Portland mosque leader is likely to plead guilty to minor fraud charge
Sheik Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye is likely to plead guilty to a minor Social Security fraud charge Thursday.
Kariye heads the Islamic Center of Portland, also known as Masjed As-Saber, the Southwest Portland mosque that has figured in several local investigations by the FBI's Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The task force arrested him at Portland International Airport as he and his family were preparing to leave the country Sept. 8, 2002.
Although Kariye originally pleaded not guilty to possessing a false passport, his attorney filed a change of plea request last week with U.S. District Judge Robert Jones. New York civil rights attorney Stanley Cohen currently is in Palestine and could not be reached for comment about the plea change.
During a January visit to Portland, Cohen denied that his client is a terrorist, contending that he is the victim of a politically motivated crackdown on Muslims led by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Cohen said such Social Security fraud charges are so minor that they are rarely, if ever, filed by the federal government. 'If he wasn't a Muslim, he wouldn't even have been charged with these crimes, which have nothing to do with terrorism,' the attorney said.
Although Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Gorder would not discuss the case, it is unlikely that Kariye would serve any jail time if he pleads guilty. Nor would he be deported because he is a naturalized American citizen.
If Kariye pleads guilty, it will close the second of three cases against local Muslims investigated by the FBI's Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The task force first arrested Ali Khaled Steitiye on federal weapons, fraud and immigration charges Oct. 24, 2001. Steitiye, an unemployed Palestinian from Lebanon, was found guilty last July and received a sentence of 30 months in prison, three years' probation and $41,805 in restitution.
Next, in September, Kariye was arrested.
The federal government then indicted six Portland Muslims on terrorism conspiracy charges Oct. 4. The task force Ñ which conducted the investigation into the alleged al-Qaida sleeper cell Ñ arrested four defendants in Portland and Detroit. A fifth defendant was arrested a short time later in Indonesia, while the sixth suspect is still at large.
Most, if not all, of the defendants worshiped at Kariye's mosque. Cohen adamantly denied that the cases are connected, however.
Two hearings in the so-called Portland Six case are scheduled before Jones next week. The judge will consider a request by defense attorneys for more potential evidence from the government.
Jones also will consider a request to try defendant October Martinique Lewis separately and earlier than the other alleged cell members Ñ Jeffrey Leon Battle, Ahmed Ibrahim Bilal, Muhammad Ibrahim Bilal and Patrice Lumumba Ford are in custody; Jabis Abdulla Al Saoub is still at large.