Rabbi, priests, sheriffs support Passaic imam in court

11 05 2008

A Jewish rabbi, Roman Catholic and Episcopalian priests, a federal prosecutor and two sherriffs took the witness stand today to heap praise upon a popular Muslim cleric as his attorneys began presenting their case for why he should not be deported.

Mohammad Qatanani, imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson faces deportation for allegedly failing to disclose on his 1996 green card application that he had been arrested and pleaded guilty to aiding the terrorist group Hamas in an Israeli military court three years earlier.

His attorneys argue that Qatanani was detained administratively, convicted in absentia and subject to interrogation tactics Israel’s top court later outlawed as torture.

Among the witnesses subpeonad by Qatatani’s lawyers was Assistant United States Attorney Charles McKenna, who described numerous trips to the Paterson mosque as part of an effort to create better understanding between law enforcement and the Muslim community.

As an example, he said investigators often interpreted the tendency of Muslim women to not look them in the eye as a sign of deceit. Through the dialogue at the mosque, they realized it is routine in Arab culture for women not to look men outside their family in the eye.

“It’s important for us to have leaders in the Islamic community who will be accepting of us and give us inroads in the community,” he said.

The sheriffs of two north Jersey counties echoed McKenna’s statements that the mosque’s open door policies had helped investigators become more familiar with cultural aspects of the Muslim community.

But they also described a more personal connection they had made through their cooperation with Qatanani.

“When I’m in his presence, and he does have a presence, this small, unassuming person, he doesn’t say “boo” but he gives me a better feeling of peace,” said Bergen County Sheriff Leo McGuire. “I feel better as a person to be with him.”

Jerry Speziale, the sheriff of Passaic County echoed McGuire’s testimony saying Qatatani “radiates peace.”

Christopher Brundage, one of two Department of Homeland Security attorneys serving as prosecutors in the case, pressed Speziale and McGuire, asking if they would have different opinions if they had known about Qatatani’s alleged ties to Hamas.

Speziale said he would need to see proof of the conviction himself. McGuire said, “It would surprise me,” but added, “it cannot change my mind about what I have observed.” NJ.com

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