AKRON, Ohio – The leader of Ohio's largest mosque was sentenced Monday to two months in federal prison and four months of house arrest for lying about his connections to terrorist groups when he applied for U.S. citizenship.
Palestinian-born Fawaz Damra (search), imam of the Islamic Center of Cleveland (search), could have received up to five years in prison on the charge of obtaining U.S. citizenship in 1994 by providing false information.
Sentencing guidelines for first-time offenders called for probation to six months in prison.
Prosecutors had requested the maximum sentence. U.S. District Judge James S. Gwin did not comment on why he opted for the lesser sentence.
Prosecutors also urged Gwin to immediately revoke Damra's citizenship, but Damra's attorneys asked him Gwin not to void Damra's U.S. citizenship until after the appeal, which could take years. Gwin did not immediately rule on the question or on whether Damra should be deported. Prosecutors say the law requires deportation for such a crime.
Gwin allowed Damra to remain free on bond. He said the imam could start serving his sentence after the Muslim holiday of Ramadan (search) ends in November.
Damra, 41, who also was fined $5,000, stood upright with his hands folded in front on him, wiping his face with a handkerchief while the sentence was announced.
Damra was convicted June 17. The government said that when Damra applied for citizenship, he concealed ties to Afghan Refugee Services (search), the Islamic Committee for Palestine (search) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (search), groups the U.S. government classifies as terrorist organizations.
The defense, which called no witnesses, said Damra may have supported certain groups, but he did not consider himself a member or affiliate of them.
At the trial in June, prosecutors showed video footage of Damra and other Islamic leaders raising money for an arm of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has been listed as a major terrorist group by the State Department since 1989.
Jurors also were shown footage in which Damra called Jews "the sons of monkeys and pigs" during a 1991 speech and said "terrorism and terrorism alone is the path to liberation" in a 1989 speech.
Gwin earlier rejected Damra's request for acquittal based on what the defense called insufficient evidence.
Throughout the trial and afterward, Damra has continued to lead the mosque in the Cleveland suburb of Parma, where about 800 or 900 people attend Friday prayer services and up to 5,000 come on holidays.
Some mosque members unsuccessfully tried to oust him. Dozens of other members have supported the imam during his legal woes, including some who wrote Gwin asking for a lenient sentence.