this together: Imam Sheikh Mohammed al-Hanooti. Photo
by Mandy Crabtree
by Your Imam
Muslims rally behind spiritual leader accused of funding terrorists
local Muslim community is showing its support for Imam Sheikh
Muhammad al-Hanooti after recent Federal Bureau of Investigation
documents accused the spiritual leader of raising money for
the terrorist group known as Hamas.
The Islamic Center of the Capital District, for which al-Hanooti
is imam, took out a full-page ad in the Times Union
last Sunday that condemned terrorism and stated that the community
is deeply saddened by the recent media coverage of al-Hanooti
because he has not been charged with a crime. “Although he
has not been charged with any wrongdoing, recent articles
have unfortunately indicted him in the court of public opinion,”
the add reads.
Dr. Mohammad Ismail, president of the Islamic Center, said
the local Muslim community was shocked when they first heard
the accusation against al-Hanooti. “We had many meetings to
discuss this because we are against terrorism and supporting
terrorism,” said Ismail. “We are for this country and we are
trying to help the local community.”
Before members of the Muslim community agreed to support al-Hanooti,
Ismail said, the center’s board did some investigating on
its own, which included a call to the FBI.
Ismail said that if al-Hanooti were involved with such a group,
then the center would have asked him to relinquish his position
at the mosque.
didn’t find any wrongdoing,” said Ismail. “I don’t think there
is anything warranted at this time. He has not been charged
with any crime.”
An article that appeared in the Times Union on June
30 reported on a classified FBI memo stating that al-Hanooti
raised more than $6 million for Hamas while serving as the
imam at a mosque in Jersey City, N.J., in 1993. Hamas has
publicly claimed credit for numerous terrorist attacks and
say that, first, nothing is true,” said al-Hanooti. “I have
never been a fundraiser and never raised money for the Hamas.
I would never support the killing of innocent children or
Many attendees of the mosque have said that al-Hanooti has
never said anything that would suggest that he supports terrorist
have never heard this man speak against the government. Always
he speaks out against terrorists,” said Mohammad Shakir. “Even
with the situation between Israel and Palestine, I have heard
him say that this conflict cannot be resolved by force.”
But the June article also said that a 1995 memorandum filed
in federal court by former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White names
al-Hanooti along with a list of others as an “unindicted co-conspirator”
of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The FBI alleges
ties between al-Hanooti and Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the
blind Islamic cleric who is serving a life sentence because
of his foiled plans to blow up many New York City landmarks.
And, it said, that the Jersey City mosque was a gathering
place for some of the terrorists involved in the 1993 World
Trade Center Bombing. Mohammed A. Salemeh, the man convicted
of driving the Ryder van loaded with explosives that blew
up the World Trade Center garage in 1993, was listed as a
regular worshiper at the Jersey City mosque.
say that I knew this man and that I allowed him into my mosque,”
said al-Hanooti. “I never allowed him to come in because I
never approved of any of his thoughts. This was very well
known in the community in New Jersey.”
Al-Hanooti said that he was interviewed by the FBI during
the investigation of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing but
no criminal charges were ever filed against him, and federal
court files do not outline how he participated in any conspiracy.
The FBI did not return calls for comment.
Ayman Nazzal, an adjunct professor of communication at the
University at Albany, said that even if al-Hanooti was raising
money for this group in the early 90s, as the FBI suspects,
that does not necessarily mean that he was supporting terrorist
The United States Department of the Treasury, he adds, did
not deem this group a terrorist organization until 1995. Prior
to that, Hamas was also known for the humanitarian work that
it did for Palestinian children, such as raising money for
food, education, medicine and shelter.
Ismail said that these recent events involving al-Hanooti
have once again placed the Muslim community under attack.
Days after the Times Union article ran, the mosque
received threatening phone calls and closed its school for
fear of retribution.
was really depressing for us all for a while,” said Ismail.
“We knew this would really impact our effort to prove that
we are here for this nation, this community and our neighbors.”
Al-Hanooti said that he is not sure where this information
is coming from, but suspects that it could be because of his
pro-Palestine stance on issues regarding the Middle East.
The 65-year-old imam, who was hired as the center’s spiritual
leader a year and half ago, was born in Haifa when the city
was part of Palestine. Since moving to the United States 25
years ago, he has married an American woman; they have four
shalt not kill: David Kaczynski, executive director
of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty. Photo
by Will Waldron
Kill or not to Kill?
is the question, in the wake of recent court decisions overturning
executionsDarrel K. Harris has left death row, but controversy
over his former residence lingers.
July 9, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that Harris,
the state’s first death-penalty conviction since the statute’s
1995 reinstatement, couldn’t be executed due to unconstitutional
plea-bargaining provisions encouraging defendants to waive
their right to a trial. Though death-penalty advocates and
court analysts saw the case as an opportunity to express an
opinion on the death penalty itself, the justices focused
on the legal mechanics of Harris’ trial.
of addressing the grand philosophical question of ‘the death
penalty,’ the court chose to focus on the narrow legal issue,”
said Vincent J. Bonventre, a professor at Albany Law School
who follows the court. “We have a pretty conservative court
that tends to decide cases on the narrowest, least controversial
grounds. They didn’t have to question the death penalty here,
but sooner or later they’ll have to.”
While many analysts and activists are waiting for New York
to join other states, like Illinois and Maryland (both of
which recently enacted death penalty moratoriums), in questioning
the wisdom of capital punishment, others staunchly defend
death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment, as agreed
by about 81 percent of the American people,” said Dudley Sharp
III, resource director for the criminal reform organization
Justice for All. “Living murderers murder again and executed
murderers do not. It is as blatantly common sense as it sounds.”
Sharp said elementary sociology dictates the need for capital
punishment; the potential for negative consequences will alter
the behavior of potential criminals and deter them from committing
violent acts. But David Kaczynski, executive director for
New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, said many studies state
penalty people constantly state that the punishment will deter
crime and save innocent lives, and this is a completely discredited
argument,” Kaczynski said. “It’s misinformation. A review
of the literature shows no evidence to support that the death
penalty deters crime any more than a long-term prison sentence.
This argument relies on the public being uninformed.”
Harris’ case was one in a rash of court decisions over the
last month scrutinizing the death penalty. On June 20, the
U.S. Supreme Court declared the execution of mentally retarded
individuals unconstitutional, a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s
prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
standards of decency have evolved,” Kaczynski said. “Up until
just recently our country, along with Somalia, were the only
two in the world still executing the mentally retarded.”
While Kaczynski pointed to the irony of the court’s decision
in light of America’s foreign policy (noting that the countries
supporting our “war on terror” have abolished the death penalty,
while those nations we are targeting still practice capital
punishment), Sharp was not satisfied with the court’s decision.
decision was horribly, awfully written because of their failure
to establish any standards for the states to follow,” Sharp
said. “This was very irresponsible of the court, and it just
creates havoc with the system.”
On July 1, U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff of Manhattan
ruled that the federal death penalty is unconstitutional because
of the large number of death row exonerations nationwide.
Rakoff based his decision on a study by Columbia University
professor James Liebman, which reported that between 1973
and 1995, 68 percent of death sentences were reversed due
to error. Though anti-death penalty advocates see the judge’s
decision as a step in the right direction, the Supreme Court
ultimately will decide the death penalty’s constitutionality.
But the 101 innocent people exonerated from death row since
the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 is a number fiercely
debated by Sharp.
number is an absolute and total fraud. The standards for putting
people on that list didn’t differentiate between actual innocence
and legal innocence,” Sharp said. “This must be the only time
in the history of the media that a number has been so blindly
But support for a national death penalty moratorium exists
in studies with more conservative estimates, said Kaczynski.
A January 1999 study prepared for Illinois Gov. George Ryan
cited the innocence of 13 onetime death-row inmates in his
state, presenting enough evidence for the governor to put
off all executions in Illinois until the statute could be
A spokesperson for Gov. George Pataki, under whose leadership
New York’s death penalty was reinstated in 1995, said the
governor still stands by the death penalty despite the recent
rash of court decisions.
are confident the death penalty will withstand any legal challenges.
Our law was carefully crafted and will be able to withstand
the scrutiny,” said Pataki spokeswoman Jennifer Farina. “We
continue to believe that the death penalty is a deterrent
to crime and is partly responsible for the record low number
of violent crimes.”
To Kaczynski’s chagrin, the July decision spoke not of the
punishment’s effectiveness as a deterrent to crime, nor the
alleged racist nature of many death sentences, nor how it
puts a definite end to a defendant’s right to due process.
The court chose to decide on the specifics of the recent case,
and even the legal tweakings weren’t sufficient for Bonventre.
random nature with which the way the death penalty is applied
from county to county is grounds for the statute to be questioned,”
Bonventre said. “New York’s death penalty scheme allows each
county’s district attorney unqualified discretion to seek
the death penalty, so basically there are 62 different death
penalty statutes in the state, one for each county. There
is certainly good cause for a death penalty moratorium here
in New York.”