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Published: Tuesday, 1/11/2011

Judge eases restriction on pair accused of terrorist aid

A Toledo couple charged with aiding a terrorist organization will be permitted to spend time together with their three children after school on weekdays, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

Hor Akl, 37, and his wife, Amera Akl, 37, have been on house arrest and electronic monitoring but have not been permitted to live together. Mr. Akl has been in the family's West Toledo home with the couple's three children, and Mrs. Akl has been living with her sister.

The couple were charged in June in a 36-page indictment filed in U.S. District Court. It alleges they "did knowingly combine, conspire, and agree" to aid the terrorist group Hezbollah. They are alleged to have sent money and supplies to a foreign terrorist organization beginning Aug. 30, 2009.

Mr. Akl's lawyer, Jeff Helmick, asked the court to modify the terms of the couple's release by allowing Mrs. Akl to be at the family home with her children and husband from 3 to 8 p.m. on school days. He said Mrs. Akl has more education and speaks English better than her husband and therefore is in a better position to help the children with homework. He said giving the family time together also is important to the couple's mental health and the children's emotional well-being.

"We feel this is a reasonable modification which presents minimal risk of what the government fears," he said.

That fear is that the couple will attempt to flee from prosecution — a concern that Judge James Carr said he shares.

Justin Herdman, an assistant U.S. attorney, told the court that giving the Akls five hours a day, five days a week together seemed like "an incredibly generous amount of time" that would provide them with ample opportunity to conspire to flee. He also said he did not think Mr. Akl needed to be present while his wife helped the children with homework.

Mr. Helmick argued that a court-appointed custodian would be present during the visits, that the court already has the defendants' passports and driver's licenses, and that the Akls and their family members would risk losing a substantial amount of property that was posted as bond if they were to flee.

Judge Carr granted the motion but told Mr. Helmick he must first have anyone who serves as a custodian in the case and all those who posted bond for the Akls read and sign a transcript of Monday's hearing before the new arrangement can begin.

Saying the risk of flight had just gone up a notch, the judge spoke directly to five family members who were in the courtroom. He asked each if he or she understood the new terms, saying he wanted each person to "sign off" on the court's order so none could later say they didn't know about the new arrangement.

Among the allegations outlined in the indictment were that Mr. Akl traveled to Lebanon in early March to meet with a "high-level Hezbollah leader" to create a plan in which money would be concealed within appliances and sent overseas.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.

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