Senator Dick Durbin Visits Mosque Foundation
In a statement, Durbin said his hearing Tuesday on the state of Muslim civil rights in America comes "in response to a spike in anti-Muslim bigotry in the last year including Quran burnings, restrictions on mosque construction, hate crimes, hate speech, and other forms of discrimination."
While hate crime data for 2010 has not yet been released, FBI reports in recent years show no spike in anti-Muslim attacks. Those statistics show 107 anti-Islamic incidents reported in 2009, compared to 156 anti-Muslim crimes in 2006. In both reports, race related crimes dominated, and religiously-targeted attacks involved Jews as victims about nine times more often than Muslims in 2009 and more than five times more in 2006.
Durbin does not appear prepared to challenge them. After making critical statements about the organization, the three-term senator has embraced the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and visited a Chicago-area mosque whose leaders have been cited in federal court records as part of support front groups for Hamas, the U.S.-designated Islamic terrorist group that leads the government in Gaza.
A key witness, Farhana Khera, leads a group which claims there is widespread abuse of Muslims by law enforcement. "We have very serious concerns about FBI surveillance tactics that are used," she said in the wake of a series of arrests in terror plots involving sting operations and informants. In an April 13, 2010, article titled "Americans Should Be Free to Pray without FBI Snooping," Khera accused the FBI of "planting informants" in "American Muslim congregations." Without providing any evidence, she claimed "FBI agent provocateurs" had infiltrated mosques "without evidence of wrongdoing" in places as far out as New York, Florida and Southern California.
Courts have rejected arguments that such tactics entrapped people who otherwise would not have engaged in terror plots. In December, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke to the group, vigorously challenging the premise. "Those who characterize the FBI's activities in this case as 'entrapment' simply do not have their facts straight or do not have a full understanding of the law."
Another Muslim Advocates message is that Muslims should never talk to the FBI without an attorney present. The group's web page includes an alert advising:
"The FBI is contacting Pakistani, South-Asian and other Muslim Americans to solicit information and advice about addressing violent extremism.
Muslim Advocates strongly urges individuals not to speak with law enforcement officials without the presence or advice of an attorney."
During the July 2010 Islamic Society of North America conference, Khan warned Islamic community leaders about talking with FBI agents, saying the FBI only wants to use them as "sources" to cause unspecified "harm."
"And sometimes these community members don't even think of themselves as a source," Khera said." You know that they just might think themselves – Well I have a good relationship with the head of the FBI office; you know he comes by my office from time to time and we have tea, or we go to lunch, and he just talks to me about the community. But what may seem like an innocuous set of conversations in the FBI's mind they may be thinking of you as an informant, as a source. And the repercussions and the harm that that can cause can be pretty serious."
FBI agents had sought Afzali's help in finding Zazi, who was being sought as he traveled to New York in hopes of carrying out a bombing attack on the subway system. Afzali later called Zazi, alerting him to the fact law enforcement was after him, allowing Zazi to evade law enforcement surveillance.
In remarks at last summer's ISNA convention, Khera asserted that Afzali's plight was the result of his speaking to the FBI without counsel, rather than because of his tipping off a wanted terror suspect.
And on the day the court ordered his deportation he was talking to reporters and basically in tears because as he said, he thought he was doing his duty, his patriotic duty in helping to protect our communities," she said. "And this is what happened to him. And that's just one example of really frankly the risks and consequences of engaging with law enforcement without an attorney." For more on Khera and Muslim Advocates, click here.
Similarly, she blamed the FBI for the shooting death of a Detroit imam who had opened fire first as agents tried to arrest him in October 2009. In February2010, Khera wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder urging that DOJ to broaden a investigation the shooting death of a Detroit imam by FBI agents and to "review the entire circumstances regarding the surveillance, investigation and attempted arrest of Imam Luqman [Abdullah]." Among the reasons for concern was the fact that an FBI K-9 was sent in to subdue Abdullah "when he refused to surrender," which she classified as unnecessary "lethal force."
"As Imam Luqman had allegedly barricaded himself inside the warehouse and did not appear to pose an immediate threat to FBI agents on the scene, we are concerned that the FBI's decision to escalate the situation b by sending in an attack dog, rather than continuing to negotiate a surrender actually provoked the gunfire that resulted in the Imam's death."
Khera's letter ignores information the FBI had to factor in planning to arrest the imam and four followers who were with him on a series of firearms, fraud and stolen goods charges. The investigation included an informant and recordings which showed that Abdullah instructed his followers to be armed at all times. He preached offensive jihad and used his mosque for training in martial arts and with firearms. He repeatedly vowed not to go peacefully if police ever came to arrest him. "He will respond with violence, and they will have to shoot him before they can arrest him," he told a witness. He was recorded in a 2004 sermon yelling, "Police, so what? Police die too! Feds die too!" and "Do not carry a pistol if you're going to give it up to police. You give them a bullet."
As a videotape of the incident released later showed, Abdullah backed up his bold talk.
"The facts show Abdullah making a series of decisions that resulted in the use of deadly force against him – and ultimately his death. None of Abdullah's followers who complied with the police commands were injured in any way," said a report from Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox.
Fellow witness Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, reached the same conclusion in his final report on the Abdullah shooting. It concluded that all the evidence showed agents "fired only after Imam Abdullah brandished a concealed handgun and shot toward them and that they legitimately feared that Imam Abdullah was in a position to cause death or significant injury to another."
Other witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing include Perez, and Archbishop Emeritus Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington.
Leading up to the hearings, Durbin has grown closer to CAIR and the Mosque Foundation, two Chicago-area groups that federal law enforcement records show have clearly discernible Hamas-support histories.
Last week, Durbin wrote a letter that hailed CAIR's Chicago chapter, saying it "advances a greater understanding of the Muslim culture and serves as an essential thread in the multicultural fabric of our nation. Your efforts to advocate for tolerance promote the civil liberties of all communities."
Last April, he wrote a similar letter to coincide with the group's annual fundraising banquet. "CAIR-Chicago's efforts to ensure justice and equality demonstrate that working for greater civil liberties of one community advances the civil liberties of all communities," Durban wrote. "Your organization promotes a greater understanding of the Muslim culture and serves as an essential threat in the multicultural fabric of our nation."
That support marks a striking turnabout for Durbin. During a 2003 hearing, Durbin expressed serious concerns about CAIR, "which apparently from what I have read is unusual in its extreme rhetoric and its association with groups that are suspect, there are many mainstream groups of Muslim Americans who fully support this war against terrorism and I would hope that they would be invited to speak to their heartfelt beliefs about this effort so that our characterization is fair across the board."
Since then, evidence linking CAIR and its founders to a Hamas-support network has been released through court action. That evidence prompted the FBI to cut off its outreach with the group. Last year, the DOJ said it had seen no "new evidence that exonerates CAIR from the allegations that it provides financial support to designated terrorist organizations."
CAIR was listed among organizations belonging to an umbrella group of Hamas-support entities in the United States called the Palestine Committee. In addition, CAIR founders Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmed were included alongside senior Hamas officials such as Mousa Abu Marzook and Ahmed Yousef on a telephone list of individual Palestine Committee members.
That evidence was released in the terror-financing trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) in Dallas. The foundation and five former officials are appealing their 2008 convictions on 108 counts related to their Hamas support.
Other evidence implicated officials at the Mosque Foundation. Among them, HLF fundraiser Kifah Mustapha serves as a mosque imam and associate director. Like CAIR, Mustapha, mosque director Jamal Said was identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in the HLF case and was included on the Palestine Committee telephone list. A federal judge refused a request by CAIR and other groups to be purged from that list. Such a list never should have been made public, ruled U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis, but prosecutors provided "ample evidence to establish the associations of CAIR, ISNA, NAIT, with NAIT, the Islamic Association for Palestine, and with Hamas."
Said also spoke at conferences for another Palestine Committee entity, the Islamic Association for Palestine.
In 2004, the Chicago Tribune profiled the Mosque Foundation, detailing the "bitter fight in Bridgeview that saw religious fundamentalists prevail over moderates."
Yet Durbin visited the mosque earlier this month, smiling broadly among several mosque leaders with a history of radical statements and connections, including Imam Jamal Said, Kifah Mustapha and Oussama Jammal.
Both Said and Mustapha were listed as unindicted co-conspirators in the HLF trial. Jammal defended Hamas operative Mohammed Salah, who was once a mosque regular.
Like Awad and Ahmed, prosecutors placed Said, at the far left in the photograph, in the Palestine Committee and his contact information is No. 20 on the committee's telephone list. He also spoke at Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) conferences. The IAP, now defunct, was a Palestine Committee entity, court records show.
Said urged the audience at the 2000 IAP conference "to be generous and give plenty, to keep the light in the houses of our martyrs burning. We have boxes here to say 'Help us, help the Aqsa cause, Islamic Association for Palestine!'"
"There is no better charity than to pay for the family of a martyr," he added.
Mustapha, third from the right in the photograph, also is identified by prosecutors as a Palestine Committee member. Court records show he did volunteer work for the IAP and was a paid HLF employee from 1996-2000 serving as a fundraiser and as its Illinois representative. For more on Mustapha, see the Investigative Project on Terrorism's profile here.
In 1998, the Mosque Foundation held a rally to support Salah after the U.S. government moved to seize assets belonging to Salah, his wife, and their business called the Quranic Literacy Institute (QLI), after asserting they were all tied to money laundering for Hamas. During the rally, Oussama Jammal condemned the move as discriminatory. "Politically motivated attacks on our community are an unfortunate reality that must not be accepted," Jamal said. "The stereotyping of Muslims and Arabs as being terrorist is wrong and it must stop."
Jammal also questioned the facts behind 9/11. Following the attacks Jammal asked, "How certain are we that it was Arabs who were behind it?"
The Mosque Foundation has also hosted IAP events, including one in June 2001 in which Mustapha spoke as an HLF representative.For more on the Mosque Foundation's history and the ties of some of its leaders to Hamas, click here.
Muslims, like all Americans, fully deserve to have their civil rights respected and to live free of bigotry. The path toward that understanding doesn't run through one of the most celebrated centers of Hamas activities in the United States—the Bridgeview Mosque—nor will a hearing in which a key witness explains why the FBI is something Muslim Americans should fear rather than assist.