Alexa

Palestinian cleric denies ties to militants that got him deported from U.S.

Palestinian cleric denies ties to militants that got him deported from U.S.

A Palestinian cleric deported from the U.S. insisted Friday he never had ties to a radical Islamic group and says he has reformed since delivering fiery speeches advocating terror and denouncing Jews.
Fawaz Damra, 46, the former spiritual leader of Ohio's largest mosque, was convicted in the U.S. in 2004 of concealing in his citizenship application ties to groups the American government classifies as terrorist organizations. Damra, who says he is innocent of the charges, was stripped of his citizenship and deported to his native West Bank earlier this month.
There, he was turned over to Israeli authorities who imprisoned him for three weeks. He was released on Thursday after a military court determined it did not have sufficient evidence to hold him on charges of ties to Islamic Jihad, a small radical group with links to Iran and Syria that has carried out dozens of suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israel.
"I was never a terrorist," Damra said from his parents' home in the West Bank town of Nablus on Friday. "I was always a man of peace who wanted to speak to people of other faiths and hear what they had to say."
That portrayal of himself is at odds with footage from a 1991 speech where he was filmed raising money for a Palestinian holy war and saying Muslims should be "directing all the rifles at the first and last enemy of the Islamic nation, and that is the sons of monkeys and pigs, the Jews."
Damra also acknowledged saying something "inappropriate" about Jews after Sept. 11 _ a remark, he said, that provoked U.S. authorities to investigate, convict and eventually deport him.
"I was a little angry because I saw on TV what was happening in Palestine," he said. "I said something inappropriate about Jews. I respect the Jews. I shouldn't have said it. I apologized."
He wouldn't disclose what that remark was.
But if it hadn't been for post-Sept. 11 anxiety in the U.S., the investigation wouldn't have been launched, he maintained.
"If there hadn't been Sept. 11, nothing would have happened," he said.
Damra immigrated to the U.S. in the mid-1980s, and applied for citizenship in 1994. He served as imam, or spiritual leader, at the Islamic Center of Cleveland, and has three American-born daughters with his Palestinian wife, Nesreen.
Damra would not speak about the 14 months he spent in U.S. and Israeli prisons before he arrived in Nablus on Thursday.
He said he didn't know what he planned to do now, adding that the only thing that occupied his thoughts was the family he left behind.
He spoke to them on Thursday for the first time since he was deported, but said he didn't ask if they planned to join him in the West Bank.
"It's their decision," he said. "I can't force them to stay there or come here."


Updated : 2020-12-01 10:03 GMT+08:00