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Leader of Ohio Mosque Arrested

November 26, 2005|From Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Federal authorities arrested an Islamic leader Friday as they began the process of deporting him for his ties to terrorist groups.

Imam Fawaz Damra, spiritual leader of Ohio's largest mosque, was convicted in June 2004 of concealing ties to three groups classified by the U.S. government as terrorist organizations when he applied for U.S. citizenship in 1994.

That conviction was upheld in March, clearing the way for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to begin deportation proceedings.

Damra, 44, was arrested early Friday without incident, the immigration office said.

"It is clear that this person, Mr. Damra, believed in terrorism, supported terrorism," said Brian Moskowitz, an agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office in Detroit. "This is not a man of peace or a man of God."

Damra's conviction for naturalization fraud wasn't enough to warrant deportation because he has legally lived in the United States for five years. Immigration officials are seeking to remove him on the grounds that he raised funds for terrorist organizations, Moskowitz said.

A message seeking comment from Damra's attorney, Mark Flessner, was not immediately returned.

Haider Alawan, a Damra supporter and a member of his mosque, criticized officials for arresting Damra without warning.

"What kind of a threat is he? He's been out all this time?" Alawan said. "Now his wife and children are back home crying and not knowing what to do."

Damra is being held in Detroit by federal authorities. A bond hearing was expected to take place next week before an immigration judge in Detroit.

The Palestinian-born Damra, who is the imam, or spiritual leader, at the Islamic Center of Cleveland, immigrated to the United States in the mid-1980s.

In Damra's trial last year, prosecutors showed video footage of Damra and other Islamic leaders raising money for an arm of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has been listed as a major terrorist group by the State Department since 1989.

Jurors also were shown footage in which Damra called Jews "the sons of monkeys and pigs" during a 1991 speech and said "terrorism and terrorism alone is the path to liberation" in a 1989 speech.

U.S. District Judge James Gwin sentenced the cleric to two months in prison and four months in home detention. Damra served the prison time from November 2004 to January of this year.

Gwin also stripped Damra of his citizenship.

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