GOP presidential candidate New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still praising a Hamas-linked mosque in his state, saying, “The folks in the local mosque in Paterson, the ones I interact with, they are not radical Islamic jihadists.” He is referring to the Islamic Center of Passaic Countyâ€”and he’s praised its imam for years even though the Department of Homeland Security is seeking his deportation for his links to Hamas.
You can read our profile of the mosque and its leadership, including Imam Mohammad Qatanani, here.
He was arrested and convicted by Israel for his links to Hamas and then went to NJ to help lead a mosque founded and led by Mohammed El-Mezain, a Hamas operative sentenced to 15 years in prison for financing the terrorist group. El-Mezain was also the chairman of the Holy Land Foundation, which was shut down for being a Muslim Brothehood/Hamas front.
Qatanani has used his position to preach extremism. The Department of Homeland Security has been seeking Qatanani’s deportation since 2006.
A July 29, 2008 court filing explains, â€œIt 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.” It described his explanation for his financial transfers as “highly dubious.”
On November 22, 2015, the mosque held a memorial for “the martyred niece of Sheik Qatanani who died yesterday in Palestine.” This means she was killed in a confrontation with Israel. A Facebook user commented under the announcement, “We are pround [sic] about her, she was defending for Al Aqsa [Jerusalem].”
His 16-year-old niece Ashraqat Taha Al-Qatanani was killed during a spate of stabbing attacks in Israel. She took out a knife in front of a military base near civilians and an Israeli civilian hit her with his car to stop the impending attack. She was shot sometime after that. Her father, Sheikh Taha Qatanani, did not deny her intentions. He said, “She talked about stabbing to her brother the day before but no one took her seriously. If she tried to stab, she did what she wanted.”
In an interview with Hezbollah’s media outlet, her father praised her for having “inherited the love of the resistance and the love of Sayyed Nasrallah from me,” apparently referring to the leader of the Hezbollah terrorist group whose lectures she listened to. He recalled her visiting him in prison and “until the last night before her martyrdom she kept on drawing the veiled face of a resistance fighter.” Nasrallah called Sheikh Qatanani directly after she died.
In honor of her death, her father refers to her as “Ashraqat Palestine.” He said, “don’t deny that Ashraqat Palestine inspired me to become more active. She burst the struggle stock inside of me… and maybe forced me to return to the choice of resistance.”
The reporter said she left behind a martyrdom note before attempting the attack. And “As for the knife revolt (intifada) that the Palestinian youth initiated, she did not only support it, but even considered that ‘the end of the occupation is near, God willingâ€™.”
When the Department of Homeland Security began trying to deport Imam Mohammad Qatanani, Christie’s Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles McKenna testified as a character witness on Qatananiâ€™s behalf. After Christie was elected as governor, he appointed McKenna as NJâ€™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 â€œman of great goodwill.â€
Christie received negative attention for this and invited Qatanani to an Iftar (post-Ramadan fasting) dinner at the Governor’s Mansion on July 24, 2012. He defended Qatanani and blasted his critics as anti-Muslim bigots, which apparently would include the Department of Homeland Security.
In 2014, Clarion project asked Christie at a townhall in NJ about his praise for Qatanani and how he attacked the integrity of Qatanani’s critics. His response was to blatantly lie and claim he only said critics of his appointment of a Muslim judge are bigots and to downplay his praise for Qatanani. Christie said to “stop reading some of those websites that put this stuff out,” unaware that Clarion Project was one of the sites to which he was referring.
Video of his remarks in 2012 shows him boasting to his Muslim audience about how he’s being attacked by anti-Muslim bigots for two actions: The appointment of a Muslim as a judge and his friendship with Qatanani.
“And, of course, my association over the years and my kind words over the years about Imam Qatanani. He’s here tonight, welcome sir. Glad you could be here,” Christie is seen saying.
He then again said Qatanani has “tried to be a force for good” and this is known by “those of us who have gotten to know and work with him over the years.”
It gets worse.
In 2012, Clarion Project discovered Qatanani and others with extremist histories were on his attorney general’s Muslim outreach committee. They remained there even after we broke the story. And then we found out the committee was given briefings on police training andâ€”shockingly– even presentations on how non-profits can win homeland-security grants.
And still, even nowâ€”even after Qatanani’s Hezbollah-supporting niece died in a terrorist attack in Israel and after all this evidence is outâ€”Christie is still citing Qatanani’s Hamas-linked mosque as an example of moderation.
Ironically, in an interview around the same time as his statement identifying ICPC as a positive example, Christie said, “The fact is, what you need to be fearful of is not having the intelligence to know the difference between a jihadist and a peaceful Muslim.”
Christie’s rightâ€”it’s critical that a policy-maker, especially involved in national security, be able to differentiate between a moderate Muslim and a jihadist like a cleric identified by the Department of Homeland Security as a Hamas-affiliated extremist.