John Ashcroft has resigned as Attorney General, under fire in the media for supposedly violating the human rights of terror suspects. But perhaps he didn’t crack down hard enough and fast enough. Consider the case of a “well-respected” leader of the Muslim community, a scholar who befriended Jews, a peacemaker who worked for years towards inter-faith understanding and a better community.
On January 13, 2003, however, Cleveland cleric Fawaz Damra was arrested by the FBI at his Cleveland area home and charged with lying on his citizenship application by not disclosing a previous arrest and ties to terrorist groups. Damra pleaded not guilty and was released on $160,000 bond. Damra, the leader of Ohio’s largest mosque, has now been convicted and stripped of his citizenship for lying about his connections to terrorist groups. But he can’t be deported until a federal court hears his appeal, which could take 18 months. He’s been sentenced to two months in prison.
Immediately after the arrest, the Muslim community was up in arms, expressing “outrage” over the arrest and investigation. Another Cleveland Muslim cleric complained about “how Muslims have been profiled throughout the country.” Damra himself criticized what he called the “blatant targeting” of Islamic leaders by the government. “In these difficult times, we must not allow fear and hate to deprive us of our collective civil rights,” he said.
Authorities say that Damra failed to disclose his leading role in the Alkifah Refugee Center, a group started in 1988 to aid Muslim fighters in Afghanistan. The center recruited fighters and raised money for the mujahadeen. The blind Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, later convicted in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was one of the speakers at Damra’s mosque.
Damra is also accused of collaborating with those terrorists. Before that, in November 1990, individuals associated with the center and Damra’s mosque gunned down the founder of the Jewish Defense League inside a Manhattan hotel. But when the FBI questioned Damra about whether he knew the individuals, he said no. His other connections, according to an FBI affidavit, include a videotape showing Damra passionately fundraising for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, alongside former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad is responsible for murdering over 100 innocent people, including Alisa Flatow, a young American killed in a bus bombing in Israel.
The Patriot Act allowed information sharing and coordination between law enforcement bodies, leading to the indictment of Sami Al-Arian, and several co-conspirators on charges related to their involvement with Islamic Jihad. Some videotapes of al-Arian are said to include damning evidence on Damra. When radical Islamic groups cry “racism,” the media publicize the complaints. But now that one of the complainers has been arrested, indicted and convicted, the national media remain silent, although the Cleveland Plain Dealer has covered the issue well.
CommentsComments are turned off for this article.