Muslim cleric with ties to Hamas fights deportation from US

A Palestinian cleric, who leads one of New Jersey’s largest Muslim communities, is facing deportation for not disclosing his conviction in Israel for joining the outlawed Hamas. 

The leader of one of New Jersey’s largest mosques is heading to court to fight deportation after federal authorities said he lied on his green card application.

Imam Mohammad Qatanani told his congregation at the Islamic Center of Passaic County in New Jersey that he will return to court on Monday, after the Department of Homeland Security appealed an immigration judge’s decision not to deport him eight years ago. The judge in that trial found that the defendant had no credible links to terrorism, The Record reported.

Qatanani came to the US from Jordan. He was born in  Askar, Samaria, and says that he was detained by Israeli officials when he returned for a visit in 1993.

Federal officials say that he didn’t disclose his conviction in Israel for being a member of Hamas, an organization regarded by the US and the European Union as a terrorist group. Qatanani denies that he was ever part of Hamas and says that he was only detained like many others at the time and was never told that he was convicted of anything. However, an FBI agent testified at his 2008 US trial that he admitted that he was arrested and tried in Israel.

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Further investigation also revealed that his brother-in-law was a senior Hamas terrorist killed by the IDF. Qatanani claimed at his earlier trial that he did not participate with him in Hamas activities. Qatanani has, however, admitted to being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a terror organization that is banned by the governments of Israel, Egypt and Syria.

Qatanani came to the US in 1996 on a religious worker visa to lead a mosque in Paterson, New Jersey, and has been credited with working with leaders of different faiths and law enforcement. He even worked on the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office’s Muslim outreach task force. In fact, a number of character witnesses testified on his behalf at his first trial, including a rabbi and several high-ranking New Jersey law enforcement officials. The current governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, served as the US federal prosecutor in New Jersey at time of his first trial and called Qatanani a “man of great goodwill” who has “always had a very good relationship with us.”

“I know that justice will prevail and that everything will be in the right way. I believe in the judicial system in this country,” Qatanani, 52, said Friday. An attorney for homeland security wasn’t available for comment about the upcoming trial.

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By: AP and World Israel News Staff