A prominent Muslim cleric whom federal authorities sought to link to a terrorist group has won his bid to call the United States his permanent home.

Calling the government’s case “patently incomplete,” a federal immigration judge in Newark ruled today that Mohammad Qatanani, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, can remain in the U.S.

The testimony of two federal agents in the case “is tainted by the lack of an accurate record and their inconsistent and contradictory testimony,” Immigration Judge Alberto J. Riefkohl wrote in a 71-page decision.

Qatanani, 44, who is Palestinian, has served as Muslim religious leader at the mosque in Paterson since 1996, when he emigrated from Jordan on a religious worker visa. He applied for permanent U.S. residency in 1999 for himself, his wife and three of their six children who were not born in America.

U.S. immigration authorities had sought to deport the imam on grounds that he failed to disclose on his green card application a prior arrest and conviction in Israel for being a member of Hamas — a group classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

At the same time, elected and appointed officials of various stripes expressed support for Qatanani.

“My view is he’s always had a very good relationship with us, and he’s a man of great good will,” U.S. Attorney Chris Christie said last night before exchanging traditional cheek kiss greetings with him and wishing him well during a breaking of the Ramadan fast in Paterson.

The evening turned into a tribute, as speaker after speaker paid Qatanani homage, sometimes to standing ovations. Many said they had never been in a mosque before the imam reached out to them, and they credited him for helping them gain access to and an understanding of the Muslim and Arab communities.

These included Weysan Dun, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark office; U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.; county prosecutors; sheriffs, and the director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security in praising Qatanani and the role of mosque members in building bridges with law enforcement in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

During Qatanani’s immigration hearing, Jewish, Catholic and Episcopalian leaders also testified that they viewed him as a moderate Muslim leader dedicated to interfaith outreach. Hundreds of his supporters kept a vigil outside the courthouse during his trial, which began in early May. (MORE)


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