The lawsuit alleges that, even after being informed of 51-year old Ehab Ghoneim’s predatory acts, the mosque moved him into another position instead of disowning and reporting him.
A pair of Florida attorneys have filed a lawsuit against the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area, accusing the mosque of serving as a “breeding ground” for sexual abuse.
According to News Channel 8, the lawsuit accuses the Islamic Society of covering up abuse allegedly perpetrated by 51-year-old Ehab Moustafa Ghoneim.
Ghoneim, a Pinellas Park resident, has been charged with multiple counts of unlawful sexual activity and is awaiting extradition to Chicago.
Local police say that Ghoneim met children at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area, frequently referred to as the Sligh Mosoque. After acquainting himself with the minors, Ghoneim purportedly groomed and then preyed upon them.
Attorney Sam Badawi said this sort of lawsuit—involving young children—is among the hardest he could have taken on.
“This is one of the hardest cases for an attorney to take on,” Badawi told ABC Action News. “We interviewed the client, his family, and it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Badawi and fellow attorney Cory Baird, says ABC Action News, filed the lawsuit on behalf of a victim’s family.
In a statement to ABC Action News, Badawi explained that his client—who was 15 years old at the time—told him that Ghoneim sexually abused him at Ghoneim’s Pinellas Park home.
“During his sleep, [Ghoneim] initiated inappropriate sexual contact, including touching [Defendant’s] genitals,” the lawsuit states.
The same plaintiff, identified in court documents only as John Doe 1, says that Ghoneim continued to abuse him on overnight and out-of-town field trips hosted by the mosque.
“Ehab would offer kids pills to help them sleep, but these pills were sedatives in order for Ehab to gain sexual advantage over John Doe while he’s asleep,” Badawi said.
Badawi told ABC Action News that the mosque took little action after being informed of Ghoneim’s alleged misconduct—rather than staging an investigation, contacting law enforcement, or terminating Ghoneim’s membership, they simply moved him into another position.
“They’re new to America to a new society and they trusted the fundamentals they know from the motherland, which is the mosque,” Badawi said. “And that failed them.”
“They’re shattered, they’re broken, they’re speechless,” he said.
Badawi, Baird, and the Pinellas Police Department believe that Ghoneim likely had multiple victims who have yet to be identified.
“I think if you do the math and the exposure rate of how many boys circulated through that youth program, and he was it—he was it for five years,” Badawi said. “So I would assume the number is double digits.”
Baird told ABC Action News that anyone who was abused, or believes their child may have been abused, should not keep their silence.
“If your child was at the mosque and was a part of these events in this youth program you’ve got to approach your child,” Baird said. “Talk about it and be open about it, let them know it’s absolutely OK for them to say everything they can to their folks.”
“And certainly, if that happens, we’re unfortunately going to find a lot more boys who were sexually assaulted.”
Badawi suggested that the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area may have known about Ghoneim’s predation long before the man was ever arrested.
Ghoneim, says Badawi, had previously worked at a mosque in New Jersey—and may have raised parents’ suspicions there, too.
“From talking to people, interviewing others, there have been some signals that this guy’s actions are very suspicious for quite some time,” Badawi said. “So, we don’t know how long [ISTABA] knew about this. Probably for a long time.”
WFLA.com notes that the Islamic Society is the only defendant so far listed in the lawsuit. The mosque has said that it is cooperating with authorities.
“ISTABA is taking a position to allow the authorities to take every opportunity to complete their investigation and uncover the truth,” mosque administrators wrote in a statement addressed to their congregation.