A Syrian immigrant being trained in a State Department program for prospective leaders has repeatedly praised some of the most radical elements in his country's brutal ongoing civil war.
Qutaiba Idlibi came to the United States as part of the "Leader for Democracy Fellowship," funded by the Middle East Partner Initiative (MEPI). MEPI is a State Department program which "offers assistance, training, and support to groups and individuals striving to create positive change in the society."
After completing the fellowship, Idlibi stayed in Washington, working as a program manager for a group called People Demand Change (PDC). According to its website, PDC formed last year to "to provide a better, more streamlined model for providing aid and support - on a long-term basis - to civil society actors" in the Middle East and North Africa.
But Idlibi's social media activity indicates a much more radical viewpoint than PDC or the State Department claim to seek.
For example, he mourned the death of a senior al-Qaida operative who was killed in Syria in February. Abu Khaled Al Souri, considered a representative of al-Qaida head Ayman Al Zawahiri, died in a February suicide bombing. "They are going to call you a 'terrorist.' They can say whatever they want to say, The Levant and its people and its squares can testify about your Jihad and efforts," Idibili wrote.
"Abu Khaled Al Souri was martyred. (see attachment Abu Khaled Al Souri)"
Idlibi has shared statements by another al-Qaida figure, Abu Maria Al Qahtani, the spokesman of Al Nusra front. Al Nusra pledged allegiance to al-Qaida last year. But that didn't stop Idlibi from praising the group as "A liberation front" on March 25 and writing "Jabhat Al Nusra God praise you."
Two weeks earlier, he prayed that "Allah grant our brothers in Al Nusra front the best award for their every day efforts in trying to liberate our hostages."
Idlibi did not respond to a request for comment for this story. On social media, however, he also justified recruiting foreign fighters to join the Syrian jihad. "One way of obtaining American citizenship is via enrolling in the American army," he wrote on March 29. "Thousands of people do that. Thousands of Jews from all around the world enroll in the Israeli army, but when Muslim fighters go to fight in another Muslim country to defend the land, the people, and the Religion, then all what we hear about is how dangerous is the risk of the foreign fighters."
Idlibi also praised Ahmad Yassin, the former spiritual leader of Hamas.
"In your ceremony, the words are lost, I look for them but they go away from me. All I know after these years is that you are alive there, and we are dead," he wrote on his Facebook page March 22. That was the 10th anniversary of Yassin's death from an Israeli airstrike.
According to its goals, People Demand Change works on providing aid and supports for people in Syria and the MENA region. Holding a radical ideology like the one that Qutaiba Idlibi does in group like People Demand Change might give the radical groups in Syria a lot of support.