JERUSALEM – Israel arrested the former imam of Ohio's largest mosque after he was deported from the United States last week, the Shin Bet internal security service said Tuesday, ending a four-day mystery about his whereabouts.
Fawaz Damra, 46, was arrested because of his ties to Islamic Jihad, a terrorist Palestinian group classified by Israel and the U.S. as a terrorist organization, Shin Bet told The Associated Press. It gave no other details.
Smadar Ben-Natan, an Israeli lawyer retained by Damra's family to represent him, said he was being held at the Kishon prison and she planned to meet with her client Wednesday.
Damra, imam at the Islamic Center of Cleveland, was deported by American authorities last week because he concealed his ties to Islamic Jihad when he applied for American citizenship in 1994.
Relatives expecting him to enter the West Bank on Friday said he never showed up.
"We waited for him all day and he didn't come," said Nabil Damra, the imam's brother. "He is not an extremist and we don't understand why he was arrested."
"My mother is crying. Our house is sad. My father, who is 83, is waiting for his son. We pray that my brother will come home and see his father before he dies," the brother added.
A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Greg Palmore, said U.S. agents accompanied Damra to the Allenby Bridge, an Israel-controlled crossing into the West Bank. "Mr. Damra was presented to Israeli immigration officials for admission to the West Bank," Palmore said.
During Damra's trial, jurors were shown evidence that he raised money for Islamic Jihad, a small group with links to Iran and Syria that has carried out dozens of suicide bombings and rockets attacks against Israel.
The jury also saw footage of a 1991 speech in which Damra called Jews "the sons of monkeys and pigs." Damra, whose wife and three daughters remain in the United States, later apologized for making anti-Semitic statements.
Damra's brother, a U.N. worker in the West Bank, said the imam's work in the U.S. revolved around marrying and divorcing Muslims and lecturing to prisoners.
"He always got along with all people. He is a moderate. If he upheld extremist views, people wouldn't have loved him. He wouldn't be helping everyone," Nabil Damra said.