U.S. frees Pakistani man convicted of helping al Qaeda

Uzair Paracha was released after a judge granted a new trial and prosecutors decided the U.S. risked diverting “substantial resources from important national security" functions.

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By Joe Valiquette

The U.S. government has dropped charges against a Pakistani man who was convicted in 2005 of providing material support to al Qaeda—and released him from prison, according to court papers filed last week by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan.

Uzair Paracha has returned to Pakistan, a person familiar with the matter said. The news of Paracha's release and return to his homeland was first reported by the New York Times.

Paracha was charged in 2003 with helping an al Qaeda operative illegally enter the U.S. Paracha, who had been living in Brooklyn, N.Y., was sentenced to 30 years in prison following his conviction in 2005.

An undated image of Uzair Paracha.Getty Images file

Paracha’s attorney filed an appeal in 2008 citing exculpatory statements made by other individuals who claimed Paracha was unaware he had assisted an al Qaeda operative.

Paracha was granted a new trial in 2018 and one was scheduled for this March.

But last year prosecutors informed the judge that they had identified a large volume of classified material totaling thousands of documents, some of which might have to be made available to Paracha’s defense attorney, and asked that the new trial be adjourned to August 2020, the court papers say.

The judge in the case refused to delay the retrial, prosecutors say.

In the court papers filed last Friday dismissing the charges, prosecutors stated that Paracha served approximately 16 years of his sentence, consented to renounce his status as a lawful permanent resident in the U.S., agreed to be repatriated to Pakistan, and that the U.S. government risked diverting “substantial resources from important national security and law enforcement functions.”

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan declined comment. Paracha's defense lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.