CLEVELAND – Federal authorities arrested an Islamic religious leader Friday as they began the process of deporting him for lying about ties to terrorist groups.
Imam Fawaz Damra, the spiritual leader of Ohio's largest mosque, was convicted in June 2004 of concealing ties to three groups that the U.S. government classifies as terrorist organizations when he applied for U.S. citizenship in 1994.
That conviction was upheld in March, clearing the way for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to begin deportation proceedings.
Damra, 44, was arrested early Friday without incident, the immigration office said.
"With today's arrest, ICE begins the process of removing from the United States a criminal alien who has unequivocally supported terrorists and terrorist organizations," Brian Moskowitz, special agent with the federal office in Detroit, said in a statement.
A message left seeking comment from Damra's immigration attorney, David Leopold, was not immediately returned.
The Palestinian-born Damra, who is the imam, or spiritual leader, at the Islamic Center of Cleveland, immigrated to the United States in the mid-1980s.
In Damra's trial last year, 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.
U.S. District Judge James Gwin sentenced the Palestinian-born cleric to two months in prison and four months in home detention. Damra served the prison time from November 2004 to January of this year.
Gwin also stripped Damra's citizenship but informed prosecutors they could not begin deportation proceedings until after the appellate ruling.