SAN DIEGO – SAN DIEGO -- The son of a Hamas founder who became a Christian and an Israeli spy will be granted U.S. asylum after he passes a routine background check, an immigration judge ruled Wednesday.
Mosab Hassan Yousef got the news during a 15-minute deportation hearing after a U.S. Department of Homeland Security attorney said the government was dropping its objections.
The agency denied Yousef's asylum request in February 2009, arguing that he had been involved in terrorism and was a threat to the United States.
Attorney Kerri Calcador gave no explanation for the government's change of heart.
The immigration judge, Rico Bartolomei, ruled that Yousef will be allowed to remain in the United States after he is fingerprinted and passes a routine background check.
Yousef, who has been living in San Diego, was cheered by supporters as he left the hearing.
He said he loves living in California, wants to become a U.S. citizen and hopes to pursue a master's degree in history and geography.
"I will keep fighting the ideology that is behind terrorists because I know how they think," he said outside the courtroom.
Yousef, 32, said he could not explain the government's abrupt decision, but said authorities may have had second thoughts after reviewing his case more closely.
"For 10 years, he fought terrorism in secret, hiding what he was doing and who he was," his attorney, Steven Seick, wrote in a court filing. "He deserves a safe place away from violence and fear."
Yousef had argued that he would be killed if he was deported because he spied on the militant group for Israel's Shin Bet security's intelligence agency and abandoned Islam.
Four months ago, Yousef published memoirs in which he claimed to be one of Shin Bet's best assets and was dubbed The Green Prince, a reference to his Hamas pedigree and the Islamists' signature green color.
Yousef says his intelligence work for Israel required him to do anything he could to learn about Hamas and that neither he nor Israel knew they were suspects in a suicide bombing when he gave them rides.
"Yes, while working for Israeli intelligence, I posed as a terrorist," he wrote on his blog last month. "Yes, I carried a gun. Yes, I was in terrorist meetings with Yassir Arafat, my father and other Hamas leaders. It was part of my job."
Yousef has rallied support from members of Congress and others. Former CIA Director James Woolsey calls him a "remarkable young man" who should be commended for "extraordinary heroism and courage."
Gonen ben Itzhak, Yousef's Israeli intelligence handler, traveled to the hearing from Israel but no witnesses were called to testify because the government dropped its opposition.
"Basically, I wanted to say that Mosab was not a terrorist," he said after the hearing. "He was not affiliated with Hamas. He's a great guy and he should get asylum."
Israel has not commented on Yousef's claims, though members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee wrote him this month to thank him and recognize his work for Shin Bet.
In his book, Yousef describes growing up admiring Hamas and hating Israel, leading him to buy a couple machine guns and a handgun in 1996. He said the guns didn't work and that he was arrested by Israeli forces before he killed anyone.
Yousef says he started working with Shin Bet after witnessing Hamas brutalities in prison that left him disillusioned. He gravitated toward Christianity after his release in 1997, joining a Christian study group after a chance encounter with a British tourist at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem.
Yousef says he joined his father, Sheik Hassan Yousef, at many meetings with Palestinian leaders and reported them to Shin Bet. His father, a senior Hamas leader who is serving a six-year sentence in an Israeli prison, disowned him in March.