Sun-Times: Imam to file suit against state police

A Bridgeview imam will file a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the Illinois State Police, his lawyer said Wednesday, alleging that police force fired him based on misleading and anti-Islamic media reports.

“We say that the ISP actually hired Imam Kifah Mustafa and trained him as a chaplain and then terminated him due to the allegations of reporter Steven Emerson,” said attorney Christina Abraham at a press conference in Chicago.

“Our case is centered on the idea that he was discriminated against, and had he not been Muslim, born in Lebanon and of a different race, the ISP would not have fired him based on these allegations.”

Abraham made the announcement at the Downtown Islamic Center on State Street, flanked by representatives of community groups supporting of the popular religious leader. Mustafa was not present.

Last Friday, a representative of the ISP met with the cleric to withdraw his appointment as one of seven volunteer chaplains to minister to an increasingly diverse police force, the imam’s lawyer said.

The move followed Internet postings by Washington-based reporter Steve Emerson on the Investigative Project on Terrorism site denouncing Mustafa’s appointment, Abraham said.

The postings referenced a 2007 decision by federal prosecutors to label Mustafa an “unindicted co-conspirator” as part of their case against the Holy Land Foundation — one of the largest Islamic charities in the United States. Two of its founders were sentenced last year for sending millions of dollars to the Palestinian militant group Hamas in breach of U.S. terrorism laws.

Mustafa is alleged to have helped raise money for the charity through his position as imam for the Mosque Foundation and its thousands of members.

The “unindicted co-conspirator” label first cropped up during the Watergate Hearings and has been attached to people alleged to have engaged in conspiracy, but who have not been charged in an indictment.

“The Justice Department recommends against its use,” Ahmed Rehab, executive director for the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Wednesday.

Mustafa’s discrimination complaint alleges the ISP began to backtrack after it learned about Emerson’s Internet report. He was then subjected to a second background check by state police in March.

Abraham is asking the EEOC to allow Mustafa to take his case directly to federal court rather than go through its own mediation process.

State Police officials declined Wednesday to comment on specific allegations.

“The ISP is not aware of a complaint or lawsuit being filed,” said Master Sgt. Isaiah Vega, adding that all seven new chaplains were subjected to the same secondary screening.

In an earlier statement, State Police had said “due to information revealed during the background investigation, Sheik Kifah (Mustafa’s) appointment as a volunteer ISP Chaplain has been denied.” Specific details were withheld and the ISP pledged to “continue to seek clergy with inter-faith interest from diverse religions, including that of the Muslim faith for its chaplain program.”

Some community groups angry about Mustafa’s rejection said the agency may have to do so without their help.

“This whole thing seems to me to be the revival of McCarthyism, which is something we were formed to fight,” said Bob Clarke, president of the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights.