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Prison Chaplain Claims NY Post Defamed Her

MANHATTAN (CN) - A prison chaplain and mosque teacher claims the New York Post defamed her by reporting that she engaged in "radicalization of prison inmates," an assertion she says is "patently false." Melody Rashada claims the Post and its reporter Patrick Dunleavy libeled her in the Sept. 2, 2010 story headlined "Converts to Terror," with the subheadline, "The Prison Chaplain Problem."

In her complaint in New York County Court, Rashada says she is "politically moderate and abhors terrorism and violence, including that done in the name of Islam."

Rashada describes herself in the complaint as "a teacher, although not an imam, at Masjid Al-Ikhlas, an Islamic mosque in Newburgh, New York. She is also a chaplain in the New York prison system ... and in such capacity gives spiritual counsel and advice to female inmates, presently at Beacon Correctional Facility."

The Post article at issue was about "four defendants from Newburgh, New York, [who] were tried in Manhattan federal court on terrorism-related charges; specifically they were accused of inter alia, plotting to bomb a synagogue in the Bronx," the complaint states. "These defendants were James Cromitie, Onta Williams, David Williams, and Laguerre Paven."

The Dunleavy article referred to the four men's trial, then in process, and "poses, as the article's central focus, the question of 'how the four accused were radicalized to the point where they'd even consider plotting to bomb synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down aircraft with missiles,'" according to the complaint.

The complaint continues: "Proceeding to answer its own question, the Dunleavy article states: 'What stands out is the prison connection. All four defendants were former inmates. More important, all three imams at the mosque in Newburgh that the defendants attended after being released from prison had a connection with the prison system. Imams Salahuddin Muhammud, Hamin Rashada and Melody Rashada worked for the Department of Correctional Services. All had been hired by Warith Deen Umar - who for years headed ministerial services for the New York state prison system.'

"The above-quoted language, in combination with the title and subtitle, clearly intended the reasonable reader to believe that the three named imams, including plaintiff, do or did in fact engage in the radicalization of prison inmates, encouraging said inmates to contemplate and undertake acts of terrorism. Said assertion, as regards plaintiff, is patently false.

"The remainder of the Dunleavy article then supports the above-stated thesis in a guilt-by-association manner, with the following assertions about people 'connected' with plaintiff ..."

Those assertions include Umar's alleged statement to the Wall Street Journal "that prisons were 'a prime place to recruit homegrown terrorists;' that Umar disparaged Jews and Israel, and is a Salafist; that Salafists and Wahhabis consider Jews "infidels and enemies of Islam;" that "Shia Muslims inmates in New York 'had filed a class-action lawsuit against the prison administrators claiming religious persecution, threats and overt acts of intimidation by other Muslim inmates at the behest of the civil-service chaplains;'" that imams in Salahuddin Muhammad's congregation called the New York governor and U.S. president "Zionist puppets" and referred to Jews as "pigs and dogs."

"The article concludes: 'Radical Islamist recruitment in the prison system is a reality. Years of sowing seeds among a captive audience are bearing fruit. It was no coincidence that the authorities focused on this particular congregation,'" according to the complaint.

Rashada says that the article is "false and defamatory." She says she is "a spiritual leader" and "not a member of the Wahabbi/Salafist sect," and that she "is in no way sympathetic with those who advocate terrorism, aggression, hate, or religious extremism."

Rashada seeks $20 million in damages for libel and libel by implication. She is represented by John R. Lewis of Sleepy Hollow.

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