(AP) PATERSON, New Jersey — The leader of one of New Jersey’s largest mosques is heading to court to fight from being deported after federal authorities say he lied on his green card application about being detained by Israel more than 20 years ago.
Imam Mohammad Qatanani told his congregation at the Islamic Center of Passaic County that he will return to court on Monday, after the Department of Homeland Security appealed an immigration judge’s decision not to deport him eight years ago after finding no credible links to terrorism, The Record reported.
Qatanani came to the US from Jordan. He was born in the West Bank and said that he was detained by Israeli officials while visiting there in 1993.
Federal officials say that he didn’t disclose being convicted in Israel for being a member of Hamas, but Qatanani denies that he was ever part of the group classified as a terrorist organization by the US government. He says that he was only detained like many others at the time and was never told that he was convicted of anything.
His brother-in-law was a senior Hamas military leader killed by Israel, but Qatanani said in 2008 that he did not participate with him in political activities.
“I know that justice will prevail and that everything will be in the right way. I believe in the judicial system in this country,” Qatanani, 52, said Friday.
An attorney for homeland security wasn’t available for comment.
An FBI agent testified previously that Qatanani admitted that he was arrested and tried, but he claimed during the trial that he was not aware of the conviction and that he was subjected to physical and mental abuse while in detention.
Qatanani came to the US in 1996 on a religious worker visa to lead the Paterson mosque and has been credited with working with leaders of different faiths and law enforcement. He has worked on the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office’s Muslim outreach task force.
A number of character witnesses have testified on his behalf at his first trial, including a rabbi and several high-ranking New Jersey law enforcement officials.
While serving as the US federal prosecutor in New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie called him a “man of great goodwill” and said that “he’s always had a very good relationship with us.”