The FBI on Thursday defended its inclusion of a Chicago Muslim cleric tied in the past to the terrorist groups Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood in a group that recently visited the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and FBI headquarters.
Ross Rice, FBI spokesman in Chicago, acknowledged in an interview that Kifah Mustapha, imam of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Ill., was named as an unindicted co-conspirator during a Hamas funding trial six years ago.
Mr. Mustapha took part in the six-week program at the FBI's Quantico, Va., facility, which included a three-day visit to Washington, where a group of 30 people, including the cleric, visited the NCTC and FBI headquarters, Mr. Rice said.
Mr. Mustapha is listed in court papers as one of more than 240 unindicted co-conspirators, including people and organizations, that were named in the 2004 terrorism-funding trial of the Dallas-based charity Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development.
The Justice Department charged the group and its top officials with illegally funding the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which has carried out bombing attacks in Israel. The NCTC website states that Hamas was behind "high-profile terrorist attacks" against civilians in Israel.
The foundation and five former leaders were found guilty in November 2008 of giving more than $12 million to Hamas. The investigation and trial also produced large numbers of documents from the group and its affiliates that disclosed a covert plan by the Muslim Brotherhood to subvert the U.S. government and create an Islamic state.
The list of co-conspirators identified Mr. Mustapha as among 53 people who were members of the U.S. branch of the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee, a group set up to funnel funds to Hamas. Another document identified him as the Holy Land Foundation's agent in Illinois.
Mr. Mustapha was named a Muslim chaplain for the Illinois State Police in December, but was dismissed in June after failing a background check that disclosed his past ties to the Holy Land Foundation.
"Due to information revealed during the background investigation, Sheik Kifah Mustapha's appointment as a volunteer ISP chaplain was denied," he said, declining to comment further because the matter is the subject of a lawsuit.
The Muslim advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations, also identified as a co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case, is suing the Illinois State Police for discrimination in Mr. Mustapha's dismissal.
"His application was reviewed and vetted by our office," Mr. Rice said. "He is a very influential leader of the Palestinian community here and imam of the largest mosque and was a welcome addition."
Mr. Rice said that during the recent Washington visit, Mr. Mustapha was escorted the entire time as he visited the NCTC headquarters near Tysons Corner in Northern Virginia and the FBI headquarters building.
Mr. Rice dismissed a question about whether Mr. Mustapha could be posing as a double agent for radical Islamists while publicly supporting the FBI. "We would hopefully detect that, and there is no indication of that," he said.
The imam was vetted before his inclusion in the approximately 30 ethnic, religious and business leaders who took part in the Citizens Academy program, he said.
Critics have said the programs have failed to identify legitimate Muslim moderates and have been exploited by some radical Muslims to limit investigations into the covert U.S. activities that support international terrorist groups, including the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood.
Steven Emerson, director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, which has reported extensively on Mr. Mustapha's support for Hamas, said the security issue of visiting sensitive U.S. buildings is only one aspect of the problem.
"It is difficult to see what the FBI could gain from associating so publicly with such a controversial figure, who reportedly was part of the fundraising support infrastructure for Hamas in this country," Mr. Phillips said.