I am not sure why the Damra case isn’t a bigger story outside of Cleveland, but the feds sure are interested in this formerly respected imam of the largest mosque in Ohio. If you are not familiar with his case, here is some background from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which has done an excellent job of following the story:
- Damra once was a respected member of the local religious community, credited with building bridges between local Muslims and Jews. But his reputation and his life began unraveling shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. First, a grainy videotape surfaced showing Damra preaching a decade earlier to a crowd and raising money for the murder of Jews in Israel.
Soon news reports linked him to the group that evolved into al-Qaida and to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
After his January arrest, some mosque members wanted Damra to step down, but his supporters rallied.
….Damra has long been involved in various fund-raising efforts with Muslim groups.
In New York in the late 1980s, he co-founded the Alkifah Refugee Center, a group that raised money and recruited Muslim fighters for the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets. At some point, the refugee center’s focus changed and it became a U.S. base for al-Qaida.
During that time, Damra served as the imam of the attached al-Farooq mosque. He left after falling out over money with Mustafa Shalabi, who ran the Alkifah Refugee Center.
Damra was hired as imam of the Islamic Center of Greater Cleveland around 1990. After he arrived, the grainy videotape surfaced showing him raising money for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which was not yet designated by the United States as a terrorist group. In the videotape, Damra urged people to give money to kills Jews.
The videotape was seized from University of South Florida Professor Sami Al-Arian, who was indicted last year on racketeering charges and is accused of leading the North American chapter of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Damra is not named in Al-Arian’s indictment, but details provided by federal authorities and other documents indicate that Damra is Unindicted Co-Conspirator One.
Among other things, Unindicted Co-Conspirator One discussed a tax scheme with Al-Arian in the mid-1990s. According the Al-Arian indictment, the co-conspirator said he could arrange for wealthy people to take money from Al-Arian fund-raisers and then donate the same money back to Al-Arian’s nonprofit groups. [Cleveland.com]
With all that going on, why did prosecuters charge Damra with relatively minor immigration violations?
- Prosecutors said time constraints forced them to separate the immigration fraud from the larger financial probe. The statute of limitations on the immigration charge would have expired April 29, 10 years to the day Damra was granted naturalization, Moroney wrote in the court filing.
Damra’s trial on the immigration charge is scheduled to begin June 15 and is unlikely to be affected by the financial probe.
Some of the findings of the financial probe are:
- Damra is the target of a wide-ranging probe of his finances and could face charges of providing “material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations,” federal prosecutors say.
Damra already charged with lying about his ties to terror on immigration forms also could be charged with tax evasion, money launder ing, mail and wire fraud, according to court docu ments filed late Tuesday.
Prosecutors revealed the probe while ex plaining to a judge how they plan to use evi dence seized from Damra’s Strongsville home during his Jan. 13 ar rest. Damra’s attorneys want the evidence thrown out.
Among the items seized: a computer, copies of sermons and political speeches, the manifesto of the terrorist Palestinian Islamic Jihad and stacks of financial records including tax returns, checking and savings accounts, credit reports and property records.
How much money is involved in the probe, where it came from and what people or terror organizations might have benefited is unclear.
….Moroney disclosed the financial investigation in a memo to U.S. District Judge James Gwin, who wanted to know how prosecutors intended to use evidence obtained in the search of Damra’s home.
The memo listed the possible potential charges, but it did not explain the underlying details. Moroney’s boss, U.S. Attorney Gregory White, declined to comment, saying “the document stands on its own.” FBI agent Robert Hawk and IRS agent Denise Dolesh also declined to comment.
In addition to tax evasion, money laundering of more than $10,000, filing false tax returns and providing material support to designated foreign terrorist organizations, Damra could also be charged with mail and wire fraud and other prohibited financial transactions, according to the memo.
Now today the PD reports:
- The government’s chief witness in Fawaz Damra’s case says the indicted imam is a “classic case study of a radical Islamic militant” with ties to associates of al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
In a report filed in federal court, Matthew Levitt says Damra actively aided “in the persecution of Israelis and Jewish people in general.” The report, interpreting Damra’s Arabic speech, quotes him as saying in 1989, “The first principle is that terrorism, and terrorism alone, is the path to liberation. . . . If what they mean by jihad is terrorism, then we are terrorists.”
….Levitt is a former FBI analyst, a senior fellow in terrorism studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a well-known expert on the Middle East who has testified before Congress. He will be the government’s chief witness in the imam’s trial.
….Levitt’s report outlines, for the first time, some of Damra’s words and speeches at conferences in Chicago and Cleveland in which he aggressively raised money for Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
At a fund-raiser at the Beit Hanina Club in Cleveland on Sept. 27, 1991, Damra urges friends to open their wallets for Palestinian Islamic Jihad: “Whoever equipped a raider for the sake of God, he himself has raided. . . . The one who supports a raider gains honorarium.”
At a fund-raiser at Currie High School in Chicago on Sept. 29, 1991, Damra lobbies for money to help in the West Bank: “You may not be able yourself to go on a jihad, but fight the good fight with your wealth.”
….The report said Damra wanted “young men who loved death,” including those who fought in Afghanistan, to “open a breach to Palestine.”
“Mr. Damra’s own statements at conferences highlight how strongly he personally identifies with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and its goal of destroying Israel, attacking and persecuting Jews and undermining U.S.-led efforts to secure a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Levitt said.
It is tragic beyond words tha it took 9/11 for us – and in particular the government – to take this kind of activity seriously. It is astonishing that this hate-filled prick has been operating with impunity here for all these years. How many others are out there like him?