U.S. Deports Imam for Supporting Terrorist Group

Associated Press

January 5, 2007

DETROIT - A Muslim religious leader convicted of lying about his ties to a group labeled as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government has been deported, immigration authorities said Friday.

Fawaz Damra, who served as imam at Ohio's largest mosque, the Islamic Center of Cleveland in Parma, was convicted in June 2004 of concealing his ties to the Islamic Jihad when he applied for U.S. citizenship in 1994. He had been jailed in Michigan since then.

Damra, 46, was deported on Thursday to the West Bank, from where he originally hailed, Tim Counts, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said.

A message seeking comment was left Friday for Damra's lawyer, Michael Birach in Detroit.

Damra, who immigrated to the United States in the mid-1980s, became involved in interfaith activities, particularly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A tape, however, was soon made public of a 1991 speech in Chicago in which he said Muslims should be "directing all the rifles at the first and last enemy of the Islamic nation and that is the sons of monkeys and pigs, the Jews."

Damra apologized, saying the remarks were made before he had any interaction with Christians and Jews.

In his 2004 trial, prosecutors showed video footage of him and other Muslim leaders raising money for the Islamic Jihad, which has been on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations since 1989.

Damra's naturalization fraud conviction was not enough to warrant deportation because he had legally lived in the United States for five years. Immigration officials then sought to remove him on charges that he raised funds for terrorist organizations.

On Jan. 4, 2006, an immigration judge ordered Damra's deportation, following a deal between Damra and federal officials.

In the mid-1980s, Damra became imam of a Brooklyn, New York, mosque that then was a focus of fundraising for anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Damra was replaced at the mosque in 1990 by Omar Abdel-Rahman, a radical Egyptian cleric later tied to Osama bin Laden and convicted in 1995 in a foiled plot to blow up New York City landmarks.


PARMA - An imam who was to become the new spiritual leader of Ohio's largest mosque resigned because of allegations by bloggers that he is anti-Jewish, he said.

Imam Ahmed Alzaree said the Web postings so poisoned the atmosphere in the community that he and his wife, Marwa, decided to look elsewhere.

"Cleveland now is a nightmare for her," Alzaree said Monday, three days before he was to start at the Islamic Center of Cleveland in suburban Parma. "It will never be a good start for me and the Jewish community."

Alzaree, 38, an Egyptian-born cleric, was to be the mosque's first permanent imam since Fawaz Damra, who was deported in January after a 1991 videotape surfaced showing him disparaging Jews and raising money for the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.

Damra apologized and said his views had changed but was shunned by the interfaith leaders who once worked with him.

Alzaree, who previously led a mosque in Omaha, Neb., said bloggers such as Central Ohioans Against Terrorism and Jihad Watch continued to attack him for a 2003 sermon in which he referenced the Hadiths, a collection of Prophet Muhammad's sayings.

"The hour of judgment shall not happen until the Muslims fight the Jews," the sermon quotes a Hadith. "The Muslims shall kill the Jews to the point that the Jew shall hide behind a big rock or a tree."

Alzaree has said the sermon gave many examples of Islamic teaching on the Day of Judgment and that it is clear that Muslims in the present are required to "strive and struggle in the world doing the good."

Bloggers also attacked him for an appearance at the Omaha mosque by Wagdy Ghoneim, an Egyptian and former imam at the Islamic Institute of Orange County in California who was forced to leave the United States in 2005 because of immigration violations.

Ghoneim had come to the attention of the U.S. Homeland Security Department, which believed his speeches could be considered supportive of terrorist organizations.

Alzaree said it was the administration of the Omaha mosque that had invited Ghoneim to speak.

Leaders of the Ohio mosque said they investigated Alzaree's background and that a major reason they hired him was his commitment to interfaith work. And just last week, Alzaree said he still planned to come to Ohio and make an extra effort to reach out to Jewish and Christian leaders.

But Alzaree said bloggers made it impossible for him to have a good beginning.

"I leave the field" to the bloggers, he said. "I have peace now."