Case against sheik reaches a quiet end

Mosque leader arrested by FBI pleads guilty to health plan fraud

In an anticlimactic ending to the case of a Portland religious leader suspected of links with terrorism, Sheik Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye pleaded guilty this week to lying about his income and using a false Social Security card to obtain medical benefits.

Stanley Cohen, the high-profile New York attorney who defended Kariye, characterized his client's arrest and prosecution as a 'circus' that ended up having nothing to do with terrorism.

Kariye, the prayer leader at the Islamic Center of Portland, or Masjed As-Saber, would not consent to an interview with the Tribune. The 41-year-old Somali-born cleric was arrested by the Portland FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force last September as he attempted to board an airplane bound for the Middle East.

He was deemed a flight risk and imprisoned for five weeks after a customs inspector testified that he had found traces of TNT in Kariye's luggage. Follow-up tests by the FBI, however, contradicted those findings, and Kariye was released on $250,000 bail.

Three supporters from the Portland mosque chipped in to cover Kariye's bail, putting up two homes and an Intel Corp. retirement account as collateral.

On Monday, Kariye appeared in federal court to plead guilty to two counts of using false information to obtain benefits under the Oregon Health Plan. According to an indictment that was unsealed this week, Kariye used a Social Security card with a false birth date and misrepresented his monthly income in order to show he was eligible for the benefits.

Kariye is not expected to serve further time in jail.

The use of false Social Security cards is hardly uncommon in Portland's immigrant community, said attorney Michael Meltzer, who has handled immigration cases locally since 1985.

Meltzer said such cases 'can be prosecuted under federal law, but that's almost unheard of except in this type of situation, where they're looking for some sort of crime to pin on a person, and they want to put him out of commission for a while.'

Charles Mathews, special agent in charge of Portland's FBI office, would not respond to a list of questions e-mailed to him by the Tribune on Wednesday, saying that FBI agents are not allowed to discuss investigative matters or how investigations are conducted.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Mathews has emphasized in several public statements that the FBI is no longer willing simply to keep suspected terrorists under surveillance. 'Our priority is getting them off the street,' he told a Portland State University class in January. 'We'll be arresting them for tearing the tag off a mattress.'

Kariye's court file makes no mention of terrorism. But his possible links to terrorist groups have been the subject of considerable investigation.

Global Relief Foundation, a Muslim charity that Kariye helped found in 1992, was designated a terrorist group by the federal government last year.

Kariye's name also appeared on a list of people who signed up to visit convicted terrorist El-Sayyid Nosair in prison. Nosair is serving a life sentence for conspiring to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993.

Mathews would not discuss whether the investigation into Kariye's fund-raising activities and associations is continuing.

Cohen said the FBI already has spent two years looking into the last 10 years of Kariye's life and found 'virtually nothing.'

Cohen compared the case against Kariye to 'dozens of similar cases' involving Muslim religious leaders and activists arrested in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

'They all start out with much insinuation and much fanfare,' he said. 'And unfortunately the media sucks it up and becomes a drum major for the government. It becomes a circus. And at the end of the day, 90 percent of these things end up being nothing or as close to nothing as you can get, like this one was.'

Mathews would not respond to Cohen's comments, other than to state, 'Mr. Cohen has, as every American does, a First Amendment right to express his opinions.'