RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal court judge on Thursday set a $1 million bond for a former Morrisville teacher jailed in a murder-for-hire plot.
Nevine Aly Elshiekh, 46, of Raleigh, was one of two people arrested in January after an FBI sting in which a convicted terrorist allegedly tried to have three witnesses in his federal trial last fall killed.
Hysen Sherifi, 27, was sentenced in January to 45 years in prison for plotting to attack the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., as well as targets overseas.
Court records show that an informant accepted a $5,000 payment and then provided fake photos appearing to show a beheaded corpse confirming that he had killed a witness.
Last month, a federal judge in Wilmington ordered that Elshiekh, who headed the special education program at Sterling Montessori Academy and Charter School in Morrisville, be held without bond because she was a flight risk and because authorities cannot find her passport.
Prosecutors expressed concern with the fact Elshiekh, a U.S. citizen, speaks fluent Arabic and has traveled overseas at least 20 times, most recently an August trip to visit a sister who lives in Egypt.
Defense attorneys countered that the family had deep roots in Raleigh, where they have lived since Elshiekh was a child.
Judge W. Earl Britt said Thursday that she was not a threat to the public and unlikely to flee. He set bond on the condition that her passport be canceled and that she be held under strict house arrest at her parents' home in Raleigh until her trial.
She must wear an electronic monitoring device and cannot leave the house except for court appearances and court-approved medical appointments.
"I think it's important everyone understand, no one, even the government, really gave serious consideration to whether she was a threat," defense attorney Charles Swift said. "The only real question was conditions for her release."
Elshiekh's parents said they plan to put up their home to post bond. It could be next week before that happens
"I am doing this out of respect for your mother and father, and you must know if you violate the terms of your release, you place their future in jeopardy," Britt told her.
She also is prohibited from using a cellphone, the Internet or having any contact with witnesses or defendants in her case or the terrorism case involving Sherifi – one of eight people with Triangle ties indicted on charges that they plotted a series of terrorist attacks.
Defense attorneys say Elshiekh was a pawn in the alleged murder plot, noting she was just a courier who passed along information from Sherifi and never knew that he wanted people beheaded.
If convicted of trying to kill witnesses, she could be sentenced to prison for life.
Swift – a Seattle lawyer best known for defending Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Guantanamo Bay detainee who once served as Osama bin Laden's driver – said Elshiekh's family is glad Britt agreed to release their daughter on bond.
"They are gratified to have their daughter back. But this is a first step in a long journey. These are serious charges," he said.
Residents in Elshiekh's parents' neighborhood had mixed reactions to the pending release.
Some said they are uncomfortable, while others welcomed her home
"I know that some people may have concerns, but from what I’ve heard, I see no need for those concerns," neighbor Alan Harris said. "My personal opinion is that I hope things are working out. I think they’ll work out favorably, and I'm glad to see that she’s coming home to her parents."