Michael Birach, Damra's lawyer, called the imam a bridge-builder and a healer who had made a real contribution to religious understanding in the Cleveland area.

He called Damra a victim of federal officials who wanted to look tough after the September 11 attacks.

 

"He was just a poster boy for the war on terrorism," Birach said.

 

'Deep concerns'

 

A spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations said she found the deportation "difficult to accept".

 

"We have deep concern for the family and the three young daughters who are US citizens and his wife, who did not get a chance to say goodbye," said Julia Shearson, director of the group's Cleveland chapter.

 

Damra, who immigrated to the US in the mid-1980s, became involved in interfaith activities in his community after the September 11 attacks. 

 

A tape, however, was soon made public of a 1991 speech in Chicago in which he said Muslims should be "directing all the rifles at the first and last enemy of the Islamic nation and that is the sons of monkeys and pigs, the Jews".

 

Damra apologised, saying the remarks were made before he had any interaction with Christians and Jews.

 

In his 2004 trial, prosecutors showed video footage of him and other Muslim leaders raising money for Islamic Jihad, which has been on the state department's list of terrorist organisations since 1989.

 

Deported

 

Damra's naturalisation fraud conviction was not enough to warrant deportation because he had legally lived in the US for five years. Immigration officials then sought to remove him on charges that he raised funds for terrorist organisations.

 

On January 4, 2006, an immigration judge ordered Damra's deportation, following a deal between Damra and federal officials.

 

In the mid-1980s, Damra became imam of a Brooklyn, New York, mosque that then was a focus of fundraising for US-backed, anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan.