September 10th, 2003 will forever be remembered as a grim day for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). On that day, the eve of the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, CAIR faced up to its own terrorist connections. It ran away from testifying before an influential Senate panel that heard a barrage of incriminating evidence about the group and its connections. It saw one of its former officials plead guilty to terrorist-related crimes in Federal Court. And, it was stood up by two Department of Justice officials at an immigration symposium in Florida. CAIR should find it hard to recover from this string of defeats.
Last Wednesday, The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security held the second in a series of hearings aimed at examining Saudi Arabia’s role in exporting Islamic extremism abroad. The hearing, titled “Two Years After 9/11: Connecting the Dots,” was focused on the prevalence of the radical Wahhabi Islamic sect among Muslim political groups in the U.S. CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad and Chairman Omar Ahmed were invited to testify at the hearing, but both declined to attend. In their absence – and in front of their empty witness chair - the committee heard compelling evidence that Saudi Arabia financially and ideologically supports a network of American organizations that act as the defenders, financiers, and front groups of international terrorists. CAIR has been a major player in this network since its creation in 1994, with a particularly soft spot for the suicide-bombing death squads of Hamas.
Senators turned out in force to connect the dots between CAIR and the deviant Islamic extremism that led to the vicious attacks of 9/11. In his opening statement, Chairman Jon Kyl said, “a small group of organizations based in the U.S. with Saudi backing and support, is well advanced in its four- decade effort to control Islam in America -from mosques, universities and community centers to our prisons and even within our military. Moderate Muslims who love America and want to be part of our great country are being forced out of those institutions.”
Senator Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat who has been steadfast in his efforts to uncover the nexus of Hamas front groups in the U.S., was ruthless in his portrayal of CAIR as part of an international terror network. In his opening remarks, Senator Schumer stated that prominent members of CAIR—referring specifically to Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmed—have “intimate links with Hamas.” Later, he remarked that “we know [CAIR] has ties to terrorism.”
Even Senator Richard Durbin, who has made common cause with some of America’s Wahhabi-backed groups, came down hard on CAIR. In his final comments he conceded that CAIR is “unusual in its extreme rhetoric and its associations with groups that are suspect,” and requested that the committee seek the testimony of mainstream Muslim groups in its place in the future.
CAIR’s affinity for terrorist causes is well documented in the press. At a 1994 meeting at Barry University, Nihad Awad stated succinctly, “I am a supporter of the Hamas movement.” Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper has defended Saudi Arabia’s financial aid to families of Palestinian suicide bombers. In recent months, three CAIR officials were indicted on terrorism-related charges.
As luck would have it, just hours before the hearing, news services reported that former CAIR official Bassem K. Khafagi had pleaded guilty to charges of visa and bank fraud in federal court in Detroit. The charges were brought against Khafagi for his role with the Islamic Assembly of North America, a group that has advocated violence against the United States and is believed to have funneled money to organizations with terrorist connections. At the time of his arrest, Khafagi was Community Affairs director with CAIR.
Khafagi is one of several IANA officials indicted on terrorism-related charges after Federal agents raided the group’s Ypsilanti, Michigan offices in February. Another arrested IANA official, Saudi-born Sami al-Hussayen ran a series of IANA websites that propagated the teachings of radical Islamist clerics closely linked with Osama bin Laden. He also ran the University of Idaho Muslim Students Association. Al-Hussayen is awaiting a deportation order after refusing to testify in his own defense.
The Chairman of IANA has stated that half of the Assembly’s funds come from Saudi Arabia, while the other half come from private donors who are primarily Saudi. IANA conferences in the early 1990’s featured lectures from Ali al-Timimi, an Islamic preacher recently identified as “co-conspirator number one” in the indictment of 11 Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist recruits in a Northern Virginia Jihad network.
One of the 11 Virginia Jihadists, Randall Todd Royer, formerly served as a Communications Specialist and Civil Rights Coordinator at CAIR.
While Senators on Capitol Hill were assiduously connecting the dots to prevent future terrorist attacks, CAIR-Florida was teaming up with the American Civil Liberties Union to sponsor a town hall meeting on immigration issues in South Florida. The September 10th event was billed as an opportunity for residents to discuss “how America and Florida has [sic] changed since September 11, 2001 - our constitutional rights, inter-group relations, and the treatment of our immigrant communities, etc.” The event was slated to feature a U.S. Attorney, an FBI representative, and the Assistant Commissioner of the Florida Department of law Enforcement. None of the officials showed up.
By absenting themselves from the meeting, the officials foiled another attempt by CAIR to oppose the Bush administration’s War on Terror. CAIR has made a cottage industry out of blaming individual incidents, either real or perceived, of anti-Muslim violence and discrimination on the Bush administration’s anti-terror policies, especially the USA Patriot Act. CAIR’s uses statistical manipulation and “civil rights” arguments, not to protect innocent Muslims but to exonerate its own “intimate links with terrorism” to use the words of Senator Schumer.
Meetings like the South Florida immigration symposium are an integral part of the Wahhabi groups’ strategy of gaining political access to the U.S. government. Since well before 9/11, CAIR and other organizations have alleged to speak on behalf of America’s peaceful, moderate Muslims, while simultaneously lending support and funds to terrorist causes. Certain members of the Bush administration, anxious to frame the War on terror in the context of political correctness, have then pandered to the Wahhabi organizations, providing them with phony legitimacy at the expense of the Muslim community at large.
Since September 11th, prominent Wahhabi-backed leaders have been granted meetings with President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and FBI Director Robert Mueller. These meetings are then used to further the notion that Wahhabi-funded organizations like CAIR are fit to represent America’s estimated 6 million Muslims.
This strategy has permitted the Wahhabi Lobby, as the collection of pressure groups are called, to become the de facto pool of consultants for government agencies willing to compromise vigilance for ethno-sensitivity in the War on Terror. The true agendas of groups like CAIR are obscured or forgotten in the process, and Wahhabis are given a blank check to oppose anti-terror policies that threaten to expose their connection to the terrorist support network in the U.S.
Combating the Wahhabi agents of influence in the U.S. will require a comprehensive assessment of the political objectives, operational strategies and sources of funding of each group and their individual leaders. A basic and important step must be to resist the Wahhabi Lobby’s attempts to influence U.S. policy. The new absence of Justice Department officials from a CAIR symposium is a welcome sign that government agencies are becoming aware of the Council’s close links with extremists. Meanwhile, we must continue to support the government’s efforts to apprehend those who serve terrorist causes from within our borders. The guilty plea of CAIR official Bassem K. Khafagi is one of many signs that the U.S. is winning the War against terrorists at home as well as abroad.