An article yesterday misspelled the name of David D. Cole, one of Nasser K. Ahmed's attorneys in a political asylum and deportation case. (Published 12/01/1999)

Immigration officials unexpectedly withdrew their request yesterday that Attorney General Janet Reno overturn a judge's order to release an Egyptian accused by the FBI of being a terrorist.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service's abrupt about-face meant that Nasser K. Ahmed, 39, was released last night after 3 1/2 years in a New York jail. His case is not yet settled, however. Early next year, an immigration appeals board is slated to review both Ahmed's application for political asylum and a request by the Immigration and Naturalization Service that he be deported.

Ahmed was incarcerated in 1996 based on classified FBI evidence linking him to Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Muslim cleric convicted of conspiring to blow up the United Nations. It was Rahman's conviction that FBI officials believe inspired the 1997 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa.

Yesterday's development concerns a narrow but important facet of a complicated deportation and political asylum case that has attracted international attention. Opponents of the use of secret evidence, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Arab American community, have described it as an example of FBI misconduct and unconstitutional detention.

Two weeks ago, after the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld a judge's order to release Ahmed on bond, the INS asked Reno to overturn the decision. Had Reno done so, Ahmed would have remained in jail pending the board's determination of the merits of his asylum and deportation case. But yesterday, as Reno's deadline for a decision approached, the INS withdrew its request.

"A week ago today, the INS filed a very vehement brief arguing that this man posed a threat and should be detained," said David D. Cloud, one of Ahmed's attorneys. "Today at the last minute they withdrew their request.

"It's a face-saving measure for the INS and it avoids them having a bad decision on record from [Reno]. Nonetheless it means that after 3 1/2 years, Nasser Ahmed is finally a free man."

The INS released the following statement: "Upon further review of the information available, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has withdrawn its request to have the Attorney General take the extraordinary step of reviewing the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals that Nasser Ahmed be released while his case is pending on appeal before the Board."

Justice Department officials declined to comment on the record, but one department official said, "There will be a hearing in a couple of months and the government will continue to move for denial of his asylum request."

The INS has been trying to deport Ahmed since 1996, saying he was a national security threat. Around the same time, Ahmed applied for political asylum, saying he would be tortured if returned to his native Egypt. The FBI said the evidence against Ahmed was classified and could not be revealed to him, or to immigration Judge Donn Livingston. In 1997, Livingston ruled that Ahmed should be deported.

But Ahmed appealed in federal court, challenging the constitutionality of the use of classified evidence. Ahmed prevailed in part, and the FBI was compelled to release portions of the evidence, which Ahmed's attorneys then worked to refute.

This summer, Livingston reversed his earlier decision, saying most of the FBI's evidence was "double or triple hearsay."