Why has the U.S. government called certain Islamic groups supporters of terror in federal court, and then turned around and called these same organizations “moderates” and embraced them as outreach partners? In a number of cases from the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations, the leaders of these organizations (some of whom are now in federal prison) were under active investigation at the same time they were meeting with senior U.S. leaders at the White House and the Capitol and helping develop U.S. policy. Now these same Islamic organizations and leaders have openly encouraged a purge of counterterrorism training that have effectively blinded law enforcement, homeland security, and intelligence agencies to active terror threats as seen in the inaction of the FBI concerning the Boston bombing suspects and other terror cases. This study poses serious questions as to the efficacy and even security concerns about U.S. government outreach to Islamic groups, which often turn out to be Islamist militants, enemies of Islamic moderation, and even supporters of terrorism.
The aftermath of the April 15, 2013 bombings in Boston, Massachusetts, has focused attention on the failure of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to carry out an adequate investigation of the suspected bombers despite warnings from Russian authorities. This failure has partially been attributed to a full scale campaign of political correctness waged inside the bureau and throughout the U.S. government under the Obama administration against any attempt to link jihadi terrorism with anything remotely connected to Islam of any variety (the most radical versions included). This has extended into other segments of the government as well, particularly the Department of Defense.
One of the primary contributors to this widespread political correctness campaign has been the U.S. government’s disastrous Muslim outreach policies extending back to the Clinton administration and the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. The U.S. government’s historical outreach program, regardless of whether it has been a Democrat or Republican in the White House, has been based on a schizophrenic policy: In many cases federal prosecutors have gone into federal court and identified American Islamic organizations and leaders as supporters of terrorism, and no sooner have left court before government officials openly embrace these same organizations and leaders as moderates and outreach partners. In several notable cases, the FBI’s outreach partners have been under active FBI criminal investigation and were later convicted on terrorism-related charges at the time the outreach occurred.
In the case of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, mosque attended by the suspected Boston marathon bombers, when the plethora of extremist ties to the Islamic Society of Boston were reported, a mosque spokesman replied that they could not be extremists since they regularly participated in outreach programs with the FBI, Department of Justice and Homeland Security.
This exemplifies the chronic failure of the U.S. government’s outreach programs.
OUTREACH FAILURE: THEN AND NOW
When President Obama hosted his annual Iftar dinner in August 2010 to commemorate the Muslim celebration of Ramadan, the list of invitees published by the White House was curiously missing the names of several attendees-all of whom were top leaders of organizations known to be purveyors of jihadi ideology and implicated by federal prosecutors in financing terrorism.
Yet it was not like they had crashed the party. In fact, one of the individuals missing on the official White House list, Mohamed Majid, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), was pictured in a news service photograph sitting at the front table just a few feet from the president as he spoke. When Majid was hailed by Time Magazine in November 2005 as a “moderate Muslim cleric” who was helping the FBI fight terrorists, he quickly published an open letter to his congregation on the mosque’s website assuring his congregants that he was doing no such thing, stating that his relationship with the FBI was a one-way street only to communicate Muslim community concerns-not to report on individuals suspected of terrorist activity.
It was just a few years ago the attorney general of the United States was canceling Muslim outreach events for the sole reason that Majid would be present at the meeting, because the Department of Justice had just named the ISNA as an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest terrorism financing trial in American history.
Majid’s connection to terrorism, however, goes back even farther than that, since the offices of the mosque he leads, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center, were raided by U.S. Customs authorities in March 2002 in a wide-sweeping terror finance investigation. In an affidavit requesting a search warrant for the raids, Customs Agent David Kane testified that Majid’s mosque was being used to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars for the targeted terror finance network that shared offices with ADAMS. An appendix to the Customs Service affidavit also names eleven ADAMS Center officials as targets of their terror finance investigation. Yet Majid and the ADAMS Center are still considered legitimate outreach partners by the FBI as of the writing of this article.
This was just the most recent episode in the disastrous attempts at outreach to the Muslim community since the September 11, 2001, attacks. In addition, with the release in 2011 of President Obama’s strategic plan to combat “violent extremism” to expand outreach to these same terror-tied groups, the present administration seems intent on compounding the disaster wrought by previous administrations. Prior to the September 11 attacks, there were two prime examples of how the government’s Muslim outreach policy failed spectacularly: Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi and Sami al-Arian.
Al-Amoudi’s case is perhaps the best example, because he was the conduit through much of the U.S. government outreach that was conducted following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Not only was he asked by the Clinton administration to help train and certify all Muslim military chaplains (his organization being the first to certify such), he was later appointed by the State Department in 1997 as a civilian goodwill ambassador to the Middle East, making six taxpayer-funded trips.
Further, with the assistance and encouragement of then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, al-Amoudi arranged the first White House Iftar dinner in 1996, personally hand-picking the attendees. Thus, he was regularly invited to the White House during both the Clinton and Bush (II) Administrations. In 1992 and 1996, al-Amoudi’s American Muslim Council hosted hospitality suites at both the Democratic and Republican conventions. It is fair to say that during this period, Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi was the most prominent and politically connected Muslim leader in America.
As is now known, and the U.S. government has admitted, at the time that he was being courted by Democrats and Republicans alike, he was a major fundraiser for al-Qa’ida according to the Department of the Treasury. However, it isn’t as if the U.S. government was not aware of al-Amoudi’s attachments. As far back as 1993, a government informant told the FBI that al-Amoudi was funneling regular payments from Usama bin Ladin to the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted for authorizing terror attacks targeting New York landmarks.
In March 1996, al-Amoudi’s association with Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook was exposed in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. Two years later, the State Department came under fire by the New York Post for inviting al-Amoudi to official events despite his known statements in support of terrorism and terrorist leaders. Even then the Post noted the problem with the government’s policy of reaching out to the wrong Muslim leaders:
The problem is that such groups have been legitimized-both by government and the media-as civil-rights groups fighting anti-Muslim discrimination and stereotyping. Unfortunately, their definition of such discrimination consists of anyone who writes about the existence of-or tries to investigate-radical Islamic terrorist groups and their allies on these shores.
A more embarrassing episode occurred in October 2000, when al-Amoudi appeared at an anti-Israeli rally where he was cheered by the crowd for his support for terrorists. “I have been labeled by the media in New York to be a supporter of Hamas. Anybody support Hamas here?” he asked the crowd three times to the roar of attendees. “Hear that, Bill Clinton?” he continued. “We are all supporters of Hamas. I wish they added that I am also a supporter of Hezbollah. Does anybody support Hezbollah here?” Again, he was met with the cheers of the crowd.
Al-Amoudi wasn’t so bold the following day when asked about his comments by reporters from the New York Daily News, who had a videotape of the rally to counter his initial claim that he wasn’t even there: “In a phone interview yesterday, Alamoudi at first challenged the account of his Saturday speech, which The News reviewed on videotape. ‘You better check your Arabic,’ he said. Told he had given the speech in English, Alamoudi replied, ‘It was in English? Oh my God, I forgot!’” He then deferred any further media inquiries about his comments to his attorney, who appealed to the fact that he worked for the State Department and had just returned from a taxpayer-funded trip to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman as proof of his moderation.
Al-Amoudi’s statements were not made in a closed-door meeting in the Middle East. Rather, he delivered his speech supporting two designated terrorist organizations in Lafayette Park-just steps from the White House. Yet it had no impact on his standing with the U.S. government nor did it hinder his positions with the Pentagon, the State Department, or the White House.
No sooner had President George W. Bush taken office before al-Amoudi was being courted by the new administration. In June 2001, the Jerusalem Post reported that al-Amoudi was going to be part of a White House meeting with Vice President Cheney despite the fact that al-Amoudi was known to have attended a terror confab in Beirut earlier that year, which featured representatives from virtually every major Islamist terrorist organization in the world-including al-Qa’ida. Yet just days after the September 11 attacks by al-Qa’ida, al-Amoudi was one of the Muslim leaders asked to appear with President Bush at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. That same week one of al-Amoudi’s close associates, Muzzammil Siddiqi, was asked to deliver an Islamic prayer and to represent the entire Muslim-American community at the national prayer service mourning the fallen.
The decision to include al-Amoudi and Siddiqi at the post-September 11 events was highly criticized, especially since al-Amoudi had been videotaped in October 2000 enthusiastically expressing his support for the Hamas and Hizballah terrorist organizations at a rally held just steps from the White House. At that same rally, Siddiqi accused the United States of responsibility for the “plight of the Palestinians,” parroting Usama bin Ladin, and warning that “the wrath of God will come.” One former Secret Service agent told Fox News that “The intelligence Community has known for sometime the association of Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, and Mr. Alamoudi and their association with terrorist organizations.”
Yet Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi was not the only troubling association for the Bush administration after the September 11 attacks. When Sami al-Arian, a tenured professor at the University of South Florida, was indicted on terror support charges and his leadership role in Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) was revealed, his connection with Bush and top administration officials also came under media scrutiny.
In fact, photos of al-Arian and Bush on the campaign trail in Florida during the 2000 election quickly surfaced. The Washington Post also reported that al-Arian had met with Karl Rove in the White House. One law enforcement official told Newsweek that al-Arian had been flagged by the Secret Service as a possible terrorist at that June 2001 meeting with Rove, where the Bush advisor discussed the administration’s “outreach” policy, but he was allowed to enter to prevent an incident. Several weeks later while al-Arian was being questioned during the deportation hearing for his brother-in-law, he had to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 99 times to avoid answering questions about his role in supporting terrorist organizations.
The reasons for al-Arian’s White House visits during the Clinton and Bush administrations revolved around his attempts to change the U.S. government’s policy on the use of secret evidence in terrorism deportation proceedings, a policy that candidate Bush had promised to change during the 2000 campaign. The Justice Department had drafted new guidelines revising the use of secret evidence, and ominously, President Bush was to present these new guidelines to Muslim leaders at a meeting in the White House scheduled at 2 p.m. on September 11, 2001.
However, at the time that al-Arian was meeting with these Clinton and Bush administration officials, he and his associates had been the subject of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wiretap order since December 1993, and his home and offices had been raided by the FBI in 1995. During that initial raid, FBI agents discovered a document in al-Arian’s possession that outlined a program to “infiltrate the sensitive intelligence agencies or the embassies in order to collect information and build close relationships with the people in charge of these establishments” and to create a center that would “collect information from those relatives and friends who work in sensitive positions in government.”
During his trial, al-Arian’s attorney asked the government to disclose any wiretapped conversations he had with then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Asa Hutchinson, and GOP activist Grover Norquist. His attorney also submitted evidence that al-Arian had been at the White House every year between 1998 and 2001; he had met with Al Gore in November 1998 and Hillary Clinton in October 1999, and that he had attended a briefing at the Justice Department in July 2001 as proof that he could not be a terrorist. That fact alone may account for the jury’s deadlocking on a number of counts.
Yet al-Arian’s influence was not exclusive to political circles. In fact, while he was subject to FBI wiretaps and serving as a top official on PIJ’s governing shura council, he was acting as a Middle East advisor to the military’s Central Command, located in Tampa. Al-Arian not only lectured at Centcomm and translated materials for the military, but also his colleague Ramadan Shallah, who would later emerge as the head of PIJ in Damascus. Al-Arian and Shallah were able to gain access to Centcomm through their friendship with Arthur Lowrie, who served as the Centcomm commander’s Mideast adviser.
Two weeks after speaking at a Centcomm symposium in May 1993, attended by Centcomm commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, al-Arian wired $4,776 to the family of convicted PIJ terrorists in the West Bank. When the FBI executed a search warrant at Ramadan’s Florida home in November 1995, agents found materials that had been sent from Centcomm to his residence.
In both al-Amoudi and al-Arian’s cases, years of warnings about their support for terrorism and public criticism of their inclusion in government programs and events went unheeded and ignored. Not only that, but these terrorist leaders were being engaged by the U.S. government at the very time they were being investigated by federal law enforcement authorities. In one incredible instance, the head of the FBI’s civil right division Tom Brekke and the FBI’s top spokesman John Collingwood appeared at one of al-Amoudi’s conferences held inside the Hart Senate Office Building, where they shared the podium not only with al-Amoudi but also al-Arian, despite the FBI knowing of both men’s direct terror ties and funding years before.
The U.S. government’s success with Muslim outreach since September 11 hasn’t fared any better. One of the first Muslim leaders that the government turned to was Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qa’ida cleric who was in direct contact with at least three of the September 11 hijackers. Awlaki, who had been placed on the CIA’s “kill or capture” list, was killed on September 30, 2011 in a CIA-led drone strike on the al-Qa’ida cleric’s convoy in Yemen, which President Obama hailed as a “milestone” in the fight against al-Qa’ida.
As the cleanup from the terrorist attack on the Pentagon continued, Awlaki was invited by the Pentagon’s Office of Government Counsel to speak at a lunch in the building’s executive offices as part of the government’s new Muslim outreach policy. Ironically, one of the September 11 terrorists who had helped hijack American Airlines Flight 77 that was flown into the Pentagon had described Awlaki as “a great man” and his “spiritual leader.” Yet concerns had been raised about Awlaki long before the September 11 attacks.
A joint congressional inquiry in the September 11 attacks found that law enforcement had been investigating Awlaki’s contacts with terrorism suspects as far back as 1999. Further, just two days after September 11, Awlaki had described the terror attacks as an “accident” in an interview with a local television station. Also prior to his appearance at the Pentagon the New York Times had noted Awlaki’s fiery anti-American rhetoric prior to the attacks, and in November 2001, he had defended the Taliban in an online chat about Ramadan on the Washington Post website. Thus, despite claims that Awlaki had been “vetted” before the Pentagon event, abundant evidence of Awlaki’s extremist views was more than readily available before he appeared at the Pentagon event.
Equally egregious was the invitation by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to Yasir Qadhi to speak on de-radicalization at a conference in August 2008. At that time too, Qadhi’s extremist views (such as his statements denouncing “the hoax of the Holocaust”) were well known. Even more than that, at a Muslim outreach event in Houston in 2006, Homeland Security official Dan Sutherland was present when Qadhi openly admitted that he was on the terror watch list.
Yet no one at the NCTC bothered to question Qadhi’s “de-radicalization” credentials. By the time he was invited to speak at the NCTC conference, at least one of Qadhi’s Houston students, Daniel Maldonado, had been captured by Kenyan forces fighting with the Somali al-Shabaab terrorist group. A number of other students from Qadhi’s AlMaghrib Institute program have gone in to careers in terrorism, including Christmas Day underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, who attended a two-week training session in Houston sponsored by Qadhi’s group learning the “nuts and bolts of Islam” from the cleric. Abdul Mutallab also attended two other events in the UK sponsored by AlMaghrib. If Yasir Qadhi is an expert in deradicalization, one shudders to think what an expert in radicalization might produce.
The NCTC under the Obama administration continues this bipartisan policy of Muslim outreach disasters, best exemplified when they gave Shaykh Kifah Mustapha a tour of their top-secret facility as part of the FBI’s Citizen Academy civilian training program in September 2010. Why was this so catastrophic? In 2007 Kifah Mustapha was named an unindicted co-conspirator by federal prosecutors in the largest terrorism financing trial in American history. During that trial FBI agent Lara Burns testified that Mustapha was part of a singing troupe that glorified Hamas and encouraged the killing of Jews as part of the fundraising efforts for Hamas.
Yet months before participating in the FBI Citizen Academy program and visiting the NCTC, Mustapha was removed as an Illinois State Police chaplain in the wake of media reports noting his long-time terrorist support activities. After Mustapha sued the state police for discrimination, a protective order was filed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald that disclosed that the Chicago FBI’s Special Agent in Charge Robert Grant had warned state police officials that Mustapha would never be able to pass an FBI background check. One former FBI official told the Washington Times that Mustapha was “a known senior Hamas guy.”
None of that prevented the FBI Chicago field office from hosting Mustapha in the six-week Citizen’s Academy course, which included a guided tour of the NCTC and the FBI Academy at Quantico. Caught in an embarrassing situation, an FBI spokesman admitted to Fox News that he had in fact participated in the program, but defended the decision, saying that he was “a prominent figure in the community.” A week later, FBI Director Robert Mueller doubled-down on Mustapha’s inclusion in the program after he was questioned about it following a speech he had given, but refused to address the mountain of evidence that federal prosecutors and the FBI had compiled on the Hamas cleric, saying, “I am not going to talk about any particular individual.”
Court documents filed in March 2013 in a federal court by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked the judge for summary judgment against Mustapha’s lawsuit against the Illinois State Police. In them were revealed more warnings about Mustapha’s terror ties from the FBI Chicago field office. Ironically, this was the same office that a few months later invited Mustapha to participate in the FBI Citizens Academy, even telling Illinois State Police officials about the imam’s “demonstrable ties to an organization that funded terrorism” and providing them a video of Mustapha singing lyrics in praise of Hamas and calling for violence against Jews as children danced around him carrying guns. Attorney General Madigan added that the information provided by the FBI Chicago officials conclusively showed that Mustapha’s activities “damage Illinois State Police due to its anti-Jewish and un-American content and manner.”
No matter how embarrassing the Kifah Mustapha incident was for the FBI and the NCTC, the Department of Homeland Security has no grounds to fault their colleagues, especially after Secretary Napolitano appointed Mohamed Elibiary to her Homeland Security Advisory Council in October 2010. Elibiary had previously served on the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism Working Group, along with Mohamed Majid, despite his speaking at a December 2004 conference honoring Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini (an event that the Dallas Morning News editorialized as a “disgrace”). Recently Elibiary has billed himself as a “deradicalization expert,” despite clear evidence of his previous defense of terrorist support organizations, his praise for jihadist authors, and his threats made against a Dallas journalist who repeatedly exposed his extremist views. His open support for jihadist ideological godfather Sayyid Qutb prompted the Washington Times to comment, “If Mr. Elibiary is one of his [Qutb’s] disciples, he has no business being anywhere in government, let alone as an adviser at the uppermost reaches of an agency that purports to protect the homeland.” Considering Mohamed Elibiary’s track record, it seems he has done more to promote violent ideology than to prevent it.
The State Department under Hillary Clinton was not immune from such outreach disasters either. In November 2010, U.S. Ambassador to Britain Louis B. Susman stirred international outrage following his visit to the notorious East London Mosque, well known as a longtime hotbed of extremism and a prolific terrorist incubator. In January 2009, the mosque hosted a conference featuring wanted al-Qa’ida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki via telephone. Just a few weeks before Susman’s visit, the mosque chairman had defended Awlaki’s participation in the conference, calling it an act of “fairness and justice.”
The visit by the U.S. ambassador was slammed in the Wall Street Journal by Shiraz Maher of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College, who described the mosque as “among Britain’s most extreme Islamic institutions.” Maher concluded that “Mr. Susman’s visit illustrates the blunders Western politicians often make by reaching out to the wrong Muslim ‘dialogue partners.’” He added that the attendance of such a high-ranking diplomat to the mosque “emboldened robed reactionaries at the expense of their more moderate counterparts.” Maher also stated that Susman’s visit to the mosque was such an egregious blunder that British Prime Minister David Cameron instructed officials to conduct an “exhaustive review” of the government’s “Preventing Violent Extremism” program to ensure that all community partners had been thoroughly vetted.
The U.S. government, however, failed to even acknowledge the blunder, let alone attempt to reconsider its long-standing policy of engaging extremists. In fact, the American Embassy issued a statement explaining that the visit was “a part of President Obama’s call for a renewed dialogue with Muslim communities around the world.”
WHO ARE WE DEALING WITH?
In President Obama’s call for renewed dialogue, isn’t it incumbent upon intelligence, homeland security, and law enforcement officials to know exactly who they’re dealing with? Yet in many cases, the U.S. government has known that the Muslim leaders and organizations they were dealing with were involved in terrorism or hostile foreign governments and groups.
A case cited earlier, for example, showed this to be true of Ramadan Shallah, an associate of Sami al-Arian, who directed the World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE), a think-tank affiliated with the University of South Florida. In addition, he taught classes in Middle Eastern politics at the university in 1994 and 1995. He also was a regular fixture along with al-Arian at CENTCOMM headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base. Shallah was even a speaker at a January 1995 conference with a former attorney general of the United States held at the University of Georgia. Yet just months after suddenly leaving the Tampa area, Shallah reappeared in October 1995 in Damascus, Syria, as the new head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which had been designated a terrorist organization by President Clinton. He is currently on the FBI’s most wanted list and is the subject of a $5 million reward offered by the State Department.
More recently, the case of Ghulam Nabi Fai, president of the Kashmiri American Council in Washington, D.C., should be noted. Fai was a regular fixture on Capitol Hill, where his organization hosted conferences supporting the Kashmiri separatist cause featuring high-ranking members of Congress, including Reps. Dan Burton, Joe Pitts, Dennis Kucinich, Yvette Clarke, and Jim Moran. Fai also spread around generous amounts of campaign cash to Republican and Democrats alike.
Yet for two decades, Fai had been operating as a paid agent of influence under the direct control of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. Senior high-ranking members of the ISI were in attendance at Fai’s Capitol Hill conferences. According to court documents, Fai and his ISI handlers would go from the Capitol to his D.C. office to discuss their plans to influence Congress illegally, the State Department, and other government agencies toward Pakistan’s views on Kashmir. All of this was caught on FBI wiretaps and cited in Fai’s indictment. However, it was years before federal prosecutors put an end to Fai’s influence in Washington, D.C. spy operations, never informing the members of Congress who were targeted by Fai. Further, during the two decades that Fai operated in service to Pakistan’s intelligence service, he was also serving in senior leadership roles with a number of top Islamic groups favored by the U.S. government, including serving on the shura council of ISNA-the most prominent Islamic organization involved with the U.S. government’s outreach programs. For years, federal law enforcement officials knowingly looked the other way and stood mute as the Holy Land Foundation raised money inside the United States for the terrorist group Hamas. Their programs were even registered with the State Department’s USAID program until December 1999, when the agency informed the Holy Land Foundation that it was officially being deregistered. Defending the organization, a spokeswoman appealed to their ties with the government as proof of their innocence, saying, “We’re in close cooperation with A.I.D.”
The U.S. government has not just been content with turning a blind eye towards their terror-tied outreach partners, but active financiers of them as well. Such was the case with the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA), which according to the Treasury Department had “provided direct financial support to UBL [Usama bin Ladin].” Yet IARA had received a $300,000 USAID contract to provide support for a “child survival” program. It was also awarded a $4 million contract by the U.S. Embassy in Mali in 1998, which was only cancelled in December 1999, when Richard Clarke, chief of counterterrorism for President Bill Clinton, pressed the matter. Yet the FBI and the CIA had known of IARA’s ties to al-Qa’ida going back to 1995 and made no effort to stop taxpayer funds from going to the group.
One might think that considering these cases, the U.S. government would have revisited its policies and scrutinized more carefully who they dealt with in their aid programs. Yet exactly the opposite occurred-U.S. government agencies appear to have imposed a policy of institutional blindness when it comes to the terrorist associations of their aid program partners. Such was the case in 2008, when the Bush Labor Department funded a three-year contract with the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW) based in Yemen to combat child labor and child trafficking. Even as investigative reporter J.M. Berger noted, one of CSSW’s former leaders in the United States was none other than al-Qa’ida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. According to tax documents filed with the IRS obtained by Berger, Awlaki had served as the group’s vice president. Yet at the time that the Department of Labor issued the grant, Awlaki’s work on behalf of al-Qa’ida and his ties to CSSW had been widely reported. It had also been reported that the founder of CSSW and an ongoing active supporter of the “charity” was Abdul Majid al-Zindani, one of Usama bin Ladin’s mentors that had been named a U.S. specially designated terrorist by the U.S. government in 2004.
The Obama administration has continued this disastrous policy as seen the funding of the Sunni Ittehad Council, which was ostensibly formed to counter extremism in Pakistan. Yet when a leading moderate Pakistani governor critical of the country’s use of Islamic blasphemy laws to punish religious minorities was gunned down by one of his own bodyguards, the Ittehad Council held rallies and demonstrations in support of the assassin. The council received $36,607 of U.S. taxpayer money.
Equally as troubling has been the number of transformations of leaders of American Islamic organizations that partner with the U.S. government into senior officials with Muslim Brotherhood fronts around the world. One recent case is Louay Safi, who up until a few years ago was one of the Pentagon’s top Islamic advisers and only one of two official ecclesiastical endorsers of the Defense Department’s Muslim chaplains. In August 2011, however, just weeks after meeting with officials at the White House, Safi reappeared at a press conference in Istanbul as a leader in the Syrian National Council, a group heavily dominated by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood looking to overthrow Bashar al-Asad. Safi currently serves as the group’s political director based in Qatar.
However, Safi’s connections to the Muslim Brotherhood even predate his advising the Pentagon. Back in 2002, Safi’s offices were raided by the U.S. Customs Service of the Treasury Department as part of a widespread terror finance investigation into the SAAR Network, a financial empire funded by Saudi money but controlled and operated by U.S. Muslim Brotherhood operatives. At the time, Safi was working for the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT), which was one of the primary targets of the raid.
Then in 2005, Safi was named “unindicted co-conspirator Number 4” in the trial of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leader Sami al-Arian. As the Tampa Tribune noted during the trial, conversations between al-Arian and Safi had been caught on wiretaps authorized by a top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) national security warrant. In one conversation, Safi called al-Arian to ask him how the designation of PIJ as a terrorist organization by then-President Bill Clinton would impact al-Arian’s work. Yet despite his known association with terrorist leaders, as late as 2008, Safi was appearing with senior FBI officials (the same FBI that had wiretapped his conversations with al-Arian) at “outreach” events.
Safi’s involvement with the Pentagon became an issue following the Fort Hood attacks, when 13 members of Congress sent a letter to Defense Secretary Gates complaining that not only was Safi endorsing Muslim chaplains for the Defense Department on behalf of ISNA, but also teaching classes on the “Theology of Islam” to troops departing for Afghanistan at Fort Hood and Fort Bliss under a subcontract with the Naval Postgraduate School. After Fox News made inquiries about Safi’s relationship with the Pentagon, they were informed that Safi was no longer teaching or endorsing chaplains.
Louay Safi is hardly alone in transitioning from American Islamic leader to foreign Muslim Brotherhood leader:
- Ghassan Hitto, a Dallas technology businessman, was selected as the provision premier of the Syrian resistance. According to the New York Times, Hitto was the favored candidate of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. It also reported that he had been an official for the Texas branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). After graduation from Purdue University, Hitto and his wife had both worked for ISNA in Indianapolis for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. More recently, he had been on the board of directors of the Muslim American Society, which federal prosecutors had identified as “the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in North America.” He is also a long-time friend of Homeland Security adviser Mohamed Elibiary, who indicated that Hitto was “broadly respected” by the Muslim community “including Muslim Brotherhood members.”
- Muthanna al-Hanooti, former executive director of CAIR-Michigan and public relations coordinator for the Detroit-based Life for Relief and Development, was indicted in March 2008 for his role in attempting to influence Congress of behalf of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Intelligence Service. According to the indictment, al-Hanooti paid for and accompanied three members of Congress to Iraq on a five-day trip in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, with the $34,000 in expenses covered by Iraqi intelligence. In return, al-Hanooti was granted a $2 million allotment of Iraqi oil. Prosecutors said that al-Hanooti had operated on behalf of Saddam Hussein’s government during most of the 1990s and up until the Iraq War. Because LIFE and al-Hanooti was part of the Detroit U.S. Attorney’s Building Respect in Diverse Groups to Enhance Sensitivity (BRIDGES), the entire U.S. Attorney’s office had to recuse themselves from the case, which was handled by DOJ attorneys in Washington, D.C. In a plea deal, al-Hanooti agreed to charges of violating sanctions against doing business with Iraq and was sentenced to federal prison. He is now regional director of the Detroit chapter of the Muslim Legal Fund of America.
- Mahmoud Hussein, secretary general of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, was recruited into the organization while studying in the United States at the University of Iowa. He also served as the president of the Muslim Arab Youth Association (MAYA) in the United States, a now-defunct subsidiary organization of ISNA. During Hussein’s tenure with MAYA, the group sponsored a number of conferences across the country featuring terrorist leaders affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood from around the world, including Afghan jihad leader and al-Qa’ida co-founder Abdallah Azzam.
- Ishaq Farhan is the head of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Islamic Action Front. However, he has also been a longtime board member of the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT) based in the Washington, D.C., area. According to congressional testimony on “Terrorist Threat to the United States,” Farhan was also active with MAYA as a conference speaker and as a recruiter of American Muslim youths for Hamas. One student recruited who attended a terror training session in Kansas City noted Farhan as one of the speakers. In 1996, Farhan also sent letters on behalf of the IAF to the U.S. Embassy in Amman demanding the release of Hamas senior leader Mousa Abu Marzook.
- Ahmed Yousef, currently spokesman for Hamas in Gaza and a senior political adviser to Hamas “prime minister” Ismail Haniyeh, was the longtime director of the United Association for Studies and Research (UASR) based in Springfield, Virginia. Article Two of the 1988 Hamas Charter self-identifies the group as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” The supposedly “independent” think-tank held conferences, published studies, and a quarterly journal with an advisory board featuring a number of prominent academics. Yet as early as 1993, UASR had been identified as “the political command of Hamas in the United States” by a captured Hamas operative. Not coincidentally, one of UASR’s founders was Hamas deputy leader Mousa Abu Marzook, and another director of the organization was al-Qa’ida fundraiser Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi. Yousef defended Hamas as “a charitable organization,” and many of UASR’s publications and speakers unashamedly defended Islamist terrorist groups as legitimate resistance. Yousef fled the United States in 2005 to avoid prosecution on terrorism-related charges. He reemerged shortly thereafter as spokesman for Hamas. His departure left many of his defenders flatfooted. This included Georgetown University’s John Esposito, who served on UASR’s editorial advisory board and helped plan joint conferences with UASR, and former CIA official and Muslim Brotherhood apologist Graham Fuller.
It may then be the case that occasionally some of the U.S. government’s Islamic advisors and leaders of the very organizations government agencies count as their outreach partners seem to have the habit of turning up as illegal foreign agents or leaders of terrorist organizations and Muslim Brotherhood affiliates across the Middle East. Among the leaders of the Islamic groups favored by the U.S. government are even wanted international war criminals.
In October 2012, Ashrafuzzaman Khan, former secretary general of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and president of the North American Imams Federation, was indicted by a Bangladesh war crimes tribunal for crimes against humanity and genocide for his role in the abduction, torture, and murder of intellectuals during that country’s war of independence from Pakistan in December 1971. A State Department spokesman said that they are looking at the charges. A prosecutor in the case said that the killings by Khan, who at the time was a member of the al-Badr student militia wing of Jama’at-i-Islami, were part of “a master plan” by the Pakistani military “to kill a specific group of unarmed civilian Benghalis.” Those murdered were pro-independence professors, journalists, and physicians.
Not only has ICNA condemned the international war crimes tribunal, but a spokesman for ICNA reaffirmed their support for Khan. He also appeared at a rally in New York City in late 2010, with leading members of the Islamic community and U.S. government outreach partners, including Obama White House regulars ISNA’s Mohamed Majid, CAIR executive director Nihad Awad, and Haris Tarin of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).
As has been shown, being under active FBI investigation has not prevented the U.S. government from counting terrorist leaders, recruiters, or fundraisers among their closest Islamic advisers. Such is the case with Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi, Sami al-Arian, and Anwar al-Awlaki. Moreover, when the U.S. government has given taxpayer dollars to Islamic groups that support terrorism, presumably inadvertently, there has never been a systematic review of the screening system to ensure similar incidents won’t occur in the future-when, in fact, they repeatedly have.
In the case of Ghulam Nabi Fai’s two-decade long influence operation on Capitol Hill on behalf of Pakistani intelligence, the matter passed with barely any notice, let alone any consideration that Fai had served in leadership positions with virtually every major Islamic organization in the country. Nor has there been any reexamination on the part of government agencies of their policies when a long line of their Islamic advisers and leaders from the groups they count as outreach partners-including repeated visits to the Obama White House in the case of Louay Safi-reappear as senior leaders for Muslim Brotherhood affiliates and fronts in the Middle East. This lack of acknowledgment, reexamination, or investigation following the near-universal catastrophic failures in U.S. government outreach in the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations has led to a corrosive effect on U.S. domestic and foreign policy.
That many of the Islamic groups identified as outreach partners by the U.S. government were identified by federal prosecutors in court as fronts for the international Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of international terrorism has proved incredibly embarrassing. Extraordinary measures are thus taken to ignore this situation. One response has been to ignore the problem altogether. Since March 2012, the FBI has been undergoing a Department of Justice inspector general investigation for continuing contacts with the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), despite a department-wide ban on formal contacts with the organizations for its long-standing ties to terrorism. This outreach contrary to official bureau policy continued to occur as CAIR officials publicly encouraged the American Muslim community not to talk to the FBI.
At the same time that the DOJ inspector general began its investigation of the FBI’s continued contacts with CAIR in violation of stated policy, the bureau began taking another approach. In March 2012, the FBI released guidelines it claimed informed its purge of hundreds of documents and more than 300 presentations from its counterterrorism training materials. This “Touchstone document” articulates the FBI’s new policy that associating with a terrorist organization, if that organization has both violent and legal elements, does not mean that someone agrees with the violent ends of that organization:
This distinction includes recognition of the corresponding principle that mere association with organizations that demonstrates both legitimate (advocacy) and illicit (violent extremism) objectives should not automatically result in a determination that the associated individual is acting in furtherance of the organization’s illicit objective(s).
Thus, according to this new FBI policy, if the group supports violence but performs some legitimate functions (say, for instance, al-Qa’ida, which Sen. Patty Murray [D-WA] infamously said helped pay to build schools, roads, and day care centers ), associating with that group, according to the FBI, doesn’t mean you support that group’s violent ends. Thus, the terror support of their Muslim outreach partners is absolved with a rhetorical sleight-of-hand.
This is why Mohamed Majid, who just a few years before was treated as a pariah by the Attorney General of the United States after federal prosecutors named his organization as a front for the Muslim Brotherhood and a supporter of terrorism in the largest terrorism financing trial in American history, can just a few short years later not only be rehabilitated, but can regularly be found-much as al-Qa’ida fundraiser Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi who preceded him-a frequent visitor to the White House. Just prior to President Obama’s March 2013 visit to the Middle East, ISNA openly trumpeted that Majid had advised the president prior to his trip.
Another extremist leader rehabilitated by the Obama administration has been Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), who recently appeared as a member of the official U.S. delegation to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) conference on human rights held in Vienna in October 2012. Going back to the Clinton Administration, however, al-Marayati had his appointment to a congressional terrorism commission withdrawn after his comments in support of Hamas and Hizballah-designated terrorist organizations he had likened to American patriots like Patrick Henry-and his labeling Islamist suicide attacks as “legitimate resistance” had been revealed. In an op-ed published by the Los Angeles Times, he and his wife attacked the Jewish groups criticizing his appointment as “extremists.”
His appointment eventually withdrawn, he doubled down on his support for the terrorist groups, telling the New York Times, “When Hamas and Hizballah commit acts of terrorism, we condemn those acts as events contrary to the principles of Islam; when those groups build hospitals and deve