to be personally “dealt with”
Thank you for attending this press event over the phone, we believe this matter is of significant public interest. we appreciate your covering this story.
My name is John Stenburger, I’m a Orlando trial lawyer, I’ve been practicing for the last 14 years here in Orlando and throughout the state of Florida. I’m an AV rated civil trial lawyer, I practice in the areas of personal injury, commercial law and litigation. In addition to that I serve as a guardian ad litim, volunteer for ten years, representing abused and neglected children, and I’ve seen the silliest reasons for ripping kids out of their homes, like being overweight, and I’ve seen the most horrific reasons like feeding babies cocaine and locking them up in closets. so I have a little bit of the sense for the background for the process of dependency and what’s going on here with juveniles when the state takes custody of them.
I am also a leading advocate in Florida for issues relating to family, parents and children as well. I am here though however in my representation of a private personal lawyer on the behalf of my firm, in representing Rifqa Bary and not with any group that I might be affiliated with. We are announcing today the filing of two documents which most of you have been provided……
But we are announcing the filing over an hour ago, two documents were filed. First one was a special investigative, an intelligence memorandum, which is supportive of the petition for dependency which is currently before the court, and then secondly there is an accompanying affidavit, which the very first sworn statement that’s been filed in this case on the behaf of our client Rifqa Bary.
Part of the reason for doing this announcement today is because some of the media coverage in this matter has been at best, innacurate in parts, and at worst, just completely missing the point in hte real issues in this case. They have focused on a yong pastor and his wife, Beverly and Blake Moran, who have been pastors of a Methodist Chuch in this community for over 25 years. I don’t personally know them, I know of them, and they did probably what any of would do in taking someone in who has indicated that their life was in danger. And we also have had one-sided soft stories on just the parents point of view that didn’t ask any of the hard questions, or report on any of the allegations made in our original petition.
The primary issue in this case, is the clear and present danger that is presented by the Noor Center Mosque, and its ties to terrorist activity, and the parents, that is the Bary parents’ devotion to, and relationship with, and regular weekly participation in the Noor Center. The memorandum we submitted in support of the petition of dependency that is before the court, just to give you some legal jargon, dependency actions are when the state is declaring whether or not the state is to declare a minor child dependent because of its need for protection because of abuse, abandonment or neglect. And so when that happens, it doesn’t mean paternal rights are terminated, it just means that the state takes custody of the child for the protecting them from the parents and the home environment.
Our office and legal staff have been working around the clock to document the materials we have provided, so first I’m going to draw your attention to the investigation and intelligenece memorandum we filed. Together with Rifqa’s affidavit, the documents we’ve presented demonstrate the parties to this cause, namely Rifqa’s parents, alomg with the family’s pyhsical relatives are directly connected to the Noor Islamic Center, and that the Bary family has been and will continue to be devoted members and follow leaders of the Noor Center.
The concerns that we have with the Noor Center, which has been extremely, which has been documented extensively in the memorandum. First, the Noor Center’s CEO, Mr. Hani Sadhr, is directly ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. You may not have heard of the Muslim Brotherhood before unless you’ve covered these types of issues, but I’m sure you’ve heard of Al-Qaida, and the Muslim Brotherhood of North America is an international organization which is responsible for birthing every Islamic terror organization in the world, including Al-Qaida. When you think of Al-Qaida, you can think of the Muslim Brotherhood is repsonsible for Al-Qaida’s existence.
Hany Saqr has previously been an Imam, which is a leader in Islam for another Mosque in the same area of Columbus at the same time the largest known Al-Qaida cell was operating out of that Mosque. He was identified in exhibits in a significant trial that took place in Texas by the Department of Justice, as being one of the leaders for the Muslim Brotherhood, and is also providing quite a bit of money, almost three quarters of a million dollars to that Mosque at that time.
The second issue that we have with the Noor Center, that its former Islamic scholar Dr.Salah Sultan has been photographed with terrorist leaders designated by the United States government. He has recently appeared on television inciting violence against Jews, and he’s previously appeared at an event in support of designated terrorist organizations, while at the same time as an active member of the Noor Center Community. Currently we believe with the best knowledge that we have that he’s been banned from reentering the US, because his citizenship application has been denied.
The third issue with the Center is that they have had a number of extremist speakers that have been featured at the Noor Center. Such speakers where the Bary parents go to hear on a regular basis weekly, and sometimes bi-weekly, and these speakers are on the record making statement in support of violence, terrorism and extremism. And the evidence even indicates that some of these speakers, and we’ve detailed it extensively in the body of the memo, have been directly involved in the funding raising and supporting of this particular Mosque since its inception.
And then the final issue is the Noor Center has also been tied to a nation wide FBI terror investigation, and we’ve outlined that as well. CNN has covered this, it has identified Columbus as the main center of the FBI investigation, and the story was also the subject of a recent lengthy five page article in the New York Times, which we’ve cited for you in the bottom of the memorandum as well. This is the primary issue. Now we also have submitted an affidavit by our client, Rifqa Bary, and this establishes, ok, we understand and I believe that the facts are there to support the allegation that this Mosque has ties to terrorist activities.
Rifqa’s affidavit indicates that these parents, her parents were regularly involved with this Mosque, and she makes several statements in her affidavit including the fact where she arrived to the Columbus area, that her father and her family visited two other Mosques in the area. They chose the Mosque that is the one farthest away from home, there’s only one Mosque out of the eight in the region that is farther away than the Noor Mosque.
She was required to attend Halaqvah at the Noor Youth Center gatherings that last about five hours, and on three separate occasions those activities were held in her home, official, regular Noor Center gathering held in her home with other members of the Noor Center present.
It’s significant to realize that parents are encouraged to come with their children, so at these youth meetings, it’s not just young people, but were also devoted members of this particular center as well, inside of Rifqa’s home during those times that they met there. During the summers, the primary gathering of the Mosque is on Friday afternoon, and so Rifqa was not able to attend during school, but during the summer she would also attend with her family because her father required this and those meetings would last approximately three hours.
Their family regularly socialized with other families from the Noor Center, including eating with, including doing activities with. And finally it’s significant to recognize that while Rifqa believes that her parents may have suspected that she had an interest in Christianity, they found a book in 2007 that was written and distributed by Rick Warren, it wasn’t until the members of the Noor Center community, the leaders contacted her father and informed that they need to deal with this matter immediately, and that’s when the big confrontation came with Rifqa. And then finally once her mother found another Christian book in her bedroom and threatened to send her back to Sri Lanka to be dealt with, and that’s when she escaped her home in fear for her life.
Let me say in closing, that this is not a case against Islam, and I want to make this extremely clear, I was highly disappointed at the article in the Orlando Sentinel today, which quoted only half of my quote. The vast majority of Muslims in this country are peaceful, they’re law abiding citizens and they should be protected by the Constitution, embraced and really welcomed as contributors to the great diversity that makes up what America is.
But unfortunately, a discredit to those moderate peaceful Muslims are a growing number, a minority, but a growing minority of radical Islam members, of which the Noor Mosque is associated with. We believe that this is significant, we believe that the court will take judicial notice of this, and we believe that the media should please let this information be known as well because this has been such a matter of public interest.
Question & answer period:
Mike Schneider from the Associated Press: “Just a quick question. A lot of what you described kind of seems tangential to the case, I mean, has her parents ever proclaimed support for the Muslim Brotherhood or supported terrorist organizations? I mean, shouldn’t the focus be on her family?
John Stemburger: Well her family are members of this mosque, they are involved with these types, that’s the problem, and they associate with people in their home and on a regular basis are involved. It’s obvious they’re being influenced by the unique teachings, which would be highly observant teachings of this particular center. That should be a major concern to the court I would think especially since its directly tied to their household.
Mediator: Does that answer your question Mr.Schneider?
Mike Schneider: Oh yeah, there is a follow up if I could, um, given the attention this has gotten from the Florida authorities, Ohio authorities, the media, can you honestly say that you think that she’ll be harmed if she goes back to Ohio?
John Stemburger: Based upon everything that we have researched, and all the experts that I have listened to, I think that there is no question in my mind that if she is sent back to Ohio, it is only a matter of time before she slips away into the night. The United Nations has reported that there are over 5000 honor killings or apostate killings a year, and so this is not something that want Rifqa to be a statistic of. And we believe that it’s in her best interests, clearly to retain her stable placement here in Florida and to not have her return to Ohio.
Mike Schneider: Thank you.
Wall Street caller: Question: Hello, I would like to know if you know anything about the contact between the local CAIR chapter and the Orlando Sentinel? Is this where the Orlando Sentinel is getting its version of the case?
John Stemburger: I have no idea if there are any special relationships between CAIR and the Orlando Sentinel, I think they are in cue too to ask a question, so perhaps they can answer that question directly, so, but I don’t have any information for you.
Wall Street caller: Thank You
Orlando Sentinel, Rene Stutzman: Yeah this is the Orlando Sentinel, Rene Stutzman. Can you give me the names of the people at Noor Mosque that want Rifqa dead?
John Stemburger: Rene, I think that after you read our brief the totally of the circumstances present a direct danger to her. Obviously in this kind of a situation you are not going to identify a specific person. Her father made specific threats to her, that’s a significant threat.
Orlando Sentinel, Rene Stutzman: Mr.Stemburger also, could you tell me, have you seen the report or gotten the summary of the FDLE’s findings in regards to its charge from the court?
John Stemburger : No but I would eager to see those, do you have a copy of those?
Orlando Sentinel, Rene Stutzman: Yes sir.
John Stemburger: I do not have a copy of that but I would look forward to seeing their findings. I imagine a lot it would be consistent with what we have alleged here, but I have no idea of knowing that.
Orlando Sentinel, Rene Stutzman; Thank you.
Rachael WKMG: Can you tell me if she has spoken to her parents, and does she still feel that they would be the ones to take action against her if she went home or is more a concern of the more larger community from the Noor Center?
John Stemburger: I am not aware that Rifqa has spoken with her parents since she’s been here in Florida, and Rifqa, in her statement in court indicated that she definitely loves her family, but is threatened because of the past beatings from her father, and the threats from her father. My primary concern has to do more with the community which surrounds her household and their daily lives as a result of this incident. I’m certain that both are real and serious, but it’s hard to know which would be more serious.
Rachael WKMG: Ok, thank you.
Danielle Cangelosi, Fox News channel: Mr.Stemburger : I want to ask you if Rifqa ever recalls her father using the language of “dishonoring the family” or “dishonoring Islam”. In the affidavit he threatened to kill her, I just wonder if he ever specifically said that he would, he needed to take care of her because she was dishonoring Islam or the family.
John Stemburger: I am not aware that she has indicated those specific words
Danielle Cangelosi, Fox News channel: So where did she, I mean did she just base on her studies and what she knew about the faith is how she came to the conclusion that it would be an honor killing if she returned?
John Stemburger : She knew when she stepped into the Korean Methodist Church years ago that she was doing something that would be viewed very very, with great hostility, rather, and she had fear back then and continued to live with fear until she escaped to Florida.
Danielle Cangelosi, Fox News channel: Um..also in the affidavit it also, there also at the end, her mother threatened to send her back to Sri Lanka to be dealt with there. Did she ever explain exactly what her mother meant by saying “to be dealt with in Sri Lanka”?
John Stemburger: No, she did not explain it in detail, but the implication was that she knew that Sri Lanka did not have the kind of protections the United States had, and that it would not be a pretty situation.
Danielle Cangelosi, Fox News channel: Ah, one more question. In the household, was it, did her father uh, was it a strict Muslim household? You know that in lot of the pictures on TV, she seemed to be very Western in that, it looked like she was on the cheerleading team, because she didn’t appear to have to wear a burka or anything like that. I was just wondering if it was a strict household? I mean in what ways?
John Stemburger: Ah certainly. It appeared that her father was encouraging all members of the family as adherent as possible under the circumstance. If you look at the two young girls that were killed in Texas in January of last year, they were modernized, they were not devout Muslims at all, and so in a lot of these situations you have kind of a tipping point where the child or the spouse becomes so westernized in a variety of ways or so unadherent to certain traditions or practices, that there’s a tipping point and there’s the ultimate demise.
John Stemburger: We have literally gotten hundreds of communications from Christians who were former Muslims. We’ve gotten communications from a variety of types, people who just love her and want to pray for her, I mean it’s really difficult to keep up with the influx of communications, but there’s a number of people who have an interest in the matter.
Same Questioner: What about other Muslims (UNCLEAR)
John Stemburger: None specifically that I’m aware of. I’m sure that they are out there but none that I’m aware of.
Same Questioner: Has Rifqa been able to visit at all with her brother or her family..(UNCLEAR)
John Stemburger : The court allowed for her to visit with her younger brother after the last hearing, however for some reason that visitation never took place,. It’s possible that the parents just denied visitation with her, but we have no way of knowing why it did not go down.
Mike Schneider Associated Press: Hi John, Mike Schneider from the Associated Press, I just hope that you could clarify something for me you said a few minutes ago about past beatings, what did you mean by that?
John Stemburger: Her father has slapped her with such force that just knocked her over. Her father asked her to wear the official headdress of Islam, and because she, I guess, lowered her body down in the car so she couldn’t be seen, he punched her on the side of her face, with great force, because she was ashamed of that.
Mike Schneider Associated Press: And when did this happen?
John Stemburger : I do not have that specific information, it’s not in the affidavit, but it was in our original petition.
Mike Schneider Associated Press: Ok, thank you.
Morry Radio: Thank you very much. Mr.Stemburger, what is Rifqa’a emotional and spiritual state right now, knowing all that has been at stake for her, in converting to Christianity? Where is she now in her spiritual journey, and how is she maintaining her faith despite the media attention and the horrendous threats presented to her life
John Stemburger: I have to tell ya that Rifqa is a remarkable young lady, she is petite in stature, almost stunningly petite, but she is robust and big in heart, and it’s just, while she has great moments of fear and apprehension, has great hope and trust and joy. Her faith is very very real, much more than most of ours, and that’s a great source of hope and comfort to her.
Morry Radio: What kind of a future is she looking at, remaining in foster care indefinitely, what will happen when she turns eighteen when other legal matters may present for her to live an independent life? What is the outlook of her future
John Stemburger: Those questions are beyond our, you know, the scope of this conference. Obviously her goal is trying to get the state to protect her, at least over the next year. Obviously when your free and your a minor, you can hire body guards, you can move about on your own, you can protect yourself, you can move around to other parts of the country, you can freely go about in order to protect yourself. Because of the circumstance now, we’re trying to get her to be , to remain under the custody of the state of Florida until she reaches the age of maturity.
Morry Radio: Ah, very good. And have other people shown interest in taking her under their wing, so to speak, into their households and would this be permissible?
John Stemburger: Right now the court has specific orders that she’s to be in a licensed foster care home, and so that’s where she will stay until the court orders a new location.
Thank you very much for participating in this conference, this is very important information, and we hope that you all will provide to the public, we believe that much of the coverage, but not all of it, but much of it has been one sided. And it’s really been not focusing on the problem, and the problem is not Islam, the problem is Noor Center, because this in a unique mosque, that has unique beliefs and is extremely dangerous. Thank you very much for your time and for participating.