As we told you back in 2008, when then U.S. Attorney and now New Jersey governor Chris Christie spoke out for the Hamas-linked imam, that imam was in the process of being deported for lying on his entrance application and shortly thereafter would be granted permanent residency. But it’s all “crap” according to Christie.
As I wrote back in January, Sohail Mohammed’s religion is not the issue. Nor would his role as a defense attorney for those who were arrested in the wake of 9/11 because of their ties to terror groups disqualify him for the bench. What is of interest is his role as a board member of the American Muslim Union, an extremist group that has its own questionable record in terms of rationalizing terror attacks and supporting others who do so. Of particular importance is one of Mohammed’s clients: Mohammed Qatanani, the imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and an influential member of the AMU. Qatanani is a Palestinian supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. He also admitted to being a member of Hamas when Israeli authorities arrested him in 1993. Qatanani lied about all of this when he subsequently came to this country. But he evaded deportation in 2008 because his lawyer was able to persuade a judge to accept his unproven claim the Israelis had tortured him. He also benefitted from the intervention on his behalf by, of all people, the man who was then United States Attorney for New Jersey: Chris Christie.
Acting on the behest of Mohammed and the American Muslim Union, Christie spoke out on Qatanani’s behalf and even appeared at his mosque and praised the Hamas supporter as a “man of great good will.” Christie’s willingness to make nice with the AMU and help keep Qatanani in this country had very little to do with opposition to religious prejudice and everything to do with an effort to gain sympathy among New Jersey Muslims during the prelude to his campaign for the governorship in 2009.
I happen to agree with Governor Christie that much of the discussion about sharia law in this country is absurd and possibly based in prejudice. While the effort to impose Muslim religious law on non-Muslims is a critical issue in Africa and Asia where the threat of Islamist theocracy is real, in most instances sharia is probably no more of a problem for the American justice system than is Jewish religious law.
So until the imposition of Islamic sharia law becomes a critical issue, challenging sharia and those who want to impose it in the U.S. is “absurd and possibly based in prejudice?” That sounds eerily Chamberlain-esque. Would things be different in Africa and Asia if more absurd and possibly based in prejudice discussions on the threat of Islamic sharia law took place?
But the questions raised about Sohail Mohammed, the American Muslim Union and Christie’s own conduct in the Qatanani case have nothing to do with such nonsense. Rather, this is about the willingness of some Americans to turn a blind eye to the prominent role of Islamists and terror supporters like Qatanani and to the political influence of fixers like Sohail Mohammed. Smearing as bigots those who have posed questions about Christie’s bad judgment is not the same thing as standing up against religious prejudice.
Andrew McCarthy has more on Christie’s ‘Crazies’:
Governor Christie would have you believe opposition to Mr. Mohammed was sheer bigotry: “It’s just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background,” he railed to reporters. It’s a narrative Christie fans would like to help cement. It’s not true.
For the record, Sohail Mohammed is not just an attorney. He served as a board member for an Islamist organization, the American Muslim Union, which, as Commentary’s Jonathan S. Tobin and terrorism expert Steve Emerson have shown, has a checkered past of rationalizing jihadist attacks and supporting jihadists.
Indeed, when the Holy Land Foundation was shuttered in 2001 for its facilitation of terrorist groups, Mohammed told the Bergen Record that the federal government was unjustly singling out Muslim organizations. Seven years later, a jury convicted several HLF operatives for channeling millions of dollars to Hamas, the terrorist organization that is the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch. Mohammed also ripped the Justice Department’s prosecution of al-Arian as a “witch-hunt” and a “politically motivated indictment.” Al-Arian eventually pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge in a case that showed him to be a key operative of the murderous Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization.
One of the AMU’s most influential members is Mohammed Qatanani, a 47-year-old Palestinian firebrand from Jordan, who is not just an associate but a client of Sohail Mohammed’s. According to federal law enforcement, Qatanani is a former Muslim Brotherhood member who, when apprehended by Israeli authorities in 1993, confessed to being a member of Hamas. Not surprisingly, Qatanani is also an avowed enthusiast of the Brotherhood-Hamas one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Mr. Tobin notes, he’d have the Jewish state disappear by its absorption into an Islamic “Greater Syria.”
New Jersey has one of the country’s largest Islamic populations, and Qatanani has been the imam of one of the state’s largest Muslim communities, the Islamic Center of Passaic County. His predecessor as imam there, Mohammed el-Mezain, is among the five defendants convicted of financing Hamas in the HLF case. In fact, el-Mezain boasted of raising money at the mosque for Hamas. No surprise, then, to learn, as Steve Emerson recounts, that imam Qatanani included his predecessor and the other HLF defendants in a 2007 prayer for relief from oppression
Oh Allah assist our brothers and sisters in Philistine [Palestine], and Iraq and Chechnya . . . Oh Allah remove occupation and oppression, and oh Allah improve the matters of our community . . . to assist our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land Foundation, ask oh Allah . . . to assist them and to remove the difficulty that they have been inflicted with, all of the brothers and sisters in this country, oh Allah to prove them non-guilty.
The Department of Homeland Security has been trying for some time to deport Qatanani for lying on his 1999 immigration paperwork. He’d been granted a religious-worker visa in 1996, enabling him to be the imam at the Islamic Center. When it expired in 1999, he sought to become a permanent U.S. resident. Though specifically asked about his criminal history, Qatanani failed to disclose that he was convicted in an Israeli military court for his membership in, and support of, Hamas. Mohammed’s firm helped Qatanani prepare the I-485, and Qatanani later claimed that he’d signed the form because he “trusted his attorney, Sohail Mohammed.” (See Homeland Security Investigation, Appendix, p. 4.)
The deportation case against Qatanani was heard by an immigration judge in 2008. Christie was then the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney for New Jersey, though his office did not handle the case. In light of Qatanani’s track record and the Islamic Center of Passaic County’s connections to the Bush Justice Department’s then-ongoing HLF prosecution, it is nothing short of shocking that U.S. attorney Christie went to Qatanani’s mosque for a Ramadan celebration while the immigration case was underway. There, he is reported to have embraced Qatanani and praised the former Hamas operative as “a man of great good will.”
More astoundingly, Christie permitted one of his assistant U.S. attorneys, Charles B. McKenna, to testify at the immigration hearing as a character witness on behalf of Qatanani — i.e., a Justice Department official was dispatched to undermine the Homeland Security Department’s case against Qatanani, which was built in part on an investigation conducted by the FBI, an agency of the Justice Department.
The immigration judge, Alberto Riefkohl, ultimately ruled in Qatanani’s favor, an absurd decision in which he baselessly discredited two federal agents who’d testified about Qatanani’s admission that he’d been arrested for Hamas activities, and irrationally discounted the evidence of Qatanani’s Israeli conviction. The judge stressed, in arriving at this ruling, how impressed he’d been by “law-enforcement officers that took time from their respective duties to appear before the court.” I’m sure. But the feel-good hallucinations of bridge-building can’t erase the reality of terror promotion. Judge Riefkohl was later reversed by the Board of Immigration Appeals, which found that there was no basis for Riefkohl to have ignored the government’s evidence.
The questions about Governor Christie’s appointment of Sohail Mohammed and his exertions on behalf of Mohammed’s client, Mohammed Qatanani, have nothing to do with either sharia or the all-purpose smear of Islamophobia. They are about the governor’s judgment. They are about a U.S. attorney with political ambitions pandering to a politically active constituency at the expense of national security and enforcement of the immigration laws. They are about his decision to award a state judgeship to an attorney who was an active and vocal board member of a very troubling Islamist organization — and who has a penchant for presuming that perfectly valid anti-terror prosecutions are, instead, anti-Muslim persecutions.
Read it all.