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Philly Imam Mohamed Ghorab linked to Morocco bombing 'escorted' to Egypt - Jailed Hamas congregant also being deported

Imam asked for asylum claiming persecution as extremist -fathered child with US citizenship who attempted to 'sponsor him'
December 9, 2005 Imam held after raid is deported
Mohamed Ghorab was arrested on immigration charges in a raid last year at his East Frankford mosque.
By Gaiutra Bahadur
Inquirer Staff Writer

An Egyptian cleric arrested during a high-profile federal raid last year on his East Frankford mosque has finally been deported.

Mohamed Ghorab, the imam or spiritual leader at the Ansaar Allaah Islamic Society on Wakeling Street, arrived in Cairo escorted by U.S. immigration agents yesterday morning.

The cleric had sought asylum in the United States, saying he feared persecution in his native country as a member of Dawaa Salafia, an Islamic sect whose members have been repeatedly imprisoned by Egyptian authorities.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled last week that Ghorab had waited too long to ask for asylum.

He came to the United States in 2000 on a tourist visa that soon expired. First he tried to stay by claiming marriage to a U.S. citizen, and then by applying for a religious worker's visa. Immigration judges rejected both petitions.

Ghorab, more recently, has focused on the backlash that he says awaits him in Egypt. He has said Cairo police seized his mosque and interrogated him on numerous occasions before he fled to the United States.

Salafi Islam urges believers to reclaim the strict ways and values of the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. Some Salafi offshoots are peaceful. Others are militant.

The Egyptian government arrested members of Ghorab's sect in 2003 after Salafists were implicated in a terrorist bombing in Morocco.

Federal authorities in the United States ultimately held Ghorab only on charges of overstaying his visa. But the May 2004 raid on his mosque - conducted with rifles, dogs, and search warrants for wire-transfer records a day after well-publicized warnings of an al-Qaeda plot to attack the United States - raised fears that the mosque was linked to terrorist groups.

Ghorab, held in immigration custody at the York County Correctional Facility since the raid, is known as a purist. He preached that a grocery-store owner couldn't sell pork, alcohol or lottery tickets and still be a true Muslim.

Meriem Moumen, who says she is Ghorab's wife, has defended him, saying his conservative religious views do not make him a terrorist.

"He's not going to change God's word so he can please you," she said last year. "If pork is forbidden, it's forbidden. In my religion, it's easy. Just follow the Koran. It's not strict. It's not crazy."

She met Ghorab three years ago at the mosque. They had a religious wedding in 2003 and have a 4-month-old daughter but have not legally married. Moumen, a U.S. citizen, had tried to sponsor Ghorab.

Moumen could not be reached yesterday. The phone number at their house, next to the mosque, has been disconnected. And the Ansaar Allaah Islamic Society, a converted warehouse across from a porn video shop on Wakeling Street, is now closed.

"The attendance dropped off," said Sarah Frazier, who had attended the mosque on occasion. "Everyone was afraid of going to the mosque. They were afraid the FBI or whoever was watching, and they could be deported."

At least one other member of the mosque, Atef Hasan Ismail Idais, is awaiting deportation. Federal authorities arrested him a few months after the raid and charged him with falsifying a student visa application by failing to disclose a 1999 arrest in Israel.

Idais, a 28-year-old Palestinian, was convicted in Israel of throwing stones, disturbing the peace, and being a member of Hamas, listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

During his trial, Idais disavowed membership in Hamas. He was convicted, sentenced to time served, and handed over to immigration authorities in September.

Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said he did not know whether Ghorab had been taken into custody by Egyptian authorities or released.

Contact staff writer Gaiutra Bahadur at 215-854-2601 or

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