US Rep. Gregory Meeks scolded immigration officials for questioning a Muslim scholar whose nonprofits have been linked to financing terrorism.
The Queens Democrat contacted federal agencies -- finally appealing to then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff -- asking why Anwar Hajjaj faced "unwarranted scrutiny" when he returned to the United States from trips abroad through JFK Airport.
Meeks described Hajjaj as a "highly regarded" professor of Islamic studies who leads Friday Muslim prayers at the Capitol.
Meeks said Hajjaj was "a pioneer in distance-based learning of Islam" through the American Open University in Virginia, according to a copy of the Sept. 30, 2006, letter to Chertoff, which was obtained by The Post under a Freedom of Information Act request.
But The Post has learned Hajjaj also headed the Taibah International Aid Association, a charity that has been accused of funding Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. The group was co-founded by Abdullah A. bin Laden, Osama bin Laden's nephew, who has been investigated for his ties to groups that have funded al Qaeda and Hamas.
Hajjaj is also director of another Virginia-based nonprofit, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth International, or WAMY. It was also founded by bin Laden's nephew and said to support al Qaeda. The group's 2005 federal tax form, the most recent available, is signed by Hajjaj, who is listed as director.
Steven Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, said WAMY has been a financial and ideological supporter of Islamic terrorist organizations. A WAMY publication lists people who have attacked Israelis as "heroes of Palestine" and referred to Jews as "humanity's enemies," according to a 2003 affidavit by a customs special agent.
Both organizations are named as defendants in several ongoing civil lawsuits filed on behalf of families of 9/11 victims.
A 2004 complaint filed in one of the suits alleges that although Taibah "purports to be a humanitarian organization, the Taibah International Aid Association furthers the aims and materially supports Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda."
Hajjaj is not specifically named as a defendant in the suit, but the complaint does say Taibah's directors and officers, including Hajjaj, are material sponsors and co-conspirators of al Qaeda and international terrorism.
The complaint says WAMY, founded in Saudi Arabia in 1972, has been identified by the FBI as a suspected terrorist organization since 1996.
In a decision in the lawsuit made last week, US District Court Judge George Daniels refused to dismiss WAMY as a defendant, saying the allegations against the group are "sufficient to demonstrate that they are knowingly and intentionally providing material support to al Qaeda."
Hajjaj was not arrested when he entered JFK after visiting the Middle East, but was pulled aside and questioned.
Meeks defended his letter: "As a member of Congress and a proud New Yorker who deeply feels the loss of all families afflicted by the 9/11 attacks, my No. 1 priority is to do everything in my power to ensure the safety and security of all Americans.
"At the same time, I also adamantly believe that securing our homeland must be done without risking the unfair or discriminatory treatment of any in our society as is our constitutional duty. To that end, several years ago it was brought to my attention that several Muslim American citizens faced what they felt was undue scrutiny from Department of Homeland Security officials at many US airports, including JFK.
"I sent letters to inquire about the treatment of two Muslim American citizens in particular that felt they were treated unfairly at US ports of entry."
Hajjaj, 65, told The Post that he was routinely harassed and sometimes missed flights when he traveled to and from Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage to Mecca.
"It was an awful experience under the Bush administration," he said. "Now under Obama, I have no complaints."
He said he asked Meeks to write a letter on his behalf. He said he knew the Democratic lawmaker through Jameel Aalim-Johnson, Meeks' chief of staff from 2006 to early 2008.