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Rival boards vie for control of Khalid Bin Al-Walid Mosque

2 Clerics Fired; Accused of being sought by security officials

National Post
Stewart Bell, National Post
Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Khalid Bin Al-Walid Mosque
The Khalid Bin Al-Walid Mosque in Toronto has been caught in a legal tug-of-war between two groups claiming to be the legitimate board of directors.
Photograph by : Peter J. Thompson, National Post
TORONTO (National Post) - A prominent Toronto mosque is caught in the middle of a legal tug-of-war that has seen two senior clerics fired and accused of being sought by Canadian security agencies.

The dispute began when two groups both claimed to be the legitimate board of directors of the Khalid Bin Al-Walid Mosque, which mainly serves the city's large Somali-Canadian community.

A civil suit filed this summer in the Superior Court of Justice, and mediation by a Minnesota cleric, have failed to resolve the matter, although the mosque remains open.

"It is not worked out, it has only really begun," said Brian Shiller, a lawyer representing one of the factions. "We're not sure what the process is going to be. It's very unfortunate."

He said there was nothing to the allegations the sheikhs were sought by security officials.

"The best of my information on everything I have seen in this case, there are no issues that involve CSIS or any questions of terrorists or anything along those lines."

According to hundreds of pages of documents filed in court as part of the dispute, the troubles started last October when the board of directors started planning a $9-million Islamic centre.

Fundraising began but there was disagreement over the project and in January, the mosque's long-time imam, Sheikh Bashir Yusuf, and its administrator, Sheikh Abukar Hussein Mohamed, were fired.

"You have publicly rejected the project. You have disregarded the decision of the board and the policy of the organization," said the termination letter sent to Sheikh Bashir. He was warned he faced a $2,000 trespassing fine if he set foot in the mosque.

The termination letter sent to Mr. Abukar accused him of collecting his full salary while spending the previous five months in Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Mogadishu, Somalia.

"These clandestine trips and expenses were not approved by the board nor did the board of directors were even aware of it [sic]," says the letter, which has since made its way on to an Internet blog.

The mosque is run by the Somali Islamic Society of Canada (SISCA), a federally registered charity. A month after the firings, board members met again to discuss re-hiring the sheikhs, according to the documents. The minutes of the Feb. 17 meeting list the reasons they should not be rehired, including that:

"These two sheikhs are sought by the security agencies of Canada and that could have a negative reflection to the Khalid mosque and its community if they come back as director and imam."

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service will not comment on its targets but the agency has been probing the involvement of Somali-Canadians in an armed extremist group called the Islamic Courts Union.

According to a classified intelligence report, a handful of "Somali-Canadian Islamic militants" have travelled to Somalia to join the fight. Canada is home to one of the world's largest Somali communities and while most are moderates, a small number of extremists support the Islamic Courts and its affiliate al-Ittihad al-Islami, which has been outlawed under Canada's anti-terrorism law.

Brian Shell, the lawyer who represents the board members who fired the sheikhs, said he did not know the details of the allegations that the pair were sought by security authorities.

"These people, all of these people in this community and in the leadership, travel a lot. And they go back and forth to Canada and various countries including in the Middle East," he said.

"And I think that when that happens our security people have an interest in the people who travel to Middle East and to Canada and who are involved in some communities.

"I don't know with certainty that it's CSIS," he added, "but it makes sense to me that it's CSIS or the RCMP. I don't know which it is, but I think that obviously the leadership of SISCA, of the community, were questioned about these two people and there was a concern that that would have a negative reflection on the mosque and maybe ? it would be better if they not come back."

After the sheikhs were fired, some of the mosque membership met and elected a new board of directors. The existing board refused to recognize the vote, setting up a standoff that continues to this day and has since ended up in court.

"So far it's not resolved," Mr. Shell said.

Mr. Shiller said Sheikh Bashir and Sheikh Abukar have broad support in the community. "Everybody who is involved in this dispute founded the mosque, were involved from day one, and while they're very respectful to each other in this dispute, they have fundamental differences on how things should be handled."

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Source: National Post, Oct 03, 2007