down.

Last week Belarusian-born Irish citizen Alexandr Ruzmatovich Bekmirzaev was captured by Kurdish forces in Syria while fighting for Islamic State. The Kurdish authorities have previously pleaded with western countries to take their citizens back after capture.

* This article was amended on January 21st, 2019 to reflect the fact that the decision to revoke citizenship came from the Minister for Justice.