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Thursday, September 24, 2020

U.S. seeks to revoke citizenship of Somali-born Muslim cleric

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The federal government says a man considered by Somali immigrants as the most important Muslim cleric does not have the “good moral character” to remain a U.S. citizen.

The U.S. attorney’s office wants the citizenship granted to Mohamed Idris Ahmed in 2003 revoked. Prosecutors say he lied on his naturalization application by not mentioning that he had two wives and had traveled outside the United States.

A two-day nonjury trial in Ahmed’s case ended last month in federal court in Columbus; attorneys have until May 27 to file briefs with U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson.

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Somalis in the United States fear for Ahmed’s safety if he is deported to Somalia, said Abshir Haji, vice president of Ibnu Taymiyah mosque on Mock Road on the North Side. The mosque is home base for Ahmed.

Radicals hate Ahmed for speaking out against terrorist groups such as Somalia’s al-Shabab and for encouraging immigrants to embrace their new homeland, Haji said.

“He gives a lot of sermons nationwide, and the topic he addresses is integration, to be thankful for what we have in this country and to be part of the society here, especially the youths,” Haji said.

The Justice Department sued Ahmed in 2012. By not revealing the second wife and 13 trips outside the United States in the five years before becoming a citizen, he demonstrated a lack of “good moral character,” prosecutors said.

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Ahmed, 38, testified that he has a “legal” wife from a civil marriage living with their children in Kenya and a “religious or cultural” wife and family in Saudi Arabia. He said a U.S. consulate official in Saudi Arabia advised him to bring only the legal wife and children to the United States. Because of that, he believed he did not need to mention the religious marriage.

Ahmed, the father of 11, acknowledged traveling to the Middle East and Africa to visit his families, including to Syria to see a son in college long before the civil war there began. He also traveled to speaking events around the world.

He said he had presented his Somali passport to officials at what was then the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Because no one asked him about the trips stamped, he didn’t mention them.

“So you didn’t lie?” asked Timothy M. Belsan, a Justice Department attorney from Washington, D.C., who led the prosecution team in Columbus.

Ahmed said he didn’t lie, but he acknowledged that the answers on the form are inaccurate. However, he added that “it’s accurate according to my understanding.”

Translator Khue Truong, who signed Ahmed’s application, said she was careful about questioning applicants and having them review the documents before forwarding them to the INS. Ahmed said no one showed him the finished document.

Yvonne Jarrett, a former INS official who reviewed and signed off on Ahmed’s application, said records show he did not have a passport with him.

One of Ahmed’s attorneys, D. Wesley Newhouse, asked Jarrett why she wouldn’t press an applicant who didn’t have a passport about travel.

“It’s face value,” she said. “They’re under oath.

“If any applicant tells me they’ve been out of the country 13 times, to the Middle East and northern Africa, that would definitely raise a red flag,” Jarrett said.

Newhouse argued that a backlog of cases in 2003 could have led to overworked employees rushing interviews and misplacing documents.

Ahmed is well-respected at the Islamic Association of North America, according to Executive Director Hassan Jama. The association is based in Minneapolis, Minneapolis, which has the largest population of Somali immigrants in the United States. Columbus is second.

“I don’t know the motive of the government,” said Jama, who said Ahmed is among the top 10 imams in the country. “What I know is Mr. Ahmed is truthful, not a liar.”

He said the suit against Ahmed is another example of the “challenges” Somali leaders face at the hands of the U.S. government.

Citizenship revocations are rare, although government officials could not provide figures. Whether Ahmed is deported would be up to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whose officials did not answer requests for interviews .

 

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