The executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Nihad Awad, participated in a three-day summit of U.S.-based HAMAS members and supporters in 1993.
Until now, he had been identified only as Nihad LNU (last name unknown) in FBI reports and analyses. The meeting occurred in a Philadelphia hotel in the wake of a White House ceremony formalizing the Oslo Accords, a peace deal with the potential to end the decades-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
CAIR, which touts itself as America's premier Muslim civil rights organization, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the terror support trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development and five of its officials. Omar Ahmad, who founded CAIR with Awad in 1994 and was previously identified as attending the Philadelphia meeting, also was named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
The FBI already had wiretap warrants on several people who wound up organizing the 1993 meeting and agents listened in on the meeting itself. They concluded the two-dozen men present were HAMAS members or supporters. Transcripts and FBI analyses released since then show the meeting sought a strategy to kill the peace accord, which threatened to marginalize the Islamist movement. The group also discussed ways to improve HAMAS fundraising in America.
According to FBI reports, the men tried to hide their true agenda, agreeing not to even say the word "HAMAS" - but to call it "SAMAH" its reverse - even in their private conversations. Most of the participants were identified through surveillance and an examination of the hotel registry. But until Thursday, the identity of one person at the meeting – Nihad LNU - remained a mystery.
Awad was asked about the meeting during a 2003 deposition for a civil lawsuit. He initially said he didn't think he had attended the Philadelphia meeting. When pushed he replied, "I don't remember." Nor did he remember whether he was invited.
Previously available evidence shows Awad was at the 1993 HAMAS meeting. He can be seen on videotape the following summer, acknowledging "I am in support of the HAMAS movement" during a seminar at Miami's Barry University.
The idea for the meeting was discussed in a telephone call recorded by the FBI on Sept. 14, 1993. A day earlier, Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shared an uneasy handshake on the White House lawn. That paved the way for the Palestinian Authority's creation, and, it was hoped at the time, a path toward a more peaceful future.
On the telephone, three men discussed who should be invited to join them in a meeting to discuss what to do next. The call included Omar Ahmad (CAIR's chairman emeritus), who at the time served at President of the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), Shukri Abu Baker, President of the Holy Land Foundation and one of the defendants now on trial, and Abdelhaleem al-Ashqar, the Executive Director of a HAMAS-linked charity known as the Al Aqsa Educational Fund.
They discussed inviting people from the "Union," a code reference to the IAP. They mentioned "Akram," "Abdul Rahman" and "Nihad." In 1993, Nihad Awad was the spokesman and public relations director for the IAP.
During that same telephone conversation, the men on the telephone call referred to Nihad's work in "media." Shukri Abu Bakr mentioned "a full article in Dallas Morning News...and every few lines: Mr. Nihad said this and that...." The Dallas Morning News did publish an article that day. It ran under the headline "Dallas' Mideast Observers Warn of Conflict Ahead." It extensively quoted "Nihad Awad, spokesman for the Dallas-based Islamic Association of Palestine."
A few weeks later, at the Philadelphia meeting itself, two men again referenced "Nihad" and an invitation he received to speak at a conference for the National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA) on October 30, 1993. The program from that NAAA Annual Convention, obtained by the IPT, lists the name of Nihad Awad, representing the Islamic Association for Palestine, as a speaker on a panel entitled "Israel-PLO Agreement: Analytical Perspectives." Nobody else named Nihad is listed in the program.
An exhibit found in the home of Abdelhaleem Al-Ashqar detailed sessions which were to take place at the Philadelphia meeting. Under the politics and media session,"Nihad" was scheduled to give a presentation. FBI Special Agent Lara Burns testified on Thursday that the "Nihad" listed was Nihad Awad.
Transcripts released in U.S. v. Marzook et. al. confirmed that "Nihad LNU" spoke at the Philadelphia meeting. He mentioned the NAAA invitation and said that the IAP had received additional attention following an appearance on CNN.
A search of CNN transcripts shows that a representative of the IAP did appear on CNN's Crossfire, September 10, 1993. That representative was Nihad Awad.
Finally, "Nihad" speaks in the first person confirming his intent to attend and speak at the NAAA convention. He is asked if "this paper contains what you are going to say." "Nihad" replied "I will speak about the media aspect...."
CAIR officials, including Awad, have refused to condemn HAMAS by name after it engages in a bombing attack. Awad once called it "the game of the pro-Israel lobby."
The Holy Land Foundation trial resumes Monday where more details about the Philadelphia meeting are expected to come out.