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News Analysis

NJ Gov. Christie Courting Radical Islamist Cleric

Mon, May 28, 2012

by: 
Ryan Mauro

After New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa cleared the NYPD of misconduct in its intelligence-gathering efforts in N.J., he met with some Muslim leaders to discuss his findings. The full list of attendees hasn’t been publicized but there is one name that is known: Imam Mohammad Qatanani of the Islamic Center of Passaic County.

N.J. Governor Chris Christie (shown right) has been feeling heat from anti-Islamist activists ever since the Investigative Project on Terrorism published a startling report about his relationship with Imam Qatanani, who the Department of Homeland Security wants deported. In 1999, he failed to disclose on his green card application that he was convicted by Israel in 1993 of being a member of Hamas. He also admits to having been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood but says he left it in 1991—not because he turned against the group, but because he simply didn’t have enough time in the day anymore.

The mosque that Qatanani currently leads, the Islamic Center of Passaic County (ICPC), was founded in 1989 by Hamas operative Mohammed el-Mezain, who has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for financing the terrorist group. El-Mezain also served as the ICPC’s imam and was the chairman of the Holy Land Foundation, a charity that was shut down for being a Hamas/Muslim Brotherhood front.

A former chairman of the ICPC’s board is Esam Omeish. He is also a former president of the Muslim American Society, a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. Omeish calls the Brotherhood “moderate” and praised the founder of Hamas and Palestinians that understand “that the jihad way is the way to liberate your land.” One guest speaker that the ICPC featured is Abdelhaleem Ashqar, another individual with extensive ties to Hamas, though he was acquitted of charges brought against him. He was convicted of refusing to testify about Hamas’ fundraising in the U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said that his Qatanani’s brother-in-law, Mahmud al-Shuli, was a Hamas militant in the West Bank and the two maintained contact after Qatanani (shown left) moved to the U.S. in 1994. When Qatanani came to the U.S. to become an imam at the ICPC, he served alongside el-Mezain and even shared the same address with him. During this time, the ICPC donated to the Holy Land Foundation. The DHS also said that Qatanani sent thousands of dollars to the West Bank in cash and found his explanation to be “highly dubious.”

The July 29, 2008 court filing said Qatanani was guilty of “material misrepresentation,” “has engaged in terrorist activity” and “engaging in unauthorized employment…by allowing an out of status alien to reside with him.”

“It is certainly suspicious when a person who has been convicted of being a member of, and providing services, to Hamas, who has personal ties to a Hamas militant leader, and a Hamas fundraiser also sends undisclosed cash to the West Bank,” the document reads.

Despite this evidence, Christie, then U.S. Attorney, sent his Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles McKenna to testify as a character witness on Qatanani’s behalf. After Christie was elected as governor, he appointed McKenna as N.J.’s Director of Homeland Security, a position he held from January 2010 until February 2012. In September 2008, Christie attended an event at the ICPC and praised Qatanani as a “man of great goodwill.” The next day, the immigration judge ruled in favor of Qatanani, granting him permanent residency and stating that the Israeli evidence against him was insufficient.

The DHS did not give up and the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled against the previous judge and Qatanani and said that the Israeli evidence was “properly authenticated and that there was no adequate basis for the immigration judge to give them ‘very low evidentiary weight.’” That’s where things stand now.

Since then, the Investigative Project on Terrorism has translated some of Qatanani’s sermons. In one from May 2009, he asks God to release the officials of the Holy Land Foundation that were convicted and said the ruling was a “political judgment, not a juridical judgment.” He then preached that the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), two Brotherhood fronts, were victimized when the government labeled them as “unindicted co-conspirators” in the Holy Land trial.

In a sermon from January 2008, Qatanani preaches that “You see now you should do jihad or struggle, to change evil doing…You know I mention in so many times that jihad is greater than fighting. It is not only fighting. And you cannot just contain it in fighting.” Notice what he’s saying: Not that violent jihad is improper, but that is must not be limited to that.

On November 2, 2007, Qatanani preached that Muslims need to focus on the good in people. He chose to use one person as an example: Top Muslim Brotherhood cleric and Hamas supporter Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi.  “Sit with anyone about anyone, they will say ‘but’—What do you think about this Sheikh Qaradawi? ‘But,’ ‘He’s good, but.’”

In another sermon in 2007, he prayed that God would help “our brothers and sisters in Philistine [Palestine], and Iraq and Chechnya” to “remove occupation and oppression.” The “occupiers” in these countries were Israeli, U.S. and Russian forces.

The issue of Qatanani resurfaced in 2011 when Governor Christie appointed Sohail Mohammed as a Superior Court Judge. How’d Christie come to know Sohail Mohammed? He served as Qatanani’s attorney.

Unsurprisingly, Mohammed opposed terrorism prosecutions like those against the Holy Land Foundation and Sami al-Arian. He also was the general counsel of the American Muslim Union, an organization that has shared five officials with Qatanani’s mosque. One AMU newsletter claimed that a “Zionist commando orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.” The group also supports the Neturei Karta, a Jewish group that supports Ahmadinejad and Hamas and wants to see Israel gone. It also refused to support the 2005 “Free Muslims March Against Terror” that condemned all terrorist groups, including Hamas.

When all of this was pointed out, Christie lashed out. “It’s crazy. It’s crazy…So, this Sharia law business is crap. It’s just crazy. And I’m tired of dealing with the crazies. I mean, you know, it’s just unnecessary to be accusing this guy [Mohammed] of things just because of his religious background,” Christie said.

And now we know that, after all of this, Qatanani is one of the Muslims selected to be briefed on the N.J. Attorney General’s conclusions about the NYPD’s counter-terrorism activity.

Christie is generally assumed to have his eyes set on higher office and is frequently suggested as a running mate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. When it comes to the Islamist threat, Christie is far from ready.

Update: Since the Clarion Project published this story, the press has learned of  two more participants in the meeting with the N.J. Attorney General: Mohamed el-Filali, the executive director of the Hamas-tied Islamic Center of Passaic County (Qatanani’s mosque) and a representative of the N.J. chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, another group birthed by the Muslim Brotherhood and tied to Hamas.

Ryan Mauro is Clarion Project's National Security analyst. He is frequently interviewed on Fox News and other top-tier TV networks.