Nazareth imam convicted of inciting terror

Preacher established Salafist group with 'global Jihad' al-Qaida ideology.

Child amongst crowd of praying Muslims 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Radu Sigheti)
Child amongst crowd of praying Muslims 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Radu Sigheti)
The Nazareth Magistrate’s Court on Sunday convicted the imam of a city mosque on charges of incitement to violence and terrorism and supporting a terror organization.
The state attorney’s office filed an indictment against Nazem Abu Salim in 2010, charging that the imam founded a Salafist-jihadist group, Ansar Allah Bait Almakdas- Alnasira (Supporters of God Jerusalem-Nazareth). The group’s ideology was alleged to be identical to that of al-Qaida and its global jihad movement – and Abu Salim was accused of preaching and distributing literature about it to his congregants.
Abu Salim, 47, has been the imam of the Shihab a-Din mosque in Nazareth since 1997. He delivered Friday sermons to a congregation of around 2,000 people and also gave sermons in other mosques, including the al-Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem.
The prosecution alleged that Ansar Allah calls on its followers to wage jihad in order to lead Islam to victory and free Jerusalem from what it says is a “Zionist-Crusader plot.”
Abu Salim, who has been held under house arrest since the commencement of legal proceedings against him in 2010, also established a website, MUSLIM 48, designed to spread Ansar Allah’s teachings to a worldwide audience, the indictment said.
Abu Salim expressed solidarity with the al-Qaida terror group and on several occasions encouraged violence, the prosecution argued.
The indictment charged that Ansar Allah has as its symbol a globe in the shape of the Dome of the Rock topped by a black flag, an emblem also identified with the Taliban as well as with the radical Islamist ideologies of the Salafist movement.
The prosecution argued that a group of worshippers at Abu Salim’s mosque were influenced by the extreme Islamist ideologies expounded upon in his publications. The group went on to commit violent acts against Christians and Jews – including murdering a Jewish taxi driver and attacking Christians.
Other worshippers had become determined to join al- Qaida’s global jihad and yet others had begun hoarding weapons, aiming to use them against Israeli soldiers, the prosecution contended.
Abu Salim denied both the charges against him and that the organization named Ansar Allah exists, saying that the term comes from a Koranic verse.
His lawyer, Taha Osama, argued that the material found on Abu Salim’s computers was the result of many years of collecting content with the eventual aim of establishing an Islamic cultural center. Other people had assisted with the task and Abu Salim had no control over the material downloaded by those assistants, Osama argued.
However, Judge Lili Jung- Goffer said that the evidence shows that Ansar Allah belongs to the Salafist Islam movement, and that the group has about 100 activists and thousands of worshippers and participants.
According to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) website, the Salafist-jihadist movement is a radical group within Salafism, a Sunni movement that strives to restore the glory days of early Islam by establishing an Islamic society under Shari’a law.
In Israel, Ansar Allah is headed by its founder and spiritual leader – Abu Salim, the judge said.
“Various materials seized, including the flag and the symbol, indicate that the organization also had the symbolic trappings of a real group, with an ideology, a purpose and a leadership,” Jung-Goffer said.
Ansar Allah was also declared an illegal organization by the defense minister in July 2011, the judge added.
Jung-Goffer also referred to an expert opinion given by Dr. Sagi Polka of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who said that the Ansar Allah’s ideology is to lead jihad for the purpose of establishing a global caliphate. Polka said that Abu Salim’s website had published materials typical of al-Qaida.
His attorney argued that Abu Salim had the right to hold the materials found on his computers because the law permits freedom of expression.
However, while the judge emphasized that freedom of expression is one of the basic rights of any democracy, including Israel, she said that right is not absolute and must be weighed against other rights and interests.
Consequently, the penal code prohibits inciting, encouraging or supporting violence or terrorism, including publishing material that could lead to violence or terror, the judge said.
Jung-Goffer also said that the court did not accept Abu Salim’s arguments that his statements praising al-Qaida leaders, the Taliban and Islamic Jihad were made innocently, and not out of solidarity with those terror groups.
Abu Salim had also confirmed to the Shin Bet that he viewed former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as a hero and that he supports Islam’s struggle against the West, the judge said.
According to the Shin Bet, Salafist and Salafist-jihadist ideologies are being disseminated mostly in the PA-controlled territories and the Gaza Strip, but recently have also been spreading on a smaller scale among Israeli Arabs – and Abu Salim is the ideological leader of the movement in Israel.
The Shin Bet has also said that over the past few years, Israeli security and law enforcement authorities have exposed several Israeli Arab groups with links to Salafist-jihadist ideology.
On one of these occasions in 2011, several residents of the Arab village of Daburiya were arrested after allegedly planning attacks against the local police station. In 2010, Arab youths from Nazareth, inspired by Salafist-jihadist ideologies, were involved in the murder of Jewish taxi driver Yefim Weinstein.