Muslim leader kept from return to U.S.
Orland Park man was visiting Jordan
By Laurie Cohen, Steve Franklin and Deborah Horan, Tribune staff
reporters. Tribune staff reporters Oscar Avila and Robert Manor
contributed to this report
January 25, 2003
An outspoken leader of Chicago's Muslim community who has helped run a
group allegedly connected to Palestinian militants has been barred from
returning to the United States after visiting relatives in his native
Sabri Samirah, who has lived in the U.S. since 1987 but is not a
naturalized citizen, was stopped by immigration officials at Shannon
Airport in Ireland and told he could not return to America because of
national security concerns. He then flew back to Jordan, he said in a
phone interview from his parents' house in Amman.
Samirah was formerly chairman and has long been a board member of the
Islamic Association for Palestine, an organization that government
officials have described as the U.S. propaganda arm of the Islamic
militant group Hamas. He also leads the United Muslim Americans
Association, a political advocacy group that shares office space in
southwest suburban Palos Hills with the Islamic Association for
Samirah has been a high-profile spokesman for Islamic causes, lambasting
the government for alleged discrimination against Muslims, challenging
American policy in the Middle East and rallying fellow Muslims to vote.
When First Lady Laura Bush came to town in May 2001, he was selected as
the Muslim community's representative to greet her at the airport.
Samirah said the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service had
approved his plans to travel to Jordan, the first time he has been back
since 1990. He left on Dec. 28 and was on his way home Saturday when
immigration officials detained him in Ireland.
"They fingerprinted me, took my picture and in 10 minutes they said, `We
are sorry. This is nothing personal. We received a fax yesterday from
Brian Perryman,'" director of the INS in Chicago, revoking his
permission to leave the country.
Samirah, 36, of Orland Park, said immigration officials have been trying
to get him out of the country since 1997 by revoking his work visa, an
action he has been challenging in immigration court. Samirah and his
wife have applied for permanent residency in the U.S.
Samirah blamed his problems on pro-Israeli and right-wing Christian
groups, which he said want to prevent Muslims in America from being
"They do not like to see Muslim groups growing and flourishing in the
U.S.," he said. "They believe that if down the road Muslims are
politically powerful they will neutralize the American policy toward the
Samirah acknowledged he might have been targeted because of his
connection to the Islamic Association for Palestine, which he described
as a "civil rights group." After the Sept. 11 attacks, two of the
group's officials in Texas were deported on immigration-fraud charges.
"If they are punishing me, if they want to accuse me of something wrong,
take me back to the U.S. and try me," Samirah said.
At a news conference Friday at the United Muslim Americans Association's
office, Samirah's wife, Sima Srouri, said her husband has no connections
to Hamas, which is opposed to the existence of Israel and has claimed
responsibility for killing scores of Israelis. She said the government
action against Samirah was a "big disaster" for her family, which
includes three American-born sons.
"I don't know why this is happening," said Srouri, who teaches at a
school associated with the Mosque Foundation of Bridgeview, where
Samirah has been a leader. "He's a public figure. He registers people to
vote, organizes people. I have no answer why they did this."
Marilu Cabrera, a spokeswoman for the INS in Chicago, said she could not
comment specifically on Samirah's case. But she said that, in general,
the type of permission received by Samirah doesn't guarantee that
immigrants who do not have permanent residency will be readmitted to the
"An individual is running a certain amount of risk by leaving the
country," Cabrera said.
Manal el-Hrisse, executive director of the United Muslim Americans
Association, accused the INS of deceiving Samirah into leaving the
country. "We will go after the INS," she said at the news conference.
"We believe they tricked him."
The Islamic Association for Palestine has been under government scrutiny
for years but has never been charged with wrongdoing. The group, founded
in Illinois in 1981, promotes the Palestinian cause by holding
conferences and publishing an Arabic-language newspaper.
The INS, in a report in a 2001 deportation case, said top Hamas leader
Mousa Abu Marzouk was once an official of the Islamic Association for
Palestine and helped to bankroll the group. The group has also produced
training and recruitment videos for Hamas and has distributed Hamas
communiques and its charter, the INS said.
Shortly after Sept. 11, the INS deported Ghassan Dahduli and Hasan
Sabri, both former officials of the Islamic Association for Palestine in
Texas, accusing them of improperly obtaining visas as religious workers.
Dahduli also worked at one time for Infocom Corp., a Texas Internet
provider whose top executives were indicted in December along with
Marzouk on charges of money laundering, export violations and
circumventing a presidential order.
One of the indicted Infocom executives has been president of the Texas
office of the Islamic Association of Palestine. When Infocom was raided
by FBI agents just before the Sept. 11 attacks, the Islamic Association
for Palestine, one of its clients, received a subpoena for records.
Srouri said her husband has been questioned by the FBI and apparently
"The FBI checked his records hundreds of times," she said. "If there
were any problems, they should have said."
Samirah, who said he has a doctorate in public policy from the
University of Illinois-Chicago, said the INS revoked his work visa in
1997 because his technical qualifications didn't match his job
In 1998, after followers of Osama bin Laden bombed two U.S. embassies in
Africa, Samirah said he was not convinced the Al Qaeda leader was to
blame. "You have to have evidence, and then go after them," he said.
Last year he served as family spokesmen for three Muslim medical
students who were detained in Florida after a waitress thought she
overheard them talking about terrorism attacks.
"I believe in peace and justice," he said Friday. "I believe in solving
Copyright C 2003, Chicago Tribune