PJ Media

Cleveland’s New Terror Imam

When Fawaz Damra was deported in early January 2007, he left a sizable leadership void at the Islamic Center of Cleveland, the largest mosque in Ohio where he had served as imam since 1991. Damra was convicted in June 2004 for failing to disclose his ties to three terrorist organizations when he applied for U.S. citizenship and was also named an unindicted co-conspirator in Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Sami al-Arian’s terrorism trial. The pair had been captured on video tape raising funds for the terrorist organization and recorded on FBI wiretaps discussing raising funds for the families of suicide bombers. Damra had also been caught lecturing his congregation on how Jews were “the sons of monkeys and apes.”

Prior to coming to Cleveland, Damra was one of the three founders of the al-Kifah Refugee Center, the U.S. recruiting office for the Maktab al-Khidamat, a bin Laden-financed precursor to al-Qaeda. He also served as the imam of the al-Farouq mosque in Brooklyn that served as the hub of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing plot and the home of now-convicted “blind sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman.

Since Damra’s forced departure, two potential successors have rapidly come and gone. The first intended successor, Mohamad Altabaa, who was hired from another area mosque, was quickly given the heave-ho for being too moderate. Now, however, the Cleveland mosque has settled on a permanent replacement, Egyptian cleric Sayed Ahmed Abouabdalla, who seems qualified to pick up where Damra left off.

Just weeks into his new position, Abouabdalla is already being hailed as a great interfaith leader by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, even though by its own admission Abouabdalla barely speaks English (a translator was needed for his interview with Plain Dealer reporter David Briggs) and has a short track record as a religious leader in the U.S. (his most recent position was as part-time imam for the Islamic Cultural Institute in St. Clair Shores, Michigan).

But considering what happened with Abouabdalla’s most immediate predecessor, Ahmad Alzaree, last October (more on that episode below) you might think that the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the rest of the media would be more cautious, or at least more diligent in researching the background of its newfound interfaith paragon, who, it should be noted, is replacing its old interfaith paragon, Fawaz “Jews are sons of monkeys and apes” Damra.

In fact, there is much in Abouabdalla’s résumé that ought to give his media cheerleaders considerable pause.

One element in the Plain Dealer‘s recent coverage of Abouabdalla’s background that passes without the slightest bit of apparent investigation is the fact that he continues to serve as a faculty member of the Islamic American University (IAU) in Dearborn, Michigan. Of the 19 courses offered by IAU this summer term, Abouabdalla teaches 14 of them.

IAU is a project of the Muslim American Society (MAS), an organization federal prosecutors just recently identified in a federal appeals court brief as being “founded as the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States.” The Muslim Brotherhood has been the breeding ground for virtually every single Islamic terrorist group in the world, and the vast majority of al-Qaeda’s leadership has come through its ranks.

The MAS/Muslim Brotherhood association is just the beginning of IAU’s ties to terror. The honorary chairman of the IAU board of trustees is none other than Hamas spiritual leader Yousef al-Qaradawi — a fact acknowledged on the MAS website — who has been banned from the U.S. since 1999 for his open support of terrorist activities.

Not only has Qaradawi repeatedly issued fatwas defending the use of suicide bombings, but in August 2004 he co-signed a letter with the leaders of both Hezbollah and Hamas calling for al-Qaeda-backed insurgents in Iraq to “purify the land of Islam from the filth of occupation,” meaning U.S. military forces. He has said that “those who die fighting U.S. occupation forces are martyrs,” and he also recently defended the use of women as suicide bombers. Rightly so, the Anti-Defamation League has described Qaradawi as the “theologian of terror.”

Abouabdalla has also served on the Fiqh Council of North America as recently as last summer — an association that the Plain Dealer makes absolutely no mention of. For good reason, it seems, as the Fiqh Council is a “Who’s Who” of convicted terrorist leaders, terrorist fundraisers, unindicted co-conspirators, and terrorist associates. One former member, Abdurahman Alamoudi, is serving a 23-year prison sentence on terrorism charges for working with Libyan intelligence to assassinate the Saudi crown prince.

The Fiqh Council issued a fatwa in 2005 that was much ballyhooed by the media for allegedly denouncing terrorism, though it never defined terrorism or condemned any terrorist group by name. And as I have reported elsewhere, notwithstanding their own terrorism fatwa forbidding any association with terrorists, three members of the Fiqh Council appeared at an event in Qatar in July 2007 honoring Yousef al-Qaradawi and featuring Hamas leader Khaled Mishal — a specially designated terrorist by the U.S. government. The trio’s appearance at the event was noted on Qaradawi’s personal website. Video of the event that originally aired on al-Jazeera shows Fiqh Council member Salah Sultan sitting on the speaker dais right beside Qaradawi and Mishal.

Now all of this information concerning IAU and the Fiqh Council would have been easily accessible for any reporter going through the motions of journalism. If the two glowing Cleveland Plain Dealer articles welcoming Abouabdalla to the area in recent weeks are any indication, however, none of that background investigation was ever done.

This pedestrian method of journalism by the Plain Dealer when it comes to the Islamic Center of Cleveland was evident last October when Abouabdalla’s immediate predecessor, Ahmad Alzaree, who replaced the moderate Mohamad Altabaa, came under fire from fellow Pajamas Media contributor Tom Blumer and me after the Plain Dealer announced Alzaree’s hiring.

The very next day, Blumer revealed that he had conducted some research and discovered sermons by Alzaree on his previous mosque’s website in Omaha, Nebraska, making religiously and racially incendiary remarks. As Tom admitted, he had done something called a “Google search” (whatever on earth that may be!) on Alzaree, where he immediately found sermons by the newly hired imam preaching about the Day of Judgment and the anticipated widespread slaughter of Jews by Muslims:

Dear brothers and sisters, the talk about the Day of Judgment is long and full of things that will confuse the human mind and put fear in the hearts of the faithful. Every day that comes is much more worse than the day before it as we get closer to the hour. Among the signs of the approach of Day of Judgment is what the messenger of Allah PBUH said: “The hour of judgment shall not happen until the Muslims fight the Jews. The Muslims shall kill the Jews to the point that the Jew shall hide behind a big rock or a tree and the rock or tree shall call on the Muslim saying: hey, O Muslim there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him, except the Gharqad tree which will not say, for it is the tree of Jews. Agreed upon. This is seemed to be very soon and close now. We ask Allah SWT not to test us so hardly if we live till this horrible moment insha’allah.

I quickly followed up with additional information that Alzaree had hosted extremist speakers at his previous mosque in Omaha and offered other sermons where he lamented that Jews and Christians were no longer required to pay the jizya (payments made to Islamic authorities by non-Muslims to prevent violence), based on information readily available on its website. No sooner had these revelations been made than the information was promptly scrubbed from Alzaree’s Omaha mosque website. At one point the whole website was taken down.

The Plain Dealer predictably rushed out another story trying to explain away Alzaree’s incendiary statements. But curiously, the paper failed to mention that the information had come from Blumer, who at the time was a paid Plain Dealer blogger, and the information had been published on the Plain Dealer‘s website — a fact Blumer humorously noted, again, on its own website!

But even in the Plain Dealer‘s initial article on Alzaree’s hiring, there were indications that something wasn’t quite right, as this statement indicates:

Alzaree would not confirm his hiring, at one point saying he would not come to Cleveland because a reporter was inquiring about his background. But Abu-Shaweesh said Alzaree has signed a contract to start work in November, and confirmed today that he has accepted the position.

Whatever concerns or doubts were raised by Alzaree’s evasion, however, were quickly dismissed.

Over the next few weeks Tom and I continued to publish damaging information about Alzaree’s previous statements and activities, and our information was picked up by several news outlets across the state, including the Associated Press. Undaunted, the Plain Dealer tried to push its man clear of our findings by publishing a third extensive article dismissing our allegations, assuring its readers that Alzaree hoped “to ease Muslim-Jewish relations” and that he promised to serve as “a voice for tolerance, harmony, and understanding” in the community.

That same day, I published additional information with screen shots taken from the website of Alzaree’s previous mosque showing links to terrorist groups and essays defending armed jihad, information that had appeared immediately after Alzaree had arrived at the Omaha mosque. Later that week, just a few days before he was supposed to assume his new position at the Islamic Center of Cleveland, Alzaree threw in the towel, submitting his resignation to the mosque’s board and telling the Plain Dealer that the scrutiny from “bloggers” was too much to bear. (See the wrap-up posts by Blumer and me.)

Apparently learning nothing from this previous episode with Ahmad Alzaree, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has yet again let important elements of its own story escape it regarding Sayed Abouabdalla. At this point, with two glowing stories on Abouabdalla’s arrival without any hint of critical inquiry, this neglect appears more deliberate than neglectful.

Remember that the position he is filling was vacated by an individual with extensive ties to international Islamic terrorism, and the Plain Dealer published no fewer than 45 stories on Fawaz Damra’s ordeal.

And now that the Islamic Center of Cleveland has replaced its old terror imam with a new one with very questionable credentials of his own, it is apparent that the media establishment has chosen to snooze once again through any semblance of critical inquiry concerning whom Ohio’s largest mosque has chosen to lead its congregation.