Cleveland: Lawyers for Ohio iman accused of concealing terrorist ties want witness testimony banned
- Lawyers for Ohio iman accused of concealing terrorist ties want witness
Friday May 28, 2004
CLEVELAND (AP) Attorneys for a Muslim cleric accused of concealing ties
to terrorist groups want testimony from the government's chief witness
banned from trial.
Witness Matthew Levitt, a former FBI analyst, wrote a report calling
Palestinian-born Iman Fawaz Mohammed Damra a ``classic case study of a
radical Islamic militant'' with ties to associates of al-Qaida and other
Defense attorneys filed the report in federal court with their motion to
exclude Levitt's testimony from Damra's June 14 trial. They argue
Levitt's work is inflammatory and has little bearing on the immigration
Damra, 41, has pleaded innocent to a charge of obtaining U.S.
citizenship in 1994 by providing false information. He is accused of
having connections with groups such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and
not revealing them when he applied for citizenship.
If convicted, Damra could lose his citizenship and be sentenced to up to
five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Levitt is 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 accused Damra of helping
persecute Israelis and Jews.
Damra is classic' Islamic militant, witness says
Imam's lawyers ask court to bar report by Mideast expert from trial
Friday, May 28, 2004
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Plain Dealer Reporter
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."
Defense attorneys made the report public by filing it in a motion to
exclude Levitt's testimony from Damra's June 14 trial. They say Levitt's
work is "deliberately inflammatory" and has little bearing on the imam's
immigration case. They also criticized his work as being based on
hearsay and newspaper stories.
"We doubt that experts in any field, including the terrorism field, rely
on newspaper articles, multiple hearsay contained in FBI affidavits and
anonymous sources," wrote attorneys John Cline, Nancy Hollander and
Zukerman said attorneys had to file the report so that a judge could
review it and the admissibility of Levitt's testimony at trial.
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.
Damra, the religious leader of the Islamic Center of Greater Cleveland,
is charged with lying on his immigration forms about his past links to
He is accused of links to the Alkifah Refugee Center, the precursor to
al-Qaida, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Damra, who denies the
allegations, could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
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."
Levitt said Osama bin Laden and his mentor, Abdullah Azzam, helped
establish the Alkifah Refugee Center in New York in the 1980s,
supposedly as a way to help victims of the war in Afghanistan. Damra had
a leadership role there: He, as secretary, signed documents that
describe the office's humanitarian goals, according to Levitt's report.
In the late 1980s, Damra was the imam at the al-Farooq Mosque, which was
next door to the refugee center.
In 1991, he became the leader of the Islamic Center of Greater
Cleveland, the largest mosque in Ohio.
Two years later, Damra met with a federal prosecutor and a detective,
telling them that "he was actively involved in recruiting people at the
al-Farooq Mosque to go and fight in Afghanistan. He also was present at
two training camps, one in Long Island and the other in Connecticut, but
did not participate in any training or shooting."
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.
Damra's attorneys scoff at Levitt's words, saying they have little if
anything to do with the charges in the immigration case, particularly
any mention of bin Laden, who is not mentioned in the indictment.
"Nothing could be more prejudicial than to be associated with bin Laden
or his organization," defense attorneys wrote.
Plain Dealer reporter Amanda Garrett contributed to this story.
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