Muslim group suing press for ‘conspiracy’

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Editor's note: The Islamic Society of Boston dropped the defamation suit on May 29, 2007.

A Massachusetts superior court judge has ruled that the Islamic Society of
Boston can continue its lawsuit against the Boston Herald, TV station Fox
25 and 15 other individuals and nonprofit organizations. The ISB claims that the
defendants created a media conspiracy to prevent it from building a new mosque
and cultural center.

The lawsuit claimed that the 17 defendants waged a media war against the
project by releasing information that connected current and former members of
the ISB to fundamentalist terror organizations. These allegations, ISB claims,
resulted in a substantial decrease in donations for the cultural center, which
remains unfinished. Eight of the defendants in the lawsuit are news media
organizations or individuals.

The nine non-media defendants filed for a motion for dismissal under
Massachusetts’s anti-SLAPP statute, claiming it protected their constitutional
right to speak out on matters of public concern. But the court ruled Sept. 25
that the statute protects petitions to government bodies, not to the press or
public. In the court’s opinion, Justice Janet L. Sanders wrote, “this Court
fails to see the connection between the allegedly defamatory statements … which
are the subject of this lawsuit and any issue which was either the subject of
governmental review or was capable of being reviewed by a governmental

The Boston Herald refused to comment on the case and Fox 25 did not
respond in time for publication.

Land purchase
In the early 1990s, the Muslim Council of Boston
searched for a parcel of land on which to build a new mosque and cultural
center. It decided to seek to buy 1.9 acres owned by the Boston Redevelopment
Authority, which voted in 1992 to make the Muslim Council the official
redeveloper of that land, then valued by the authority at more than

In 1998, the Islamic Society of Boston took control of the project and the
land from the Muslim Council with the redevelopment authority's approval. In
2000, the ISB agreed to pay $175,000 in cash for the land. In the deal that was
struck, it was agreed that “public benefits” provided by the cultural center
would more than make up the remaining cost. Such benefits would include a
lecture series at nearby Roxbury Community College and the development of an
Islamic library.

A groundbreaking ceremony took place in November 2002, though the official
closing on the land did not happen until May 2003. A series of public meetings
was held during this period; support from those attending was nearly unanimous.
Every meeting was advertised and notices were printed for every decision made by
the Boston Redevelopment Authority during the process, Sanders wrote in her
ruling. The project was also written about in local and national newspapers.

After the groundbreaking, a series of investigative articles appeared in the
Boston Herald and a number of broadcast new stories appeared on Fox 25
asserting that members of the ISB had links to terrorist groups. The ISB
denounced all the claims, calling them false and defamatory.

Focus on 4 men
The news stories focused on four men:

  • Abdurahman Alamoudi, an ISB founder in the 1980s, was accused by the U.S.
    Department of Justice of plotting to assassinate the crown prince of Saudi
    Arabia using money he received from the Libyan government. When indicted,
    Alamoudi was also charged with violating U.S. sanctions against Libya and
    concealing his affiliation with a leader of the Palestinian terrorist group
    Hamas. Alamoudi was sentenced to 23 years in prison after pleading guilty to
    three federal offenses in 2004. In July 2005, the U.S. Department of Treasury
    linked him to al-Qaida. The ISB says that though Alamoudi was a founding member
    of the ISB, he has not been part of the society for many years.

  • A Herald article said Yusef al-Qaradawi appeared on IRS forms as a
    trustee of the ISB; the ISB claimed this entry was a clerical mistake and denied
    that he was ever a trustee, though it acknowledged his support of the building
    project. Al-Qaradawi was banned from entering the U.S. in 1999 because of his
    suspected ties to Hamas. He also gained notoriety after endorsing female suicide
    bombers and claiming that resistance to the U.S., particularly in Iraq, was a
    religious duty.

  • A March 2004 Herald article accused Dr. Walid Fitaihi, treasurer and
    a trustee of the ISB, of writing anti-Semitic articles in Arabic newspapers.
    According to the ISB, the articles were written during a Palestinian uprising in
    2000 and were aimed at a few individuals, not all Jews.

  • The Herald reported around the same time that Osama Kandil, then
    president of the ISB board of trustees, was under federal investigation for
    suspected links to terrorist organizations including the Muslim Arab Youth
    Association and Taibah. The ISB denied he was under federal investigation.

    More coverage, other moves
    The Herald printed about a dozen
    articles between October 2003 and March 2004 regarding the ISB and its plans to
    build a cultural center. Herald reporter Jonathan Wells wrote the first
    articles using information he received from Steven Emerson, an independent
    investigative reporter who runs what he calls the Investigative Project on
    Terrorism, which reports on terrorist activity in the United States. Emerson
    began to gather information at the request of William Sapers, a member of the
    foundation for Roxbury Community College. All three men, along with the
    Investigative Project, are defendants in the lawsuit.

    Sapers used contacts within Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s office to inform Menino
    of the allegations against the four. In May 2004, Sapers formed an “ad-hoc
    mosque group,” which included the director of the David Project, a Jewish
    leadership center, and the rest of the non-media defendants in the lawsuit.
    Their stated agenda was to start a “political and media campaign” against the
    building project.

    In September 2004, a Roxbury resident, James Policastro, filed a lawsuit
    against the City of Boston and the redevelopment authority. He alleged that by
    selling the land on which the center was to be built for less than its market
    price, the city was unconstitutionally supporting religion. Policastro argues
    that the envisioned “public benefit” of a lecture series at a state institution
    would be an endorsement of Islam.

    In October 2004, several people who would become defendants in the ISB
    lawsuit created an organization called “Citizens for Peace and Tolerance.” Its
    aim was to educate the community about the cultural-center project and,
    according to its Web site, “combat religious hatred and intolerance.”

    Meanwhile, Herald reporter Wells moved to Fox 25, which ran a series
    of investigative reports about the ISB in fall 2004.

    Also in October 2004, the Herald reported that a fundraiser for the ISB,
    Muhammad Ali Salaam, was deputy director of special projects at the Boston
    Redevelopment Authority. Salaam denied being a member of the ISB, but admitted
    to attending one of its mosques.

    In October 2005, a member of the Boston City Council, Jerry McDermott,
    published a letter raising questions about the ISB and its building project. He
    mentioned that the deed to the land was signed and notarized at the U.S.
    consulate in Saudi Arabia. Several ISB trustees live in the Middle East,
    including Saudi Arabia. [The ISB acknowledged that it had received a $1 million
    loan from the Islamic Development Bank, according to the Boston Globe of Jan.
    10, 2007. The IDB is principally owned by Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iran and Egypt.]
    McDermott later claimed that the land purchased by the ISB was worth more than
    $2 million.

    Defamation lawsuits filed
    In February 2005, the ISB filed a
    defamation lawsuit against Fox 25. In May 2005, it filed a similar lawsuit
    against the channel and the Boston Herald. Two members of the ISB board,
    including Kandil, filed defamation lawsuits against the Herald and others in
    October 2005. The ISB joined the lawsuit.

    The ISB consolidated its two previous lawsuits in November 2005 and added
    more defendants to the list, including Steven Emerson and the Investigative
    Project, William Sapers, the David Project and its education director Anna
    Kolodner, Citizens for Peace and Tolerance, its president Dennis Hale and its
    director Steven Cohen.

    In December 2005, The Boston Globe reported that the ISB’s
    construction costs had reached $24.5 million and that it had been refused the
    bank loans it needed to complete the project, which was originally supposed to
    have been finished in March 2004.

    The ISB offered to stop the lawsuit if the defendants would agree to private
    mediation in March 2006. The defense counsel refused this option.

    Related litigation continues.

    In October 2006, the David Project filed a lawsuit against the Boston
    Redevelopment Authority asking it to release the public records about the sale
    of land. It has requested access to documents written by or in regard to

    Melanie Bengtson is an intern at the First Amendment Center and a
    sophomore studying developmental politics at Belmont University.

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