Ohio Islamic leader Fawaz Damra is accused of not fully disclosing his involvement with anti-Israel groups when he applied for U.S. citizenship.
By GRAHAM BRINK
Published January 14, 2004
TAMPA - A high-profile Islamic clergyman with ties to former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian concealed his involvement in terrorist groups when he applied for U.S. citizenship in the early 1990s, authorities say.
Fawaz Damra was arrested in Cleveland on Tuesday on a charge of providing false information about his membership in several anti-Israel groups, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the organization Al-Arian is accused of helping lead during the past decade.
Damra, who became a citizen in 1994 and is imam of Ohio's largest mosque, is not accused in the indictment of committing any terrorist acts. "We are strictly dealing with issues, activities and incidents prior to his becoming a naturalized citizen and what he was required to disclose" to gain citizenship, said Cleveland's U.S. Attorney Gregory White.
Damra, 41, pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday and was released on $160,000 bail. If convicted, he could lose his citizenship and spend up to five years in prison.
White would not reveal specifics about the nature of Damra's involvement in the terrorist groups but told the Associated Press that such allegations often involve fundraising.
Al-Arian remains in a federal prison in Sumter County awaiting his trial on terrorism charges. He and Damra shared a stage several times in the early 1990s during fundraising events for the Islamic movement.
At an event in Cleveland in 1991, Damra introduced Al-Arian as the head of the Islamic Committee for Palestine, which was described as the North American arm of the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine, according to Al-Arian's indictment. In his speech, Al-Arian told the crowd that protesters of the Gulf War should continue to damn America and Israel, according to government officials.
At one conference, Al-Arian called for God to have mercy on the souls of "the martyrs," according to FBI affidavits. At another, he was present when Damra said: "Donate to the Islamic Jihad. Nidal Zalooum from the Islamic Jihad held a dagger and stabbed four of the Jews in the courtyard of Al-Haram Al-Qudsi."
According to the FBI transcripts, Damra later added: "One of them would leave his house with a knife to stab the Jews - twelve Jews - after the events of the Gulf War. Brothers, the Intifadah calls you. Five hundred dollars! Who would add to five hundred dollars?"
Another FBI affidavit described Damra as a "known alien terrorist suspect" and a subject of the World Trade Center bombing investigation in 1993. The affidavit stated that Damra associated with the men convicted in that investigation.
According to authorities, Damra co-founded a charity in 1987 in Brooklyn, N.Y., that was later linked to Osama bin Laden. The government froze the charity's assets after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Federal agents arrested Al-Arian and three other men in February on charges that they supported, promoted and raised funds for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group considered responsible for more than 100 deaths. The federal agents taped thousands of conversations over several years while surveilling Al-Arian and the other men.
Al-Arian, who has denied any terrorist activity, has said in the past that his statements were not a call to violence against Jews. His most incendiary comments, he said, were made in Arabic, to Palestinian audiences about Palestinian issues. He said rhetoric in the Middle East is melodramatic and hyperbolic.
The Al-Arian indictment also mentions 12 unindicted co-conspirators. While not mentioned by name, Damra is one of those unindicted co-conspirators, experts say.
Damra has apologized for his remarks, including referring to Jews as "the sons of monkeys and pigs," saying they were made in his youth when he did not know any better.
- Information from the Associated Press and the Cleveland Plain Dealer was used in this report. Times reporter Graham Brink can be reached at 813 226-3365 or firstname.lastname@example.org