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Judge grants hearing for accused terrorist seeking escape from coronavirus

A photo from the Facebook page of accused

A photo from the Facebook page of accused terrorist Elvis Redzepagic from 2017.  Credit: Facebook

A federal magistrate Thursday set a bail hearing for a Commack man accused of terrorism who argued he should be released from the federal jail in Manhattan because conditions there put him at great risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Elvis Redzepagic, 29, maintained in a motion filed this week at the federal court in Central Islip that the jail’s lockdown — barring defense attorneys and other outsiders to prevent the spread of the disease — violates his right to prepare for a fair trial.

Redzepagic was arrested in 2017 and charged with two counts of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization. Prosecutors said he unsuccessfully tried to enter Syria in 2015 through Turkey and through Jordan in 2016, in order to “wage violent jihad," by joining either ISIS or an affiliate of al-Qaida.

Shortly before Magistrate A. Kathleen Tomlinson set the bail hearing for Monday, a federal prosecutor filed a counter motion Thursday to Redzepagic’s, arguing against his release.

Eastern District prosecutor Artie McConnell said the defendant's alleged crimes “could scarcely be more serious,” using language from a prior court ruling on detaining terrorists. McConnell noted that helping a terrorist organization dedicated to attacking the United States is in a class of crimes that almost always calls for a denial of bail.

Tomlinson said the hearing would be conducted by telephone and Redzepagic could waive his appearance.

Redzepagic’s attorneys had argued in their motion for bail that conditions in the jail in downtown Manhattan, known as the MCC, for Metropolitan Correctional Center, are certain to spread the virus throughout the 700-detainee facility. The employees go in and out daily on their shifts, and the guards are not even “allowed to have hand sanitizers because it is alcohol based,” Redzepagic said in his motion.

Redzepagic said his health is especially sensitive because he recently was diagnosed with tuberculosis, another disease that attacks the lungs.

In addition, since March 13 all visits to federal prison facilities have been suspended for at  least for 30 days, meaning Redzepagic can’t meet with his attorneys to prepare for pretrial hearings, they say in their motion.

But in opposing Redzepagic’s release, McConnell said “the defendant continues to espouse hateful and fanatical views. Most recently, in a recorded telephone call [from the jail], the defendant referred to non-Muslims as ‘enemies.’”

Also, Redzepagic’s “claim that he has been diagnosed with ‘active tuberculosis’ is wholly uncorroborated and should be viewed by this Court with extreme skepticism,” the federal prosecutor said.

Further, the jail has taken daily precautions, including the screening of all staff entering, as well as new detainees, the prosecutor said.

McConnell said that exceptions to the no-visit policy can be made but he is not aware of Redzepagic’s attorney making any such requests.

At one point after his arrest in 2017, an attorney for Redzepagic unsuccessfully sought to get him released to house arrest with electronic monitoring, with his parents offering as collateral their house worth $580,000. The bail conditions would be similar, if Redzepagic is released, as proposed by his attorneys.

Redzepagic’s attorneys have not returned requests for comment. The spokesman for Eastern District federal prosecutors,  John Marzulli, declined to comment.