updated 1/23/2007 8:06:37 PM ET 2007-01-24T01:06:37

An Israeli military court has ordered the release of the deported former imam of Ohio's biggest mosque, but he will remain in custody for at least two more days, his lawyer said Tuesday.

A military judge ruled there wasn't enough evidence to hold Fawaz Damra, who was arrested by Israeli authorities 2 1/2 weeks ago after being deported by U.S. authorities, according to his lawyer, Smadar Ben-Natan. However, she said, he will be held until Thursday pending a possible appeal by the prosecution.

"The judge rejected the prosecution's request to keep him in custody for another 15 days and ordered him released," Ben-Natan said.

"The court has decided to keep him in jail for another 72 hours. After that they will decide what they decide," Prisons Authority spokeswoman Orit Shtelzer said.

Damra, 46, who served as imam at the Islamic Center of Cleveland, was deported because of his ties to Islamic Jihad, a militant Palestinian group classified by Israel and the U.S. as a terrorist organization. The Iranian-backed group has killed dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings.

In custody, Damra has been questioned about his links to the group, Ben-Natan has said.

Footage from a 1991 speech showed Damra raising money for a Palestinian holy war and saying Muslims should be "directing all the rifles at the first and last enemy of the Islamic nation and that is the sons of monkeys and pigs, the Jews."

He later apologized for the statements but was ordered deported for concealing his ties to Islamic Jihad when applying for U.S. citizenship in 1994. Earlier this month, he was escorted by U.S. officials to Jordan and then to the West Bank, where he was transferred to the custody of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service.

Damra's wife and three daughters remain in the U.S., and Muslim leaders have been critical of U.S. authorities for deporting the imam and for turning him over to Israel.

Despite a campaign by his family and supporters to keep him in the U.S., Damra was deported after spending a year in the Michigan jail. His relatives in the U.S. said they hadn't been notified he had been deported and found out only when his lawyer arrived at the jail and found him gone.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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