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Imam with links to Al-Arian arrested, now faces deportation

By Times wire
Published November 26, 2005

CLEVELAND - An Islamic religious leader with ties to former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian was arrested by federal authorities Friday. Officials said they were beginning the process of deporting him for his connections to terrorist groups.

Imam Fawaz Damra, the spiritual leader of Ohio's largest mosque, was convicted in June 2004 of concealing ties to three groups that the U.S. government classifies 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 because he raised funds for terrorist organizations, Moskowitz said.

Damra, an unindicted co-conspirator in the federal conspiracy trial of Al-Arian, has been the source of significant evidence in the case.

His words were captured on a videotape of a 1991 conference in Cleveland for the Islamic Committee for Palestine, an organization Al-Arian founded. In it, Damra introduces Al-Arian as "the head of the Islamic Committee for Palestine ... the active arm of the Islamic Jihad movement" in North America. "We preferred to call it the Islamic Committee for Palestine for security reasons," he said.

When Al-Arian finished speaking, Damra exhorted those present to donate money, and says at one point: "That mujahid, who took the bus and killed more than 20 Jews ... This is the Islamic Jihad movement! Anyone like to donate for the intifada? A knife to stab the Jews ... Write your check in the name of ICP."

Damra is being held in Detroit by federal authorities. A bail 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.

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 told prosecutors they could not begin deportation proceedings until after the appellate ruling.

--Times staff writer Morris Kennedy contributed to this report.

[Last modified November 26, 2005, 02:30:29]

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