Thu, Jan 11, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Former Ohio imam's deportation to Israel angers US Muslims

AP , JERUSALEM

Israel arrested the former imam of Ohio's largest mosque after he was deported from the US last week, the Shin Bet internal security service confirmed.

Fawaz Damra, 46, was arrested because of his ties to Islamic Jihad, a militant Palestinian group classified by Israel and the US as a terrorist organization, Shin Bet said on Tuesday. It gave no other details.

Smadar Ben-Natan, an Israeli lawyer retained by Damra's family to represent him, said Damra was being held at the Kishon prison and she planned to meet with her client yesterday.

Damra's family, friends and members of the Islamic community in Ohio reacted with outrage on Tuesday and demanded that the US government be held accountable for Damra ending up in Israeli custody.

Damra, a Palestinian originally from the West Bank city of Nablus, was deported by US authorities last week because he concealed his ties to Islamic Jihad when he applied for US citizenship in 1994. Relatives expecting him to enter the West Bank on Friday reported he never showed up and said they had been told by the Red Cross he was detained, but there was not any official Israeli confirmation until Tuesday.

"We waited for him all day and he didn't come," said Nabil Damra, the imam's brother.

"He is not an extremist and we don't understand why he was arrested. My mother is crying. Our house is sad. My father, who is 83, is waiting for his son. We pray that my brother will come home and see his father before he dies," he said.

Islamic Jihad, a small radical group with links to Iran and Syria, has carried out dozens of suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel.

During his trial, jurors were shown evidence that Damra raised money for the organization, along with footage of a 1991 speech in which he called Jews "the sons of monkeys and pigs."

He later apologized for making anti-Semitic statements.

Damra, whose wife and three daughters remain in the US, served as the imam, or religious leader, of the Islamic Center of Cleveland in suburban Parma.

His supporters gathered at the mosque on Tuesday along with his wife and children, expressing concern for his safety.

"There seems to be widespread speculation that my husband's disappearance has him in a place where there is no due process, where he is likely to be tortured or worse," said Nesreen Damra, barely able to read her prepared statement through tears.

A US Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman denied accusations that the government's intent was to hand Damra over to Israeli authorities.

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