Thursday, June 17, 2004

Islamic cleric awaits verdict

By Joe Milicia
The Associated Press

AKRON, Ohio - The trial of an Islamic cleric accused of lying on his application for U.S. citizenship ended Wednesday after two days of testimony that included video footage of the imam raising money for what a government witness identified as a terrorist group.

Federal prosecutors accuse Fawaz Damra, the Palestinian-born imam of the Islamic Center of Cleveland, of lying about his connections to terrorist organizations when he applied for citizenship.

Damra's defense did not call any witnesses.

Before both sides rested, U.S. District Judge James Gwin struck a portion of the prosecution's case when he did not allow allegations concerning a dismissed assault charge that Damra did not report on his naturalization form.

Gwin concluded that because the charge was dismissed it did not have to be reported on the application.

Defense attorney John Cline also asked Gwin for an acquittal based on what he called insufficient evidence. Gwin said he would consider the motion after the jury reached a verdict.

After closing arguments Thursday, jurors will begin deliberation. They now have to decide whether Damra lied on the form about persecuting groups based on their race or religion and whether he failed to disclose affiliations to alleged terrorist groups.

Damra, 41, has pleaded innocent to a charge of obtaining U.S. citizenship in 1994 by providing false information. If convicted, he could lose his citizenship, be fined $5,000 and be sentenced to up to five years in prison before being deported.

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