PORTLAND: US authorities are seeking to revoke the citizenship of an imam in Oregon who they say tried to conceal past associations with radical Islamic groups.
Mohamed Sheikh Abdirahman Kariye raised money, recruited fighters and provided training for insurgent groups battling Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the US Department of Justice says in a complaint filed Monday in US District Court in Portland.
Government lawyers say Kariye for a time “dealt directly” with Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam, the founders of Al Qaeda, and he recruited sympathisers in the United States and Pakistan for an Al Qaeda precursor known as Maktab Al Khidamat.
Kariye is also accused of being a founding officer and director of the now-defunct Global Relief Foundation, which authorities say provided assistance to terror groups including Al Qaeda and promoted radical jihad.
Federal authorities say Kariye failed to reveal those details in his application for citizenship, which was granted in 1998.
Attempts to reach Kariye through his Portland mosque and a former attorney were not immediately successful.
Born in Somalia, Kariye came to the United States on a student visa in 1982, according to the complaint. Between 1985 and 1988, he traveled to Afghanistan, where he went to a jihadist training camp and fought with the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviets.
He helped process foreign fighters arriving in Pakistan for travel to training camps, authorities say, working directly with bin Laden and Azzam. At some point, he was arrested for his involvement with the mujahedeen and spent four months in a Pakistani prison.
After returning to the United States in 1988, he applied for asylum and swore under oath that he hadn’t left the country or been arrested.
The Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, but the complaint alleges that Kariye returned to Pakistan in 1990 and worked for three years to recruit sympathisers and raise funds for Maktab Al Khidamat, the precursor of Al Qaeda. He was listed as the Oregon point of contact on a 1994 flyer advertising a nationwide fundraising tour for Afghan jihad.
As the longtime leader at Portland’s largest mosque, Masjed As-Saber, Kariye is a well-known figure in the city’s Islamic community. It was not immediately clear Monday whether Kariye is still the mosque’s imam. Local Muslims have known for years of the FBI’s interest in him.
Kariye was arrested at Portland International Airport in 2002 by an FBI-led anti-terrorism task force. He pleaded guilty to using a fraudulent Social Security number and defrauding the state Medicaid program by lying about his income to receive state-funded health insurance. A federal judge sentenced him to five years on probation.
In a 2003 affidavit, the FBI said it believed Kariye provided support to seven Muslims who tried unsuccessfully to join the Taliban in fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He was never charged. Kariye was one of 10 people who in 2010 sued the federal government over their placement on the no-fly list. Eight others have since joined the case.
A federal judge in Portland ruled last year that the government must tell people what unclassified information was used to put them on the list, and if the information is classified, at least tell them the nature and extent of it.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Kariye and other plaintiffs in the case, filed a motion in April saying the government still hadn’t provided them with enough information about their placement on the no-fly list.