Muslim Cleric Released in Portland

BySalim Jiwa and Mike Gudgell

P O R T L A N D, Ore., Oct. 11, 2002 -- A Muslim cleric from Portland was ordered released from jail today after being held for more than a month.

Sheik Mohammed Abdirahman Kariye, the imam of the Islamic Centre of Portland was arrested with much fanfare by the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force at Portland International Airport on Sept. 8. Kariye was preparing to leave the country for the United Arab Emirates with his four young children and his brother Hakeem.

Kariye's bail was set at $250,000 which was raised by members of the Muslim community here. At least two families put up their homes to guarantee that the cleric will turn up for his trial on charges relating to Social Security fraud. The start date of the trial has been postponed from Nov. 5.

Muslim crowds chanted "God is great" on the steps of the Federal courthouse here after prominent New York civil rights lawyer Stanley Cohen announced he had secured bail. Cohen and federal prosecutors reached an agreement that allowed for Kariye's release.

Members of the Muslim community are questioning why the prominent and popular imam was arrested in the first place by the terrorism task force on "garden variety" charges.

"It was staged, it is not just happening here it is happening all over the United States," Cohen said as he waited for the release surrounded by at least 200 Muslims.

Cohen said the FBI had mounted a "fishing expedition." Initial court testimony indicated that an explosive sniffer had indicated TNT residue on Kariye's luggage. But lab tests showed there were no traces of any explosives.

The FBI obtained an indictment for Kariye's arrest four days before his scheduled departure. Cohen said the timing of the indictment and the circumstances of the arrest raised questions.

"They arrested him at the airport to make it look like he was fleeing," Cohen said.

Tracking Movements

Kariye arrived in the United States from his native Somalia in the early 1980s and has lived most of his life in Portland. In 1991, he briefly visited Pakistan where he met and married Anna Alicia Valdez.

Divorce papers filed in Clackamus Circuit Court near here show Kariye and Valdez had a court-registered divorce agreement in May in which the two spelled out that Kariye would leave the country after June with his four children.

"The government has shown their inability to use good judgment when arresting people for petty crimes," said Khalid Elolaimi, a spokesman for the Islamic Centre of Portland. Elolaimi said Muslims feel they are singled out and targeted by the FBI.

Kariye is expected to be back at the Portland mosque to lead prayers. But he will do so wearing an electronic ankle bracelet to track his whereabouts.