Rep. Bill Pascrell and Senator Corzine, both Democrats of New Jersey, addressed an annual "community brunch" last month co-sponsored by 11 Muslim organizations, including a mosque that has allegedly raised funds for Hamas and another New Jersey mosque whose former imam was convicted last year for smuggling more than a half-million dollars to an Egyptian group that the American Treasury Department subsequently designated a terrorist organization. Mr. Pascrell has also received campaign contributions and fund-raising support from the president of the event's primary sponsor.
The American Muslim Union's Annual Community Brunch on February 21, 2004, was co-sponsored by 10 other organizations, including the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Center of Passaic County of Paterson, the El Tawheed Islamic Center of Jersey City, and the Dar-ul-Islah Islamic Center of Teaneck.
The co-sponsor with the most apparent ties to radical Islam, including allegedly raising funds for Hamas and hosting as a speaker last year an alleged Hamas figure, is the Islamic Center of Passaic County. The American Muslim Union, though, appears to have close ties to the Islamic Center of Passaic County, as five of its current and former directors and executives have held or still hold leadership positions at the Islamic Center.
The American Muslim Union insists it is a mainstream group, and Mr. Pascrell says he doesn't regret the appearance. Neither Mr. Pascrell nor Mr. Corzine generally vote outside of the Democratic mainstream on Israel or terror-related matters.
The co-founder of and former imam at the Islamic Center of Passaic County, which was founded in 1989, was Mohamed El-Mezain. He worked with the ICPC to raise funds for Hamas in the mid-1990s, according to an FBI memo drafted in November 2001 by the FBI's assistant director of counterterrorism, Dale Watson. Mr. El-Mezain, who is no longer affiliated with the Islamic Center and could not be reached for comment, was never charged or arrested.
The FBI document, which provided the basis for the U.S. government to shut down the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in December 2001, cited a "reliable" source in noting that "during a speech at the Islamic Center of Passaic County (ICPC) in November, 1994, Mohammad El-Mezain, the HLFRD's current Director of Endowments and former Chairman of the HLFRD Board, admitted that some of the money collected by the ICPC and the HLFRD goes to HAMAS or HAMAS activities in Israel. El-Mezain also defended HAMAS and the activities carried out by HAMAS."
The American Muslim Union's president, Mohamed Younes, who is a member of Islamic Center of Passaic County's board of trustees, told The New York Sun that people at the mosque "did not know everywhere their money was going, and they would not have meant to give to Hamas."
Mr. El-Mezain and the Islamic Center of Passaic County appear to have other ties to Hamas.
Mr. El-Mezain attended a conference in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s where more than $200,000 was raised for Hamas and the keynote speaker urged participants to "finish off the Israelis," according to the FBI memo.
The FBI memo cites a "reliable" source who says that at a Muslim Arab Youth Association conference held from December 30, 1994, to January 2, 1995, the keynote speaker was Sheikh Muhammed Siyam, who was introduced as "head of operations of Al Jihad Al Islamia in Gaza, the Hamas military wing." According to the FBI in formant, Mr. Siyam told the crowd, "Finish off the Israelis. Kill them all! Exterminate them!"
"Following Siyam's speech," the memo continues, "El-Mezain exhorted the crowd to contribute money. It was subsequently announced that $207,000 was raised for 'the cause."' The FBI informant also said that at the conference, Mr. El-Mezain announced that he had raised $1.8 million inside the United States for Hamas in 1994 alone.
Magdy Mahmoud, who is the cofounder and president of CAIR-NJ, one of the co-sponsors of the American Muslim Union brunch, was on the executive board of the Muslim Arab Youth Association and directed its Chapters Committee from 1993 to 1998, during which time the 1994-95 conference occurred. According to his biography on CAIR-NJ's Web site, Mr. Mahmoud later served as the chairman of the Chapters Committee for the American Muslim Union from 1999 to 2001. Mr. Mahmoud did not return a call requesting comment.
According to the Islamic Center of Passaic County's Web site, the mosque hosted a lecture in February 2003 by Abdelhaleem Ashqar, who was identified in the FBI memo as a prominent Hamas figure.
Another co-sponsor of last month's event attended by Messrs. Corzine and Pascrell, Dar-ul-Islah Islamic Center, was co-founded by Waheed Khalid, who has defended Hamas activities. When asked by the Bergen Record newspaper in 1998 about Hamas' terrorist activities, Mr. Khalid, who until late last year served as the mosque's president, responded, "They are trying to get the occupiers out of their home."
Mr. Pascrell said that allegations that any of the co-sponsors of the event are radical Islamists or tied to terrorist organizations are "pure crap." Asked if he felt that by appearing at the event he was lending legitimacy to radical organizations, he added, "I'm not going to deal in rumors; the rest is crap. I know these men as fine family men."
A spokesman for Mr. Pascrell later clarified that the congressman wasn't referring to Alaa Al-Sadawi, the former imam at El Tawheed Islamic Center, who was convicted last July of attempting to smuggle more than $650,000 in cash to the Global Relief Fund in Egypt in April 2002.The U.S. Treasury Department designated that fund as terrorist in October 2002.
The spokesman for the congressman said, "That guy should be in jail, but you can't hold the members of the mosque responsible for his actions."
Despite multiple calls from the Sun, Mr. Corzine's office offered no comment.
The American Muslim Union's president, Mr. Younes, stressed that his organization is both moderate and mainstream, adding that it has worked to "bring people together of all faiths."
According to both men, Mr. Younes and Rep. Pascrell have been friends for almost a decade. Mr. Younes and his wife have contributed more than $4,300 to Mr. Pascrell's campaigns since 1998, according to federal election records. Mr. Younes also said that he has hosted "several" fund-raisers for the congressman, including one that netted over $20,000 in October 2000. Messrs. Younes and Pascrell said they can't remember how many fund-raisers Mr. Younes has hosted, or when the most recent one was held.
Mr. Pascrell said he had no regrets about addressing the American Muslim Union- sponsored brunch last month, noting that he has never been given any warning about the group by authorities. "I'm on the Homeland Security Committee and I've never been briefed that they are something I should stay away from," he explained.
Some information for this report was provided by the Investigative Project, a group headed by counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson.