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Attorney for runaway Christian teen says her family's mosque has terrorist ties

Rifqa Bary, 17, hugs a Bible as she enters a courtroom in Orlando on Aug. 21. She says she ran away from her Ohio home because she feared punishment for converting from Islam to Christianity.

Associated Press

Rifqa Bary, 17, hugs a Bible as she enters a courtroom in Orlando on Aug. 21. She says she ran away from her Ohio home because she feared punishment for converting from Islam to Christianity.

The attorney for Rifqa Bary released information Monday that portrays the girl's parents' mosque as a hotbed of Islamic extremists with ties to terrorists.

Bary is the 17-year-old girl from near Columbus, Ohio, who fled to Florida on a bus last month because she believes her Muslim family now must murder her because of her conversion to Christianity.

The next hearing in the controversial custody case that some see as a key battle in a clash of cultures is set for Thursday afternoon in Orlando.

The first of two documents released Monday is a 33-page, 130-footnote memo that says the leaders of the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin, Ohio, have links to terrorist organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida.

The second document is a two-page, 21-point affidavit from Bary in which the girl describes her parents' active involvement in the mosque and details some of the threats she says they've made against her.

John Stemberger, the prominent social conservative who is Bary's pro bono attorney, said Monday in a conference call with reporters that he will argue Thursday in court that Bary should be kept in Florida until she's 18.

"There is no question in my mind that if she's sent back to Ohio, it's only a matter of time before she slips away into the night," Stemberger said.

Bary's parents' attorneys countered quickly.

"Guilt by association is not the standard in a court of law," said Shayan Elahi, the new Orlando pro bono attorney for Mohamed Bary.

"Religious bigotry," he said, "is unacceptable and un-American."

Roger Weeden, the new Orlando pro bono attorney for Aysha Bary, called the memo hearsay and totally inadmissible, and said it was "designed to inflame passions and generate fear without any relevance towards resolving the issues."

Noor Center director Hany Saqr, identified by Stemberger as a leader of the radical Muslim Brotherhood, denied all the allegations in the memo, according to the Associated Press.

"At our center, we know that people accept Islam, some people accept Christianity, some people accept Judaism," he said. "Based on our religion, we think that there's no compulsion to religion. Everybody has the right to choose whatever religion he wants to."

Rifqa was an honor student and a cheerleader at New Albany High School. She disappeared on July 19 and lived in Orlando with evangelical pastors Blake and Beverly Lorenz of the Global Revolution Church for almost three weeks before authorities knew where she was.

"I want to worship Jesus freely," she said Aug. 10 in a local television interview. "I don't want to die."

In court on Aug. 21 in Orlando, she said she loved her parents, but still was fearful for her life, and a judge ordered that she be kept here until custody issues get settled.

The judge also asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into the validity of her claims of abuse.

She's staying now with a Christian foster family in Orlando.

Her parents say they don't want to kill her.

"She's free to come and practice whatever religion she likes," Mohamed Bary has said.

The FDLE and also the state Department of Children and Families had investigators in Ohio last week. Investigators are hoping to be done by Thursday's hearing.

In the affidavit released Monday, Bary said her father sought out the Noor Center, even though it was out of the way and there were much closer mosques, and spent long hours there and had mosque-related gatherings in their home.

She also said in the affidavit that she became a Christian on Nov. 18, 2005, at the Korean United Methodist Church in Columbus. She described how she had to hide her Bible in her house and sneak out to Christian meetings.

Two months ago, she said, her father asked her if she'd become a Christian, got angry and waved her laptop over her head.

"If you have this Jesus in your heart, you are dead to me," he said, according to the affidavit. "I will kill you! Tell me the truth!"

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8751.

To read copies of the memo and Rifqa Bary's affidavit, go to links.tampabay.com.

Attorney for runaway Christian teen says her family's mosque has terrorist ties 08/31/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 1, 2009 12:53am]
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