CAIR's Radical Nexus
by Josh Lefkowitz and Erick Stakelbeck
March 10, 2005
Later this month, in a
This is the second time in less than a year that the brothers will be tried on federal charges. In July, a federal court convicted them of, among other counts, violating U.S. sanctions against Syria.
From the outset of the Elashis' legal troubles, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the most influential radical Islamist group in the United States, has been their most vocal supporter. Both the national headquarters and Dallas-Fort Worth branch of CAIR—a partially Saudi-funded organization that claims to "build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding"— have made defending the Elashis a top priority.
For example, on September 6, 2001, the day that federal agents first raided Infocom's Richardson, TX headquarters, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad appeared at a press conference outside the company's offices and blasted the government for "tak[ing] us back to the McCarthy era."
Similarly, CAIR's Dallas-Fort Worth chapter labeled the Elashis' December 2002 indictment "a war on Islam and Muslims" and alleged that the brothers were convicted "for their crime of being Muslims in America."
CAIR's passionate defense of the Elashis is no coincidence. In fact, the incestuous connections between CAIR, the Elashi family, and two key players in Hamas's U.S. network, the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) and the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), are well-established. One of the Elashi brothers, Ghassan, even helped found IAP and CAIR branch offices in addition to serving as HLF national chairman.
The IAP/HLF nexus ultimately leads back to Musa Abu Marzook, who is married to the Elashis' cousin and who was himself indicted in Chicago in August 2004 for conspiring to finance Hamas. Although he currently lives in Damascus—where he serves as Hamas's deputy political chief—Marzook spent over a decade in the U.S. and was instrumental in building Hamas's American network.
For instance, Marzook provided $210,000 to HLF, which was indicted last summer for funneling over $35 million to Hamas. He also helped found IAP and provided it with $490,000. In December, a Chicago judge included HLF and IAP in a $156 million libel judgment related to the 1996 Hamas murder of an American citizen in the West Bank.
Just as CAIR has defended the Elashis throughout their legal troubles, it has also publicly supported IAP, HLF and Marzook against either government or media scrutiny.
But this should come as no surprise given CAIR's close ties to IAP and HLF. For instance, before founding CAIR together in 1994, Omar Ahmad and Nihad Awad both had held leadership positions with IAP. And shortly after its incorporation, CAIR received $5,000 from HLF. CAIR returned the favor by soliciting funds for HLF until its closure in 2001.
These dizzying connections were solidified in Philadelphia's Marriot hotel in October 1993 when—under the watchful eye of an FBI surveillance team—Ghassan Elashi, future CAIR Chairman Omar Ahmad and leadership from IAP, HLF, and Hamas came together to plot the direction of Hamas's U.S. network and develop a strategy to defeat the Oslo peace accords.
Tellingly, just a few months after the Philadelphia meeting, CAIR's current Executive Director, Nihad Awad, stated, "I am in support of the Hamas movement" during a speech at Florida's Barry University.
Despite its nefarious links and public statements, CAIR has never been subject to government action. In fact, since 9/11, its officials have met with President Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell and have regularly provided "sensitivity training" to the FBI.
CAIR's well-documented history of extremism is what makes this continued mainstream acceptance so troubling. For instance, just last April, former CAIR employee Randall "Ismail" Royer was sentenced to 20 years in prison for "participation in a network of militant jihadists centered in Northern Virginia," according to the Department of Justice.
But a recent civil suit filed by the estate of 9/11 victim and former high-ranking FBI counter-terrorism agent John O'Neill, Sr. may have best described CAIR's true agenda, stating: "their goal is to create as much self-doubt, hesitation, fear of name-calling, and litigation within police departments and intelligence agencies as possible so as to render such authorities ineffective in pursuing international and domestic terrorist entities."
These are words to remember when the Elashi brothers stand trial this month.
Dallas courtroom, the U.S. government's efforts to dismantle the terrorist group Hamas's American infrastructure will face an important test. Five Palestinian brothers, the Elashis, face charges that their computer company, Infocom—which was shut down by federal investigators in 2001—received $250,000 from accounts controlled by Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzook.
Josh Lefkowitz is a terrorism analyst and Erick Stakelbeck is senior writer at the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C.-based counterterrorism research institute.