A Michigan man who claimed that his mother died in Iraq after President Donald Trump banned travel into the U.S. from it and six other Middle Eastern countries lied, the imam at a local Islamic center said.
Mike Hager told Fox 2 in Detroit earlier this week that his sick mother was detained and kept from returning to Michigan, where he said she also lived, on Saturday, the day after Trump signed an executive order restricting travel from seven largely Muslim countries. Hager claimed that his 75-year-old mother, Naimma Al-Hajar, died a day after being turned away at the airport.
The news station reported on Wednesday, however, that questions were raised about the validity of Hager’s claims after the story aired. Fox 2 began looking into Hager’s claims more closely and found a Facebook post he’d written on Jan. 22, memorializing his mother.
Imam Husham Al-Husainy, leader of the Karbalaa Islamic Educational Center in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, confirmed that Hager’s mother died Jan. 22 -- five days before Trump signed the controversial executive order, Fox 2 reported.
Hager’s Facebook post about his mother’s death has since been deleted, the news station reported. When the station attempted to speak to Hager about his claims, reporters were unable to locate him.
In an earlier text exchange about the lie, he wrote that he did not make anything up.
“Since I lost my mom, I’ve been on heavy medication. I can’t even sleep,” Hager wrote, according to Fox 2.
Al-Husainy, who oversees a congregation made up mostly of Iraqi refugees, told the Washington Post that Hager sent him a message last month saying he was traveling to Iraq to visit his mother, who was suffering from kidney failure. The imam learned through Facebook posts from community members on Jan. 22 that Al-Hajar had died in Karbala, Iraq.
The imam told the Post that he helped lead several community prayers in Al-Hajar’s honor over the three days after her death. The elderly Iraq native had lived in Dearborn on and off for more than 20 years.
“She is a very respected lady,” Al-Husainy told the Post. “I know them all very well, and they are a very respected family.”
Hager’s cousin, Tony Al-Shammeree, stood by his cousin’s story, telling the Post that “Trump killed her” and that “haters” were trying to smear his cousin’s name. The newspaper noted that Al-Shammeree declined to provide records to corroborate the date his aunt died.
The Post was able to reach Hager briefly on Wednesday, but he told a reporter he could not talk because he was “dealing with family matters.” Subsequent phone calls to him went unanswered.
Hager, who also is listed in public records as Mohammed Al-Hajar, told Fox 2 that he and his family fled Iraq during the Gulf War and lived in a refugee camp for four years. He told the news station he was a contractor for the U.S. military during the Iraq War, serving as an interpreter and cultural advisor.
In his first interview with the station, he blamed Trump for his mother’s death.
“They destroyed us. I went with my family; I came back by myself,” Hager said at the time. “They destroyed our family.”
Al-Husainy told the Post that if there is a kernel of truth to Hager’s claims, it is that treatment in the United States could have saved his mother’s life. He reiterated his certainty that Al-Hajar died before the travel ban was put into place.
“Anybody who lies, or gives fake information, is going to hurt Muslims,” the imam said. “Because Muslims should be truth tellers.”