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Self-declared ‘former terrorist’ speaks at Michigan anti-illegal immigration rally

The appearance of a man who claims to be a reformed terrorist at a rally against illegal immigration at the Capitol building in Lansing is raising questions both about the accuracy of his story and the propriety of his invitation to speak.

Kamal Saleem of Berkley spoke at the rally and testified before the House Commerce Committee supporting legislation introduced by Rep. Dave Agema (R-Grandville) that would require contractors for the state and temporary agencies to use E-Verify, a federal system to verify a person’s immigration status.

E-Verify is a federal program that has been found to return false denials, resulting in people losing jobs. The legislation was tabled by the Commerce Committee for a second time.

“I came to the United States of America not to love you all. I came to be — exactly — to destroy this country as a terrorist. We crossed the Canadian border. We brought weapon caches right through cities, through Windsor,” Saleem told attendees. “This is what is all happening by allowing illegals in here to come through our borders and become a part of our country. They can become legal terrorists in your hometown to kill your children, and your grandchildren and your future as we know it.”

Saleem claims that he was a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization as well as the Muslim Brotherhood when he came to the U.S. in 1979 “for the first time.” He said the E-Verify system was important to prevent future terror attacks on American soil.

“This (E-Verify) will not allow people like me to come to this country to destroy it and would allow the American people to legally work and have their freedom in this country,” he said.

For Calvin College history professor Douglas Howard, there is much to doubt about the claim to have been a former terrorist. Howard researched Saleem’s background in 2007 when the Calvin College Republican Club invited him to present at the conservative Christian college. Howard said that as an expert in Middle East history, his department tasked him with reviewing Saleem’s credentials and advising the department on whether or not it should co-sponsor the event.

“I concluded this person is a fraud,” Howard says.

Howard tried to get the appearance canceled but it was too late in the process.

In a 2010 Books and Culture: A Christian Review article about Saleem’s book “The Blood of the Lambs,” Howard explains how he first came to question Saleem’s story.

A look at his website told me immediately that he was not who he said he was. The signature of his deception was his statement that “in my family was the Grand Wazir of Islam.” The term is ridiculous, a spurious title meant to mislead the innocent with an aura of authority.

In the conclusion of that article — in which he calls Saleem a fraud and deconstructs errors in his book — Howard writes of Saleem’s book:

“It is insulting to be told that we have to look down the barrel of a gun to see life’s inner meaning, or that only a killer can really understand Islam. Authentic experience comes when we see a man or a woman before we see a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew; when we hear a human voice before we hear ‘a thick Middle Eastern accent’; when the person next to us on the plane is a young man—with a father and a mother waiting for him—before he is a Nigerian or an American. Anything else leads down the road toward extremism. Although Kamal Saleem has forsaken much, he has evidently not yet forsaken that.”

Howard says that while he was doing research on Saleem, he called a former employer. He did not name the employer during the interview with Michigan Messenger, however, he identifies the employer as Focus on the Family in Books and Culture review.

“He claimed to have been a former football player, a placekicker for Barry Switzer (former coach of the University of Oklahoma football program) and claimed that he won a game in the last three seconds with a field goal,” Howard recalled Focus on the Family staff telling him. The problem? No such game existed and while Saleem makes a big deal about hiding his real name, Focus on the Family staff referred to him by his given name — allowing Howard to check Oklahoma rosters.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation reported in 2008 on Saleem’s history:

Kamal Saleem, whose real name is Khodor Shami, worked for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network for sixteen years, and was hired by Focus on the Family in 2003. In 2006, he launched Koome Ministries, whose mission is to “expose the true agenda of [Muslims] who would deceive our nation and the free nations of the world… America must wake-up and set a continued Christian agenda of Liberty and Truth as a standard to follow throughout the free world.”

Focus on the Family staff expressed discomfort with Saleem, Howard said, particularly with his claims of Christian conversion. Saleem alleges that he was in a near fatal car wreck, but Christians cared for him, taking him into their home and provided for him while he healed. That he says lead to his conversion. In an interview with Pat Robertson 700 Club TV show, Saleem says he called out for Allah to answer him, and when he didn’t he decided to kill himself for questioning his faith. At that moment, Saleem claims, the Christian God came to him. Robertson is transfixed by this tale.

Saleem has never identified what city or state this near fatal accident occurred in, nor has he ever identified the Christian doctor who allegedly gave him refuge and helped him pay his bills while he was recovering.

The history professor says that Saleem’s claim on Tuesday to have smuggled weapons into the U.S. is new. “It sounds like he is upping the ante,” Howard said.

The story Saleem tells is bewitching, Howard admits.

“It preys on people’s lack of information and their worries and their fears and their wanting to find a way to justify their own attitudes toward Islam and Middle East policy,” Howard says. “There’s a market out there that wants Kamal Saleem’s story to be true.”

And Saleem is not alone in this new, post 9-11 market. He has appeared with another well known former terrorist, Walid Shoebat. Shoebat was recently the subject of an investigation by CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 show. That investigation raised questions about the veracity of Shoebat’s claims to being a former terrorist.

Boyd, the DOJ National Security spokesman, declined to discuss the concerns about Saleem’s accuracy.

“Further, we have no comment on whether Mr. Saleem’s other statements are accurate or not,” he said.

Maria Elena Garcia Upson, spokesperson for the Citizenship and Immigration Services, would not comment on Saleem’s case specifically, citing privacy rules. But she did comment in general about alleged ex-terrorists receiving American citizenship.

“Well obviously it would be a concern in general, but we are not the enforcement arm, you will have to talk to Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Upson said.

An ICE spokesperson did not return inquires by press time.

Others are arguing that if Saleem’s story is true, that raises even more questions both about his citizenship and his appearance at the rally.

“If Representative Agema recruited as a speaker an admitted terrorist who says he brought weapons into the United States my first question is why this guy isn’t in custody or in jail? And why was Mr. Saleem allowed to become a United States citizen?” asks David Holtz, executive director of Progress Michigan. “In trying to make a point about illegal immigration, Dave Agema instead makes you question his judgment and sanity. Perhaps the FBI should be invited to future Agema events since he may decide he needs more terrorists to deliver his talking points.”

State Rep. Rashida Talib (D-Detroit) went even further.

“I am unforgiving for any terrorist,” Talib said in exclusive interview with Michigan Messenger. “He should be deported for that. And you can quote me on that.”

Agema defends Saleem.

“What happened with Kamal is totally different,” Agema says of the reformed terrorist. Agema says following his conversion to Christianity, Saleem helped the federal government track down terror cells in the U.S., a claim that could not be verified.

“As a general rule, the Justice Department does not publicly comment on whether or not someone has provided assistance to the U.S. government in counter-terrorism operations,” said Dean Boyd, spokesman for the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, when asked what role, if any, Saleem had played in uncovering terror plots in the U.S.

Howard also called Agema out over Saleem’s appearance and testimony.

“It is really unfortunate that Rep. Agema has decided to align himself with this kind of cynical opportunism,” he said. “That is unbelievable that he could testify before a House committee.”

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