Tuesday, January 13, 2004

CLEVELAND (AP) — A prominent Islamic clergyman was arrested yesterday on an indictment saying he concealed links to groups that committed terrorist attacks against Jews when he applied for U.S. citizenship a decade ago, officials said.

Imam Fawaz Mohammed Damrah, who leads the Islamic Center of Cleveland, Ohio’s largest mosque, is accused of withholding information on his membership or affiliation with several groups, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, U.S. Attorney Gregory White said.

Mr. White said the indictment did not say that Mr. Damrah, a Palestinian, committed any terrorist activities. The indictment did not specify what type of support Mr. Damrah might have provided to any of the groups.

Mr. Damrah, 41, who also uses the name Fawaz Damra, was charged with unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship by providing false or fraudulent information, Mr. White said. He gained citizenship in 1994.

If convicted, he faces loss of his citizenship, up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The U.S. government has identified Palestinian Islamic Jihad as a terrorist organization, Mr. White said.

Other groups for which Mr. Damrah is accused of concealing an affiliation or membership were Afghan Refugees Services Inc., also known as Al-Kifah Refugee Center, and the Islamic Committee for Palestine, also known as Islamic Concern Project.

Mr. Damrah has been a permanent resident in the United States since 1988, Mr. White said.

Mr. Damrah’s past has been public knowledge for several years. Mr. White would not say why the indictment has been filed now.

“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, Mr. White said.

Mr. Damrah represented the Islamic community at interfaith gatherings in Cleveland after September 11. Then, local TV stations broadcast a videotape from a Chicago gathering 10 years earlier showing him making anti-Jewish comments in a speech. He called for rifles to be directed at Jewish people and referred to them as “the sons of monkeys and pigs.”

He apologized for the remarks, saying they were made before he had any interaction with Jews and Christians. But a local community college replaced him in late 2001 as the teacher of a course on Islam.

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