An attorney representing a runaway teen girl who converted to Christianity from Islam filed court documents Monday claiming that the parents' mosque has ties to terrorists.
Noor Islamic Cultural Center in the suburb of Columbus, Ohio, had invited extremists to speak and support a scholar who has ties to the Palestinian Islamic terrorist group Hamas, the attorney's memo said. The document also said the mosque's leader, Dr. Hany Saqr, was identified in exhibits submitted by the Department of Justice in recent terrorism finance trials in Texas as a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in North America – a group, the document noted, that gave rise to Al Qaeda.
Saqr, however, denied all charges linking him or the mosque to terrorism.
The director of the Noor Center said the mosque has invited a variety of speakers including Christians, Jews and atheists.
"Changing the religion is something pretty natural and normal in this country," Saqr told The Associated Press.
"At our center we know that people accept Islam, some people accept Christianity, some people accept Judaism," Saqr 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."
The court document claims Saqr was a former leader at another Columbus mosque where federal authorities had charged three men with terrorist-related crimes.
Saqr responded saying that he had led prayers at the other mosque, but was never a full-time staff there.
On Wednesday, the center released a statement, accusing hate groups of using the claims made by Rifqa Bary's attorney to attack Muslims. It also said it is not in contact with Bary or her family.
Whether the mosque has terror ties could prove important in the case of Bary, 17, who said she ran away because she feared her life was in danger for leaving Islam.
Bary is currently in a highly public legal battle to remain in Florida with a foster family until she becomes a legal adult next year. She claims that her life is in danger after converting to Christianity. She also said her father threatened to kill her when he found out, a charge her father Mohamed Bary denies.
Out of fear for her life, the young convert boarded a bus in July and traveled from Ohio to Orlando, Fla., where she stayed with an evangelical pastor couple who she had met through a Facebook prayer group.
The couple, Pastor Blake Lorenz and his wife, did not report her to authorities until two weeks after she arrived. They explained that the girl said her parents would not report her missing.
Her parents, however, have accused the Lorenz's of brainwashing their daughter into believing that her parents would harm her. They also accused the pastor of luring their daughter to Orlando.
The teen girl is staying with a foster family while Florida authorities investigate if there are real safety concerns back home in Ohio. Her attorney claims she would be in "clear and present danger" if returned to Ohio.
Another hearing on whether she should be returned to her parents will take place Thursday.