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Governor Christie's Islamist Problem

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a rising star in the Republican Party, forcing him to constantly deny that he will run for president in 2012. His stardom has just hit a bump though, as he is under fire for embracing Muslims with Islamist ties.

The controversy began when Governor Christie nominated Sohail Mohammed, the general counsel to the American Muslim Union (AMU), to become a Superior Court judge. The Investigative Project on Terrorism has discovered that the AMU is not a moderate group, as its online newsletter has told readers that a “Zionist commando orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.” The group has also supported the Neturei Karta, an Orthodox Jewish group that rejects Israel’s right to exist and supports Hamas and Ahmadinejad. The AMU also declined to support the 2005 “Free Muslims March Against Terror.”

The organization is also very closely tied to the Islamic Center of Passaic County (ICPC), as it has had five common officials. The ICPC was founded by a Hamas operative named Mohammed el-Mezain. In November 1994, el-Mezain boasted of how the ICPC and the Holy Land Foundation, of which he was chairman, were supporting Hamas and how he had raised $1.8 million for it. He was later convicted in 2008 of financing the terrorist group.

The ICPC has had a cozy relationship with groups tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. For example, the former president of the Muslim American Society, Esam Omeish, used to be a chairman of the mosque’s board, according to the website of an MSA chapter. He has called the Muslim Brotherhood “moderate” and admits that he and the MAS have been influenced by them. In 2004, he described the founder of Hamas as “our beloved Sheikh Ahmed Yassin” and has praised Palestinians who knew “that the jihad way is the way to liberate your land.”

The mosque has also brought in speakers like Abdelhaleem Ashqar, who has extensive ties to Hamas but has been acquitted of helping finance the group. Telephone records show Ashqar has been in communication with Hamas officials. He was convicted for refusing to testify before a grand jury about the financing of Hamas in the United States.

Sohail Mohammed has a history of defending Islamists. He steadfastly proclaimed the innocence of Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Sami al-Arian, who he claimed was being victimized by a “politically motivated indictment” and a “witch hunt.” He has also defended the Holy Land Foundation, railed against the depiction of Muslim terrorists on the TV show 24, and protested the use of the term “Islamic militants” in the prosecution of the Fort Dix plotters by Christie’s office when he was the U.S. attorney for the District of N.J.

Supporters of Mohammed will be quick to say that as a lawyer, he was simply doing his job by ensuring due process. As Daniel Greenfield, who broke the story about the worrisome nature of Christie’s nomination, wrote:

[E]ven when he was no longer acting as [a] lawyer—Sohail Mohammed always seemed ready and willing to condemn the government’s legal campaign against terrorists, not in court, but as a private citizen.

This isn’t the first time that Christie has coddled an Islamist tied to the AMU. As the New Jersey attorney, he fought against the Department of Homeland Security’s attempts to deport the ICPC’s Imam Mohammed Qatanani. Qatanani is accused of omitting his conviction of being a Hamas member by an Israeli military court when he applied for a green card in 1999. Qatanani later admitted to being detained for three months but denied being convicted. He also admitted to being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood but said that he left in 1991 because of time constraints.

Qatanani has also prayed for Allah “to assist our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land Foundation.” The same prayer asked Allah to “assist our brothers and sisters in Philistine [Palestine], and Iraq and Chechnya” and to “remove occupation and oppression” in those countries. In August 2007, he preached that Muslims were obligated to fight for a Greater Syria as Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria are meant to be Islamic lands.

During Qatanani’s trial, Christie authorized Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles McKenna to act as a character witness. Christie himself attended a Ramadan breakfast at the ICPC and spoke in support of Qatanani, calling him “a man of great goodwill.” The executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, Steve Emerson, called it “a disgrace and an act of pure political corruption,” adding that “I know for certain that Christie and the FBI SAC [Special Agent in Charge] had access to information about Qatanani’s background, involvement with and support of Hamas.” The nomination of Sohail Mohammed may have been a result of Qatanani’s influence on Christie, as Mohammed has acted as his lawyer.

In September 2008, the immigration judge granted Qatanani permanent residence and cast doubt on the evidence provided by the Israelis. However, the Board of Immigration Appeals then reviewed the ruling and vindicated Israel’s case against him. The trial will begin again in the fall. Whichever way the trial unfolds, the fact remains that Governor Christie embraced a Muslim cleric who is a former Muslim Brotherhood member from a mosque tied to Hamas.

An estimated 400,000 Muslims live in N.J., and Passaic County is believed to have the largest Muslim population after Detroit. Their vote is important in a close election. Apparently, Governor Christie decided before and after his gubernatorial campaign that winning over a popular Muslim cleric was worth overlooking his Islamist ties.