AKRON, Ohio – The leader of Ohio's largest mosque has been stripped of his citizenship for lying about his connections to terrorist groups, but can't be deported until a federal court hears his appeal, which could take 18 months.
Imam Fawaz Damra's (search) citizenship was revoked Thursday by U.S. District Judge James S. Gwin. Damra was found guilty of lying about his ties to terrorist groups when he applied in 1994 to become a citizen.
Gwin on Monday sentenced the Palestinian-born Damra to two months in prison and four months of home detention. He said Damra, who remained free on bond, could start serving his sentence Nov. 22, after the Muslim holiday of Ramadan (search) ends.
Prosecutors told Gwin the government wouldn't try to deport Damra until after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hears the appeal of his conviction. Many appeals take 14 to 18 months.
U.S. Attorney Gregory White said his office may ask for an expedited appeal.
"Whatever we can do to get this done quickly, we will," White said. "The main thing for us from the beginning was to get this individual out of the country. He doesn't deserve to be a U.S. citizen."
A defense attorney for Damra, David Leopold, said his client's immigrant status should revert to what it was before he was granted citizenship — that of green-card holder, or legal permanent resident. Leopold said it is a common misconception that people stripped of citizenship "are shown the door."
"As legal permanent residents, they live here for many years," Leopold said.
Jad Humeidan, executive director of the Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Damra's loss of citizenship posed "a frightening situation" for the immigrant Islamic community.
"There was no evidence of him being involved in any plot to commit terrorist acts," he said. "He was not charged with any direct links to terrorist activities in the United States."
Damra will be eligible to stay in the country and continue working as the prayer leader of the Islamic Center of Greater Cleveland (search) during his appeal. His future at the mosque, however, is uncertain.
The mosque's president, Dr. Ali Halabi, remains unsure of what will happen next. He and his fellow board members have tried to fire Damra but were thwarted by the congregation, which supported Damra by a wide margin in a referendum in March.
Damra was convicted in June of concealing ties to Afghan Refugee Services (search), the Islamic Committee for Palestine (search) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (search), groups the government classifies as terrorist organizations.