Federal documents unsealed Monday that revealed an FBI investigation into a Freeport man who died last year fighting for the Islamic State paint an incomplete picture of how Adnan Fazeli initially entered the country after fleeing Iran.

Refugees who come to the United States go through a complex process that begins with an initial vetting by the United Nations that is followed by a screening by the U.S. State Department.

“The federal government decides who gets into the country and who doesn’t get into the country,” said Judy Katzel, chief communications and development officer at Catholic Charities Maine, the state’s only refugee resettlement provider.

The United Nations Human Rights Council reports there are about 14.4 million refugees worldwide. Less than 1 percent are recommended for resettlement, and an even smaller slice of that group is directed to the United States. For most people, the process takes more than two years.

Applicants for refugee status must have fled their country for fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. The application involves both paperwork and in-person interviews through the U.N. Refugee Agency.

If a refugee is cleared and referred to the United States, the State Department then takes over the refugee’scase. The applicant is interviewed in person, fingerprinted and given a medical examination. The federal government also will review the refugee’s travel and immigration history and other information for multiple background checks. The applicant might need to fill out additional forms for other family members.


If approved, the federal government also determines a refugee’s destination in the United States, usually based on whether that person has family already settled in the country. The time between U.N. approval and arrival in the United States is typically between 18 to 24 months.

Refugee arrivals in Maine by country for fiscal year 2015.

Refugee arrivals in Maine by country for fiscal year 2015. Courtesy Catholic Charities Maine

In 2015, Catholic Charities Maine reported a total of 442 foreign refugees resettled in Maine, including 215 from Iraq and 192 from Somalia. Only one refugee came from Iran.

The number of Iranian refugees coming to Maine rose sharply in 2014, when 31 were resettled here, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. In 2013 and 2012, only one Iranian refugee resettled in Maine each year, the refugee resettlement office said. The majority of refugees coming to Maine in 2012-14 were from Iraq and Somalia.

Nationally, 3,099 Iranian refugees resettled in the United States in 2015, up from 2014 when 2,833 Iranians came to the U.S. In 2013, 2,570 arrived in the U.S., and 1,751 resettled in the country in 2012.

Only after a refugee has undergone the vetting process and has arrived in the United States will they get help settling into their new homes from agencies like Catholic Charities.

Catholic Charities Maine, which had a $29.3 million operating budget last year, spends $950 per person to provide housing and other services for 90 days. In 2015, that amounted to more than $400,000 for refugee aid.


The agency sometimes receives little advance notice about refugees’ arrival.

“It could be as little as two weeks notice,” Katzel said. “They are put on a plane from wherever they are coming from, and they arrive in Portland, Maine, and we meet them at the airport.”

The nonprofit also helps new residents find work, enroll in English language classes and adjust to an unfamiliar culture.

“They may have been in a refugee camp living in a tent for years, waiting for a more permanent assignment,” Katzel said. “They’re building a new life almost from scratch in our country.”


Because Fazeli initially came into the U.S. through Philadelphia, he was not eligible for services from Catholic Charities Maine when he came to Portland in 2009.


The affidavit states that Fazeli first entered the U.S. in Philadelphia through a Catholic Charities program, but does not say where that program was based. Catholic Charities does not have a resettlement program in that city, and an employee at the Catholic Charities office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said they do not keep records longer than seven years, and could not say whether he came through their program.

Iran map

In years past, secondary migrants like Fazeli – refugees who moved to Portland from elsewhere in the United States – were directed to City Hall for assistance, but the city does not disclose names of clients and would not say whether Fazeli sought aid from the city. Catholic Charities has since taken over administration of those cases from the city.

Fazeli did work for Catholic Charities Maine as a part-time translator for several months in 2009. He spoke Persian, Arabic and English, and worked only a few hours a week.

“He performed a good job while he was working for us,” Katzel said, adding that the nonprofit’s staff did not recall any red flags regarding Fazeli’s work.

He left that job after 10 months to take computer engineering classes at the University of Southern Maine.

Fazeli later worked for Dubai Auto, an auto repair and sales business in Portland, also as an interpreter. Attempts to locate the previous owner, Jabbar Essa, were unsuccessful Tuesday. Hassan Najed, the current owner of the business, now named Forest Avenue Motors, said he’s the second person to own the business since Essa and did not know where he had gone after selling the business.


Fazeli deposited $14,500 in cash in a Dubai Auto bank account in June 2013 and later used a debit card linked to that account to buy a round-trip plane ticket from Boston to Frankfurt to Istanbul, according to the federal affidavit. He departed on Aug. 13, 2013, and was set to return to Boston via Toronto on Nov. 3, 2013, but never boarded the return flight.

Instead, investigators learned he was killed in January 2015 in a battle in Ras Baalbek, a Lebanese town near the Syrian border, by Lebanese troops.

He left behind a wife and three children.

Ebrahim Fazeli, Adnan Fazeli’s nephew, told the Portland Press Herald Monday that the family had no knowledge of his uncle’s radicalization or his plans to fight for Islamic State. After Adnan Fazeli contacted his family from Turkey, Ebrahim Fazeli said he contacted authorities to begin an investigation. The affidavit describes one of the FBI’s informants as a close relative.

PORTLAND, ME - AUGUST 16: Tarlan Ahmadov, program director for refugee and immigration services at Catholic Charities, poses for a portrait at the organization's office. (Photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)

Tarlan Ahmadov, program director for refugee and immigration services at Catholic Charities, said of Adnan Fazeli, “I’m just worried about his family and his children and his wife, that they would not become hated by their neighbors or other people.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“One person does not define an entire culture or city or community,” Katzel said. “You have to separate the family from the person who committed the crime.”

No one was charged as a result of the federal investigation.

Tarlan Ahmadov, the program director of refugee and immigrant services for Catholic Charities Maine, said many immigrants like Maine because it is a safe and quiet place to live.

“This country is based on immigration,” Ahmadov said. “We are all here with good intentions.

“I’m just worried about his family and his children and his wife, that they would not become hated by their neighbors or other people. This was the choice of their father and husband to make. It’s nothing to do with the children. I think we should look at that different perspective.”

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