The Obama administration granted a visa to a member of a Specially Designated Terrorist Group as part of a visiting Egyptian delegation, reports the Daily Beast's Eli Lake. Hani Nour Eldin, a self-admitted member of the banned Egyptian Islamic Group (Gamaa Islamiya), lobbied senior American officials as a State Department spokesman denied knowledge of his affiliation with the terrorist group.
Eldin claims that he received "the American visa from the embassy as a member of the parliament representing a political party that has been elected and is a legitimate party." Likewise, his membership in the Gamaa doesn't mean he "was personally not involved in any violent action or terrorism against the United States or any other country."
However, Eldin used his visit to lobby Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough about transferring Gamaa spiritual leader Omar Abdel Rahman to Egyptian custody. Rahman is serving a life sentence in a North Carolina jail after being convicted in 1995 for plotting to blow up New York landmarks and assassinate key figures.
The State Department has been quick to pass the buck. A spokesman said the Egyptian delegation was "invited to Washington by the Wilson Center," and referred questions to the think tank. But the Wilson Center claimed that its center was just one of many places the group visited, and that it did "not invite these people; the State Department arranged the visit."
Former counterterrorism officials and think tank researchers were quick to criticize the lapse in judgment.
Juan Zarate, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former deputy national security adviser for counter-terrorism under President George W. Bush, called the move a mistake and said that the administration has to walk a fine line in its engagement of Islamists.
"It would have taken the State Department five seconds to Google his name in Arabic and realize he is a member of a designated terrorist organization," said Samuel Tadros, an Egyptian citizen and research fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C.The Gamaa formed as a more radical alternative to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which renounced violence to form an Islamist state in the 1970s. Its campaign of violence in the 1990s killed over 1200 and directly targeted Egypt's government, which the group wished to replace with an Islamic theocracy