UPDATE, Oct. 26, 10 p.m.: A Plain Dealer report by David Briggs entitled "New Cleveland imam hopes to ease Muslim-Jewish relations" went up today (Oct. 26) at 1:56 PM. I am deferring comment on it until sometime Monday, as new info has become available that requires vetting (original plan to respond Saturday was moved to Sunday, and has now been moved again).
Note: This has been posted at NewsBusters because it addresses an example of what I believe is lax local media coverage that may be occurring in other communities around the country.
Part 1 covered events and disclosures surrounding the announcement of the appointment, effective November 1, of Ahmed Alzaree to become the new imam at the Islamic Center of Cleveland (ICC), specifically:
- The original September 25 blog post and September 26 print edition article communicating the announcement by the Cleveland Plain Dealer's David Briggs.
- My September 25 blog post (Wide Open, BizzyBlog, and NewsBusters), revealing a March 2003 sermon given by Alzaree while at his previous post at the Islamic Center of Omaha (ICO), and Alzaree's association with now-deported imam Wagdi Ghoneim.
- A follow-up article by the PD's Robert Smith which addressed some of the concerns about Alzaree, but which also left so many items unanswered that it was reasonable to expect that there would be some kind of additional follow-up by the paper in the coming days and weeks.
- My post reacting to Smith's story.
- The lack of PD follow-up since Smith's report.
In this post, I am reporting a number of additional items that I believe are relevant to Alzaree's imminent ascension to his new position.
First, Patrick Poole of Central Ohioans Against Terrorism has, with the help of the Wayback archive (since ICO's site has, in Poole's words, "undergone a thorough scrubbing"), uncovered information about Alzaree's tenure at ICO that should raise serious concerns (links are in Poole's original post, except for links to screen caps, which were added by me):
Alzaree came to Omaha in mid-2002 after an apparent mosque coup in which an extremist element had taken control and began looking for an imam that more met their tastes (at one point, there were two competing "amirs" for the center). Around the time that Alzaree assumed his new position as imam, some very curious information began to appear on the Omaha center's website.
In particular, a page dedicated to the "Palestinian issue" appeared, including links to such articles as "The New Nazis" (i.e. the Israelis), "Intifada (Uprising)", and "The Israeli Myths about Palestine and Palestinians Exposed" (screen cap link to "Palestine"; opens in new window).
We always hear about the Jewish Holocaust 60 years ago. These are picture of the Arab (Muslims and Christians) Palestinian Holocaust this year by the hands of the victims of the the first Holocaust. They learned well from their Nazi masters and executioners.
Nice. A real interfaith leader.
Then on the Omaha center's "World Links" section we see links to Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV and the Islamic American Relief Association, a terror financing front closed by the Feds. Another section dated as recently as May 2006 entitled "Palestinian Live Reports" features information supporting the "Jenin massacre" hoax.
And then there is the section dedicated to "Hot Spots" (screen cap link to "Hot Spots"; opens in new window), where it lists Iraq, Afghanistan, and India. Notwithstanding the link at the bottom of the page, "What is Jihad", it's highly unlikely that they were identifying these countries as spots of "internal self-struggle".
In fact, on this page by Alzaree (he lists his email for suggestions on additional links) he states:
Remember that in Islam, the struggle of a nation to free itself from tyranny and oppression is also considered Jihad. Unfortunately, the world now considers such movements as terrorism and the people who try to free themselves as terrorists. Islam believes that people have the right to defend themselves even from oppressors like Israel, Russia and India.
Again, virtually all of this material began to appear around the time that Alzaree took his position with the Islamic Center of Omaha, and these sources continued up until recently.
Given his position as ICO's imam, Alzaree's involvement in what Poole has found has to be seen as presumptively heavy. At an absolute minimum, he would appear to have a lot of explaining to do.
Second, Poole also reveals that Wagdi Ghoneim visited ICO and Alzaree in 2004, not long "before Ghoneim was taken into custody by immigration officials." The idea that Alzaree was unaware of Ghoneim's terror links seems tenuous at best.
Third, I can report that "someone" has interviewed Ahmed Alzaree, and has revealed the results of that interview at an overview level. That "someone" is not David Briggs, Robert Smith, or anyone else at the Plain Dealer. That "someone" reports an impression that Alzaree is a cross between a moderate and a fundamentalist, who appears to be in an exploratory and rethinking mode. If you believe that to be more than a little inconclusive, you're not alone.
Fourth, although this isn't really new news, I believe that something relating to ICC itself needs to be fully vetted. I have done some of that, and don't take a lot of comfort in what I have learned.
In this 2004 article, the Plain Dealer's Robert Smith reported the unapologetic terrorist sympathies of ICC elder Haider Alawan shortly after former ICC imam Fazaw Damra was arrested:
Haider Alawan, a member of the mosque’s council of elders, claims Damra is being framed by “Zionists” for supporting a Palestinian homeland and perhaps inadvertently supporting groups wrongly labeled terrorist.
“Hey, I support the Hezbollah. I love them,” Alawan said, referring to the Lebanon-based militant group that the U.S. government considers terrorist. “We know it’s a harassment against him. For what? For his support of the Palestinians. And it’s brought by the Zionists in America.”
Alawan said he does not know who the Zionists are or where they are.
A January 15, 2007 Associated Press report about Damra's situation quotes Alawan and indicates that he was still an elder at the mosque:
Haider Alawan, a friend of Damra's and a member of the Parma-based Islamic Center's council of elders, is one of many Muslims angry with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"There's no end to what they can do," Alawan said. "They take you, hold you and extradite you to wherever they want. It's un-American."
I learned Thursday that Alawan is still an ICC elder.
Now let's look at Page 5 of the September 2005 issue of the Cleveland Muslim. In a section about the ICC's revised constitution, the ICC's structure is described as follows (bold is mine):
The revised Constitution has retained the existing organization structure of the Islamic Center based on four bodies: the General Assembly, composed of all dues paying members; the Council of Elders, consisting of five permanent members; an Executive Committee, comprised of 5 elected officers and the Imam as a non-voting member; and a Board of Trustees composed of fifteen elected members.
Another Elder, Ahmed Fellague, appears to be more moderate, at least if an op-ed he wrote on September 14, 2002 for the Plain Dealer is an accurate reflection of his true beliefs (article was found in library database; link not available):
Islam is, at its core, an unwavering belief in the One Universal God, our creator. Since he has told us in the Koran that there can be "no compulsion in religion," our respect for other religious practices is not only voluntary, it is as mandatory as dietary restrictions or prohibitions on mind-altering substances.
Respect for Judaism and Christianity must be greater still, for a Muslim must abide by the Ten Commandments, and believe in Abraham and Moses, Jesus and Mary. A Muslim must be "a blessing to his fellow man," not just to fellow Muslims.
Ultimately, a Muslim must love God. If we all have the love of God in our hearts, there can be no problem, no conflict that defies solution.
That leaves the other three elders, about whom I know nothing, even their names. I would say it's critical to get a handle on their mindset to see if they're looking for Ahmed Alzaree to be an imam who will at least sanction or at worst promote jihadist-sympathizing, Holocaust-supporting statements as exhibited in Omaha, or if they expect Alzaree to be a moderate who will interact effectively with the rest of Cleveland's religious communities. The fact that Elder positions are permanent, and likely have been in the past, has to make one wonder if the same mindset that allowed someone like Fawaz Damri to be in charge for so many years is still present.
That remains an open item. Hey, I had to leave the Plain Dealer reporters something to do. The fact that Patrick Poole and yours truly had to take it as far as we have ought to trouble PD readers who expect it to look out for the community's interests. The PD, to say the least, has not covered itself in glory on this one.
UPDATE: There is reason to believe that what Alzaree knows of and about Ghoneim is well beyond what he claims in the interview with "someone," at least based on what I have seen in the overview of that interview.
UPDATE 2: To reiterate something I wrote in my original "Meet the New Imam, Same as the Old Imam" post a month ago --
Please note that none of this necessarily makes Mr. Alzaree a terrorist, or even a terrorist sympathizer. But it definitely puts him in the same place his predecessor Damra was in late 2001 in terms of “railing against Jews,” and the distance from there to terror sympathy and support isn’t all that far.
Also, I should remind readers that "railing against Jews" is a description first used by the PD's David Briggs last month.
UPDATE 3: There may be those who wonder what in the world any of this has to do with politics. My answer is simply that the War on Terror and Muslim/larger community relations have, for better or worse, became politicized since shortly after 9/11. There has been virtually no letup since. Ohio politicians, including its governor (and, though I don't have a link, its previous governor), seem to be bending over backwards to give organizations like the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) political and "ecumenical" cover, while ignoring those same organizations' perceived association with terror fundraising. People who have clear terror sympathies have inexplicably risen to positions of some authority. In one case, a non-citizen somehow got onto a board involved with Homeland Security. And finally, it's impossible to ignore, as with the Plain Dealer and Alzaree, the seeming reluctance by Ohio's Old Media to look into these things. Their lack of coverage and near-absence of investigatory effort has an effect on the state's political climate just as surely as an aggressive posture in these matters would.
UPDATE 4: To those who are concerned that these are posts without a purpose, and that the possible presence of jihidast sympathizers is of no real concern, I offer these reminders:
- Nuradin Abdi and Iyman Faris ("Feds Allege Ohio Mall Terror Plot Charge Man From Somalia With Targeting Shopping Center").
- Ohio resident Faris's admitted involvement in a plot to take down New York City's Brooklyn Bridge.
- Three Toledo men arrested in April of this year. They allegedly conspired to wage a holy war against the United States and coalition forces in the Middle East.
It should go without saying, but apparently must be said, that a mosque's imam can have a significant influence, positive or negative, on his congregation. If that imam is a supporter of terror himself, or if he allows his congregation's militants to set the religious training agenda, the larger community has every reason to be concerned.