SYRACUSE, N.Y., – Federal prosecutors heralded the arrest 19 months ago as
another blow in the Justice Department’s war on terrorism. More than 85
federal agents descended on the home of a prominent local doctor, Rafil
Dhafir, handcuffing him in his driveway and hauling away dozens of boxes of
books and records.
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft spoke of a terrorism supporter
apprehended. A federal prosecutor suggested that an Arab engineer who was a
friend of Dhafir’s might be proficient in fashioning “dirty bombs.” And a
federal magistrate denied bail to the oncologist, saying he might escape to
Canada over the ice on the St. Lawrence River.
Syracuse oncologist Rafil Dhafir was arrested 19 months ago by the Justice
Department and was described by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft as a
terrorism supporter. But no terrorism-related charges were filed against
In a prison interview and a letter to a newspaper, Dhafir has attributed
his troubles to anti-Arab bias and fallout from the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks. Humanitarian groups and prominent American corporations have
violated U.S. sanctions against Iraq without facing criminal charges, his
“We believe the government targeted him because he’s an Arab American,”
said Deveraux L. Cannick, Dhafir’s attorney. “They rushed to the conclusion
that this man was sponsoring terrorism. They colored him as the devil
…Last week, U.S. District Judge Norman A. Mordue prohibited Dhafir’s
attorneys from raising the question of selective prosecution because he is
a Muslim. Nor can his attorneys mention that authorities have offered no
evidence of a terrorism tie. Mordue said that such issues have nothing to
do with the charges lodged against Dhafir.
Back at the county lockup, Dhafir shrugged when asked about the prospect of
decades behind bars. “Religion is what keeps me going. I know that nothing
happens without a reason.” He offered a slight smile. “But sometimes you
won’t know what it is until the end.