Muslim community responds by requesting controversial imam, Mohammad Qatanani, not be deported.
U.S. Attorney Bergen County Sheriff Leo P. McGuire responds by saying, “Anything we can do for him…He has our full support. He’s a great guy.”
Really? Why is he so great? How many people were caught and convicted since 9-11 or in connection to the 9-11 terrorist attacks? Why didn’t he need to enter the witness protection program like Sammy Gravano? Exactly. Were Qatanani’s anti-Israel sermons and view of Israeli’s as transgressors great? Was his omission of criminal history on his immigration application great? Right, he was in jail but didn’t know he was convicted. Or is the Islamic Center where he is imam, which has previously supported Hamas and other anti-American members, great?
Authorities say they want Muslims to be vigilant and vocal about extremists in their neighborhoods, and the Islamic community says it needs authorities to be protective of their civil rights.
That dynamic played out Monday afternoon when U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie, visited the Interfaith Dialog Center in Newark, a Turkish Muslim organization. Levent Koc of Clifton, the center’s executive director, invited Christie to discuss his five priorities for law enforcement in New Jersey.
Topping the list was fighting domestic terrorism, Christie said.
An audience of about 30, including several prominent law enforcement officials and members of the Muslim community, listened intently. Among them were Bergen County Sheriff Leo P. McGuire and Mohamed El Filali, outreach director for the Islamic Center of Passaic County.
After Christie concluded his remarks, El Filali pulled McGuire close and whispered something in the sheriff’s ear. McGuire stepped close to Christie and spoke. The conversation was about the plight of Mohammad Qatanani, the Islamic Center’s imam who is facing deportation because of a 1993 arrest that landed him in an Israeli jail for three months.
“Anything we can do for him,” McGuire said of Qatanani. “He has our full support. He’s a great guy.”
The soft-spoken, but influential Qatatani has been praised for helping the FBI in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Christie told McGuire that his office was keeping tabs on the Qatanani deportation proceedings. But the U.S. attorney added in an interview later that there was little he could do to assist the embattled imam. His office solely handles criminal matters, while Qatanani’s case is a civil matter being prosecuted by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A three-day court hearing for Qatanani has been scheduled for early May.
El Filali said he understood Christie’s limitations, but he hoped the U.S. attorney, who was appointed by President Bush in 2001, might be able to play a behind-the-scenes role in securing Qatatani’s U.S. immigration status.
“The Muslim community is definitely looking at the law enforcement’s stance in this case,” El Filali said. “Hopefully, due process will prevail.”
In his speech, Christie, who has been rumored to be mulling a run as a Republican candidate for governor in 2009, was adamant when he spoke about fighting domestic terrorism. But he also gave equal attention to his four other law enforcement priorities: fighting public corruption, violent street gangs, human trafficking and corporate fraud. Christie highlighted the human cost of each of those crimes; he also spoke about his victories in fighting them, such as the 125 indictments he has secured across the state against allegedly corrupt public officials.
Christie said he hoped public appearances such as the one Monday will begin to win the Muslim community’s trust that federal investigations into Islamic extremism, such as last year’s arrest of six Muslim men allegedly planning to attack Fort Dix, are not wholesale indictments of the religious community.
“Hopefully what this continued dialogue produces,” he said in an interview, “is a sense of trust that when we have to do difficult things that they’ll have confidence in the fact that we’re doing them based upon the facts and not based on any predisposition that any of us has.
“I think the only way to break that kind of assumption down,” Christie said, “is to interact, and to have them take the measure of you.”
According to Israeli military authorities, Imam Mohammad Qatanani admitted being a member of the militant Hamas (http://www.dailyrecord.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080426/NEWS02/804260328/1123#) organization during interrogation in 1993 in Israel.
“Imam Mohammed Katanani was convicted based on his own admission on charges of belonging to an unauthorized association and providing services to an unauthorized association, for being a member of Hamas and acting on its behalf, ” the Israeli army said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press.
Related: Another imam seeks to halt deportation after over-staying visa – fears death in Pakistan