Cleveland Plain Dealer Misses New Imam's 2003 Anti-Semitic Rant, and Other Troubling Associations

Meet the New Imam, Same as the Old Imam?

This is one of those times when I really, really wonder about traditional media reporting.

You see, the Cleveland Plain Dealer spent almost six years, going all the way back to November of 2001, covering the saga of ultimately deported Cleveland Islamic leader Fawaz Damra. I count over 45 stories at the PD's Damra collection.

Since most of their Damra-related story links are archived behind its subscription wall, I'll rely on PD reporter David Briggs's synopsis, in his article yesterday about the fallen imam's replacement at the Islamic Center of Cleveland, of Damra's doings:

..... in fall 2001 ..... a 1991 videotape surfaced showing then-Imam Fawaz Damra railing against Jews and raising money for Palestinian militant groups such as Islamic Jihad.

Damra, who had been an interfaith leader in Northeast Ohio, apologized for the remarks, saying he made them at a time when he had no interaction with the Jewish and Christian communities. He vowed to show the community he was a peacemaker, but his interfaith work was severely affected, and some members left the mosque in protest.

When Damra was indicted in January 2004 on charges that he lied about ties to Palestinian extremist groups on his citizenship application, the mosque's board of trustees voted to put him on paid leave, but his supporters rallied to have him continue leading worship. Damra and many mosque members said he was the victim of "blatant targeting" of Islamic leaders by the government.

In June 2004, Damra was convicted and stripped of his citizenship. He was deported to the Middle East in January this year after more than a year in jail.

Yikes.

Given the history, and the PD's previous reporting, I am surprised -- make that amazed -- that Mr. Briggs didn't follow up on this "look at me" trouble indicator relayed to him by Damra's just-named successor, Imam Ahmed Alzaree:

Alzaree would not confirm his hiring, at one point saying he would not come to Cleveland because a reporter was inquiring about his background.

Mr. Briggs should have jumped on the clue train when it was in the station.

A regular Google search done last night on "Imam Ahmed Alzaree" (not in quotes) yielded four results, the last of which was this one:

ImamAlzaree030703

A backup link, in case the original comes down, is here.

It looked like a sermon, so I figured it would be worth a visit.

Uh, yeah.

The new imam is described by parties quoted in Briggs's report as "a good leader," "a good teacher," "leaning towards scholarship," and someone "everybody likes." Here is how the highly-praised Alzaree wrapped up that March 2003 sermon (backup link here) at the Islamic Center of Omaha, the mosque he led for five years until this past July (bold is mine):

Dear brothers and sisters, the talk about the Day of Judgment is long and full of things that will confuse the human mind and put fear in the hearts of the faithful. Every day that comes is much more Worse than the day before it as we get closer to the hour. Among the signs of the approach of Day of Judgment is what the messenger of Allah PBUH said: “The hour of judgment shall not happen until the Muslims fight the Jews. The Muslims shall kill the Jews to the point that the Jew shall hide behind a big rock or a tree and the rock or tree shall call on the Muslim saying: hey, O Muslim there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him, except the Gharqad tree which will not say, for it is the tree of Jews.” Agreed upon. This is seemed to be very soon and close now. We ask Allah SWT not to test us so hardly if we live till this horrible moment insha’allah.

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.

Patrick Poole at Central Ohioans Against Terrorism, the go-to place for news of otherwise unreported Islamic extremism in Ohio, has more information indicating that associates of Alzaree may have traversed part or all of that distance.

One of them, Wagdi Ghoneim, according to this link, "met with 2 of the 9/11 hijackers." Poole reports that Ghoneim visited Alzaree's Omaha mosque in 2004. The link just cited also refers to a now-unavailable news story saying that Ghoneim "agreed ..... to leave the country rather than fight a legal battle with immigration officials," and not to return for 10 years. This post at Discarded Lies, which links to a now-unavailable Associated Press item once carried at the New York Times, called Ghoneim "an Orange County mosque leader from Egypt who had allegedly given speeches that could be considered to support terrorist organizations."

There's a lot more where those nuggets came from, including a Columbus, Ohio connection, at Poole's Tuesday evening post. Poole also discusses Alzaree's treatment of the idea of taxing non-Muslims in the sermon just cited.

If worshipers at the Islamic Center of Cleveland are looking for their new imam to do a lot of "interfaith work," it would appear that they are in for a great deal of disappointment. It seems to be worth asking how high such dialog is on their priority list.

PD reporter Briggs opened his report by saying that Alzaree's appointment "Clos(es) a tumultuous chapter in the history of the region's largest mosque," and later wrote that "mosque officials are looking forward to a fresh start."

I don't think so. And excuse me for wondering why a blogger 250 miles away had to be the first person to surface this.

Cross-posted at the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Wide Open blog, and at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.