New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, often described as a "rock star" in the Republican Party, has finally addressed the criticism of his courtship of Islamists. On July 24, Christie held an Iftar dinner at the Governor's Mansion, attended by Imam Mohammad Qatanani, a Hamas-linked cleric whose deportation is sought by the Department of Homeland Security. Christie reiterated his support for Qatanani and made the case to his Muslim audience that he is their ally by ridiculing the "bigots" attacking him.
Christie opens by talking about the attacks on "our relationship" (between him and, as he would characterize it, the Muslim community of N.J.) that show a "gaze of intolerance that's going around our country that is disturbing." You can watch the entire speech on YouTube.
He mocked his critics, saying "You'll all be fascinated to learn that in many publications around the country, I'm called an Islamist." No one ever said he is an Islamist himself and only a handful of writers have covered the controversy, including myself,, the Investigative Project on Terrorism, Dr. Daniel Pipes, Robert Spencer and my fellow N.J. resident, Andrew McCarthy.
Christie blatantly accused us of having anti-Muslim motivations.
"These are the kind of red herrings that people put up who are bigots, who want to judge people based upon their religious beliefs, want to judge people with a broad brush," he said.
He stood by his support for Imam Qatanani, pointing out that he was in attendance and "I'm glad to have you here." He called him a "friend" that "has attempted to be a force for good in his community."
To prove to his audience that he is their ally against "Islamophobia," though he didn't use that exact word, he cited the controversies surrounding three of his actions: His support for Qatanani, his nomination of Sohail Mohammed as a Superior Court Judge and how he stood against the NYPD's intelligence-gathering operations in his state. Let's address these cases one-by-one.
Imam Mohammad Qatanani
The story begins in 1993 when an Israeli military court convicted Qatanani for being a member of Hamas, a terrorist organization. He told the Israelis that he had been a member of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood but left in 1991 because of time constraints, not over any ideological split. He admitted to being a member of Hamas as part of a plea bargain and was released with a suspended sentence after serving three months.
Qatanani came to N.J. in 1994 to serve as an imam for the Islamic Center of Passaic County (ICPC) in Paterson. The mosque was founded in 1989 by Mohammed el-Mezain, who later was convicted of being a Hamas fundraiser. It was in this mosque that el-Mezain boasted of having raised nearly $2 million in the U.S. for Hamas. Qatanani served alongside el-Mezain, even sharing the same address, until el-Mezain handed the reigns over to him.
Another extremist ICPC official was Esam Omeish, who once was the chairman of the board. He is the former president of the Muslim American Society, a Muslim Brotherhood front. Omeish calls the Brotherhood "moderate" and has expressed admiration for the founder of Hamas and Palestinians who believe "that the jihad way is the way to liberate your land."
ICPC had Abdelhaleem Ashqar as a guest speaker, who was accused of being involved with Hamas and was later convicted for refusing to testify about the terrorist group's fundraising. Another guest speaker at ICPC is Hamas-supporter Imam Reda Shata. When he was the leader of Brooklyn's Islamic Center of Bay Ridge, he had El-Mezain as a guest speaker. The NYPD put Shata under surveillance as a "Tier One Person of Interest."
In 1999, Qatanani applied for a green card and did not disclose his conviction by the Israelis as a member of Hamas. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began seeking his deportation in July 2006. A 2008 court filing by the DHS accuses him of "material misrepresentation" and "engaging in unauthorized employment…by allowing an out-of-status alien to reside with him." It also states that he "has engaged in terrorist activity." Qatanani sent thousands of dollars to the West Bank and the DHS described his explanation that it was easier than a wire transfer to be "highly dubious."
"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 filing states.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism translated some of his sermons between 2007 and 2009 that show the radicalism he preaches. Here are some highlights:
- 2007: He prayed that Allah will help "our brothers and sisters in Philistine [Palestine] and Iraq and Chechnya" to "remove occupation and oppression." The enemy "occupiers" are Israel, the U.S. and Russia.
- June 2007: He teaches that Christians and Jews "will be swiftly punished" with "the hypocrites [who] are in the lower pits of hellfire."
- November 2007: He instructs Muslims not to talk bad about fellow Muslims, using Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi as an example. Qaradawi is the top Muslim Brotherhood cleric who vocally supports Hamas and suicide bombings.
- January 2008: "You see now that 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."
- May 2009: He prays that Allah will release the imprisoned officials of the Holy Land Foundation, who were locked up for financing Hamas. He said that they were the victim of a "political judgment" and that the U.S. government is persecuting the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America by labeling them as "unindicted co-conspirators" in the trial.
Qatanani was booked as a speaker on June 24 at Dar al-Hijrah, an extremely radical mosque tied to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and frequented by Al-Qaeda operatives.
So, how did Christie, then U.S. Attorney, react to the DHS' efforts to deport Qatanani?
He sent his Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles McKenna to testify as a character witness on his behalf. In September 2008, Christie went to the ICPC to praise Qatanani as a "man of great goodwill."
After becoming Governor, Christie appointed McKenna as his director of the N.J. Office of Homeland Security, a post he held until February. In July 2008, the office McKenna would later lead actually produced a report about Hamas networks in the state that contradicted McKenna's assessment of Qatanani. The imam's name was the only one to be mentioned in it.
The day after Christie's endorsement, the immigration judge ruled in favor of Qatanani, granting him permanent residency and dismissing Israel's evidence against him. The Board of Immigration Appeals overturned it, deciding 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.'" The Israelis provided three documents: A letter from their liaison and the military court's verdict and indictment. The DHS points out that Qatanani never said he was forced into confessing that he was a member of Hamas and admitted that he underwent a trial process in Israeli custody, proving that he knew he was convicted when he filed his green card.
The deportation hearing continues November 26 and Christie is standing by him.
In his Ramadan dinner speech, Christie boasted of nominating attorney Sohail Mohammed as a Superior Court Judge and blasted the "hysteria" surrounding his decision and "all the nonsense and all this business about Sharia Law."
Mohammed was the General Counsel of the American Muslim Union, which has had at least five common officials with the Hamas-founded ICPC. The organization's newsletter stated that "Zionist commandos orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks" and supports Neturei Karta, a pro-Hamas, pro-Ahmadinejad Jewish group dedicated to the destruction of Israel. The group also declined to participate in the 2005 "Free Muslims March Against Terror," which condemned all terrorist groups, including Hamas.
Mohammed also spoke out against the prosecutions of Sami al-Arian, a convicted leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Holy Land Foundation. The evidence against them was enormous. He dismissed it and is now a Superior Court Judge, thanks to Christie.
When the controversy first broke, Christie reacted with: "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 of things just because of his religious background."
In his speech on July 24, Christie said he had known Mohammed for years. What he didn't say is how he knew him.
Mohammed was Qatanani's attorney.
The NYPD Controversy
Christie reminded the audience of how he blasted the NYPD when it was revealed that they had gathered intelligence in N.J. He sarcastically referred to them as the "almighty NYPD," claimed that N.J. was not informed about their operations, which was "stupid."
It was an open secret that the NYPD operated in N.J. The NYPD says it did inform N.J. about its activity under Governor Codey in 2005. The orders granting the NYPD permission were even on the N.J. state government's website.
Christie's Attorney General oversaw a three-month investigation into the matter and concluded that the NYPD did not break a single law. The audience, of course, wasn't reminded of that part of the story.
After the conclusion was made, the Attorney General knew he had to meet with leaders of the Muslim community to explain it. Who did he meet with?
You guessed it. Imam Qatanani, as well as the executive-director of the ICPC, Mohamed El-Filali and an unidentified official from the N.J. chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a group founded by the Muslim Brotherhood and labeled by the government as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in the Holy Land Foundation trial. In 2009, a federal judge upheld the label because "ample" evidence proved a relationship between CAIR and Hamas.
Christie concluded his speech with a request to the audience: "Please continue to recommend highly qualified and interested folks for positions in our administration."
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's National Security Analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.
This article was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy.