An American Muslim group identified as an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal terrorism case is being used by the FBI to train its agents about Islam.
The FBI declined to respond to Insight's questions about this seeming disconnect, as one of the pre-eminent anti-terrorist research centers in America is set to release an extensive report on the same prominent U.S. Muslim group, accusing the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of being a foe, rather than an ally, in the war on terror.
The 10-part report on CAIR from The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), led by Steven Emerson, debuts March 24. It tells the story of a group formed in the early 1990s to push an agenda of radical Islamists in the Middle East by portraying the war on terror as a war on Islam, and by defending those arrested on terror charges.
"After a careful review of the history, activities, statements, and causes of and by CAIR, it seems that its primary goals are to silence and de-legitimize its critics and redefine what it means to be a moderate Muslim," says the IPT report, a copy of which was obtained by Insight. "And when it comes to U.S. efforts to crack down on terrorists and their financiers, CAIR takes an almost visceral stand in opposition."
"CAIR consistently deceives the American public, law enforcement and politicians, portraying itself as a moderate and independent organization," Emerson said to Insight. "But its own records, statements and other documents tell a different story which the public deserves to know."
CAIR vigorously rebuts IPT's allegations, which include the charge that it is a front for Hamas, a Palestinian militia designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States government.
"Steven Emerson's allegations are utterly false," CAIR spokesman Ahmed Rehab told Insight. "CAIR is not a front for Hamas, Hezbollah, or any other foreign group, nor has it ever been. CAIR is an independent American institution, established by Americans for the purpose of defending the civil rights of American Muslims and advocating fair and square on their legitimate concerns and interests. CAIR is committed to non-violent advocacy for justice and equality. CAIR unequivocally condemns all acts of violence against civilians by any individual, group or state."
Rehab called Emerson part of a group of "Islamophobic pundits."
The assessment of IPT, and other critics, comes as CAIR has grown to become the most influential Muslim organization in America, with over 30 chapters and offices nationwide and in Canada. It has waged an aggressive public relations campaign to depict itself as a civil rights champion. Its representatives make regular media appearances, commenting on the war on terror. At the same time, CAIR has formed alliances with private and government organizations to teach them about Islam.
CAIR's website states it is a "Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group. CAIR's vision is to promote justice and mutual understanding."
But the IPT, government documents and people interviewed by Insight paint a different picture. Rather than being strictly a civil rights group, CAIR is a staunch defender of alleged terrorists nabbed in the U.S., a persistent critic of the war on terror and an unindicted co-conspirator with a foundation the government says funds terrorism.
"CAIR was designed to give a political cover and political front for Hamas in the United States and then it branched out to do other things," said Emerson. "Its raison d'etre is really to influence policy on the Middle East and lobby for Hamas. They are the political lobbying arm for Hamas."
Critics point to how CAIR was born. Its primary founders in 1994, Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmad, held senior positions in a group called the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP). The U.S. government has branded that group as a front for Hamas. It has documented IAP meetings in which speakers urged the killing of Jews. IAP provided seed money to CAIR.
Hamas vows to destroy Israel and claim its territory. Hamas, an acronym for The Islamic Resistance Movement, has been involved in countless clashes with Israel, killing innocent Israeli civilians in the process. The group won last year's legislative elections in the Palestinian territories. It then claimed the Gaza Strip in a bloody civil war and began launching scores of rockets at various Israeli targets. It dispatched a gunman to kill Israeli religious students in Jerusalem earlier this month.
"A long history of suicide bombings and other attacks on Israeli civilian and military targets has earned Hamas a well-deserved reputation as a murderous terrorist organization," says the left-leaning Center for Defense Information in Washington.
When the State Department created its first list of foreign terrorist organizations in 1995, Hamas was in the report, and has remained in each update.
The most damaging charges against CAIR have emerged in recent months in the federal government's criminal case against the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation. The Justice Department says Holy Land is a front for raising money for Islamic radicals--and that CAIR is a conspirator. The first criminal trial last summer ended in a mistrial. A new trial is scheduled for August.
Critics say the Holy Land prosecution confirmed their concerns about CAIR, as prosecutors unveiled documents that showed Holy Land's ties to Hamas--and to CAIR. Prosecutors also produced the fruits of FBI surveillance of various American Muslims in an overall government effort to stop the financing of terrorist cells abroad.
These documents, the IPT report, and other sources show:
-CAIR's two principal founders attended a critical meeting of Muslims in Philadelphia in 1993 that was under surveillance by the FBI. The two are Ahmad, CAIR founding chairman; and Awad, its executive director. The meeting was hosted by the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood's Palestine Committee, which the federal government says is a front group for Hamas. One topic discussed at the meeting was how to derail the 1993 Oslo Accord between Israel and the Palestinians. Attendees expressed support for Jihad. Ahmad, now CAIR's chairman emeritus, and Awad founded CAIR shortly after this important strategy meeting.
Rehab, the CAIR spokesman, downplays the 1993 meeting's importance.
"Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmad have never been members of or associated with or tied to Hamas," he said. "The 1993 public meeting to which you refer has no bearing on CAIR which did not come to existence until 1994 based on a transparent mission and vision. Since its inception, CAIR has grown exponentially as an expression of the American-Muslim grassroots ... [CAIR] counts as its workforce hundreds of staff, interns, and volunteers of every race, faith, age, and professional background--all are proud Americans."
-CAIR conspired with Holy Land to raise money for Hamas. The Justice Department labeled CAIR as an unindicted co-conspirator. "Its conspiratorial relationship with the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) was confirmed by testimony and documentary evidence admitted at trial," prosecutors said in a brief in U.S. District Court. Internal documents seized by the FBI shows that CAIR was a member of the Palestine Committee. Court documents show chairman Ahmad mediated a funding dispute between Holy Land and Abdelhaleem Ashqar over funding for Hamas founder Sheik Jamil Hamami.
Rehab downplayed the government labeling his group as a co-conspirator, noting it was one of hundreds named in the case.
"That allegation has never faced nor withstood scrutiny in a court of law," he said. "In other words, that label is a statement on the subjective feelings of the prosecution, not on the objective judgment of a U.S. court. Being named an unindicted co-conspirator is not a pronouncement of any guilt or even guilt by association. It allows for an exception to the hearsay rule making 'co-conspirator' statements admissible as evidence in the case. "
-CAIR publicly has vouched for the innocence of Muslims arrested in the United States on terrorism charges--sometimes even after their convictions.
Awad strongly defended Mousa Abu Marzook, a Hamas official who founded the Islamic Association of Palestine. The U.S. government listed Marzook as a specially designated terrorist. It indicted him in 2004 and he subsequently fled the country.
Perhaps the most celebrated case is that of Sami Al-Arian. A professor at the University of South Florida, al-Arian was indicted in 2003 on charges he raised money for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Like Hamas, PIJ is committed to the destruction of Israel, conducts suicide attacks against Israeli citizens and is a U.S.-designated foreign terror organization.
Al-Arian was held in prison without bail for contempt for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury. He became a cause celebre to the political Left--and to CAIR.
When Al-Arian was arrested in February 2003, CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper went on MSNBC's "Buchanan & Press" and suggested the charges were "politically motivated."
"I think the problem we're seeing is that the Israelization of American policy and procedures, the failed tactics of the Israelis, where, if you just kill a few more people, destroy a few more homes, seize a few more acres, everything will be OK.," Hooper said on Feb. 20. "We don't want to take that and translate it into the American setting…The entire controversy began with the attack dogs of the pro-Israel lobby going after Sami Al-Arian… ."
In 2003, Al-Arian pleaded guilty to a single charge of aiding PIJ. A federal judge called him a "master manipulator" who could have stopped planned terror attacks against innocent Israelis. The judge sentenced him to 57 months in prison, after which he is to be deported.
"Whenever a Muslim indictment is announced, virtually all the time CAIR will come to their defense," said Emerson. "There has never been an instance when CAIR has supported an Islamic indictment."
Asked why CAIR has supported Marzook and other terror suspects, Rehab said, "Our nation's values assert that being charged with a crime and being guilty of a crime are two different things. CAIR, an organization that does much work in the civil liberties field, seeks to ensure that the objective legal process that makes our nation an object of envy around the world is followed in the cases we monitor. We believe that justice is a process before it is an outcome."
-Awad openly voiced his support for Hamas in 1994. "I used to support the PLO, and I used to be the President of the General Union of Palestine Students which is part of the PLO here in the United States, but after I researched the situation inside Palestine and outside, I am in support of the Hamas movement more than the PLO," he said.
-In 2004, CAIR condemned Israel's killing of Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas founder whom intelligence sources say directed suicide bombing killings against Israelis.
A CAIR press release called Yassin "a wheel-chair-bound Palestinian Muslim religious leader" and called on the United States to cut off support to Israel.
In its statement, CAIR said: "We call on the United States to join its allies in condemning this political assassination and to make that condemnation meaningful by cutting the flow [of] American-taxpayer dollars to Israel. It is these tax dollars that pay for the weapons Israel uses to carry out such illegal attacks. American repudiation of Israel's brutal policies could also be demonstrated by the cancellation of Ariel Sharon's upcoming visit to Washington."
-Some CAIR officials reject evidence that al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks. The executive director of CAIR-New York told Newsday in October 2001, "Mohammed Atta [the 9/11 ring leader and hijacker] is alive and living in the United Arab Emirates. His passport was stolen."
FBI Embraces CAIR
There is a disconnect in the government's prosecution of Holy Land officials. On the one hand, federal prosecutors in Dallas accused CAIR of being a co-conspirator, and cite FBI-gathered evidence. On the other hand, the FBI embraces CAIR.
CAIR trains FBI agents across the country on Islam and how to treat Muslims. CAIR's archived press releases show numerous instances of CAIR representatives training the FBI, as well as the Marine Corps, local law enforcement and government employees.
"CAIR-CT Trains FBI Agents on Islam," said a May 2007 press release about instructions given to agents in Connecticut.
"Representatives of the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CT) recently offered diversity and sensitivity training on Islam and Muslims to officials at the New Haven office of the FBI," the release said. "The hour-long training included information on basic Islamic beliefs and practices."
The public affairs office of FBI headquarters in Washington did not respond to questions from Insight on whether the bureau would continue to rely on CAIR.
At the Justice Department, spokesman Dean Boyd said, "We can't provide any comment on CAIR vis-a-vis Holy Land. There is a gag order that remains in place in connection with the Holy Land Foundation case."
Despite its critics, CAIR is growing bolder. It has announced a major new public relations campaign dubbed "Beyond Stereotypes." CAIR is distributing to reporters 40,000 handbooks called, "American Muslims: A Journalist's Guide to Understanding Islam and Muslims."
CAIR's public campaigns have spurred a counter movement--groups established or redirected to rebut its assertions. Emerson's IPT monitors CAIR constantly, posts relevant documents on its Web page and issues reports, such as this new 10-part dossier.
There is one non-profit, Anti-CAIR, founded by Andrew Whitehead, which devotes all of its energies to exposing what it considers CAIR's shady practices. It was Anti-CAIR that publicized the fact that a link on CAIR's website soliciting donations for New York firefighters actually took contributors to the home page for Holy Land--the accused backer of Hamas.
National security analyst Daniel Pipes regularly blogs about radical Islam and CAIR.
And the Center for Security Policy, headed by former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney, has produced a lengthy, yet-to-be-released analysis of how CAIR functions in America.
The paper, a copy of which was obtained by Insight, depicts CAIR as a secretive group that excludes secular, pro-American Muslims.
"CAIR has opposed efforts by the U.S. government to rid the country of terrorist activity on the grounds that civil rights might be violated, and routinely urges its constituency to challenge government authority," the center's report states.
"They are certainly not a civil rights group as we understand it," said Alex Alexiev, the center's vice president for research. "They have transformed into a fifth column, infiltrating and establishing themselves in our society, politics, governments. It's a lot more than just a funding mechanism."
"Their objective is to legitimize themselves as the representative of Muslims and drive the Islamic agenda," he told Insight. "It is essentially a fifth column. Unfortunately a lot of people bite, including people in law enforcement, the media. Unfortunately, our media is just clueless. They are willing to believe these people because they are anti-Bush."
CAIR's Weapon against Critics: Lawsuits
As its critics increased following the 9/11 attacks, CAIR went on the offensive by suing people. "CAIR has been turning to courts in the United States and Canada to silence its critics," writes Pipes, a Middle East expert whose books include, "Militant Islam Reaches America."
He calls the suits "legal jihad." He has documented over a half-dozen such lawsuits or threats of legal action.
For example, CAIR sued former North Carolina congressman Cass Ballenger, after he accused the group of being a fund-raising arm of the Lebanese-based terrorist organization, Hezbollah, and could blow up the Capitol. A U.S. District Court judge dismissed the suit, and a federal appeals panel agreed with the decision.
This year, CAIR went after another congressman, Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican. CAIR called King "bigoted" after he predicted al Qaeda would be "dancing in the streets" if a U.S. president with the name of "Hussein," a common Muslim moniker, was elected U.S. president. It was a reference to Sen. Barack Hussein Obama.
CAIR has joined forces with liberal activists, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued the Bush administration over its war-on-terror policies. CAIR calls activists such as Pipes and Emerson "Islamophobes."
CAIR's spokesman Rehab defends the group's right to sue critics, saying, "We assert the rights of our critics to say what they think. However, we are equally allowed to express our opinions. Free speech is a two-way street. When our critics make allegations that cross the line into defamation or other areas that deserve a legal challenge, we may choose to file a lawsuit. This is simply working within our existing American system to redress grievances. It is not a system we are inventing. As far as intent, it is not to intimidate, but rather to protect our rights."
CAIR quickly mounted a public relations campaign in August 2007 against a report from the intelligence branch of the New York City Police Department.
Entitled "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat," the report examined how seemingly law-abiding Muslims in the U.S. can be turned into murderous jihadists.
"Jihadist or jihadi-Salafi ideology is the driver that motivates young men and women, born or living in the West, to carry out 'autonomous jihad' via acts of terrorism against their host countries," the NYPD said. "It guides movements, identifies the issues, drives recruitment and is the basis for action."
CAIR immediately condemned the report.
"Whatever one thinks of the analysis contained in the report, its sweeping generalizations and mixing of unrelated elements may serve to cast a pall of suspicion over the entire American Muslim community," said CAIR chairman Parvez Ahmed.
"CAIR felt that the report was highly subjective with no empirical credibility or scholarly prowess. Its conclusions were mostly speculative," Rehab said. "Shockingly, its wide dragnet effectively cast almost every American Muslim as a potential terrorist. At the same time, the report's authors admit that their findings offer no useful way to identify real terror suspects. For us, the report was at best sloppy, at worst, irresponsibly vilifying."
Not everyone, however, buckles to CAIR. In 2005, CAIR turned its guns on Andrew Whitehead, suing him for libel. Whitehead offended CAIR by stating it was, "dedicated to the overthrow of the United States Constitution and the installation of an Islamic theocracy in America."
Whitehead did not take the suit lying down. He went on the offensive, counter-suing CAIR.
His attorney filed an extensive discovery request for internal documents.
CAIR never provided the documents. But it did file a brief with the court stating "CAIR has established a status of enviable prestige within highest echelons of the ‘Washington establishment.'"
The case was eventually settled in 2006 under a confidentiality agreement. Whitehead said, "The policies and procedures of anti-CAIR have not changed in any way as a result of the CAIR lawsuit settlement."
CAIR is guarded in discussing its source of funds.
"CAIR's operating budget is around $2.25 million," said Rehab. "Like other non-profit groups, CAIR does not publicize the names of individual donors. CAIR follows best governance practices and makes its financial audits public."
According to the IPT report, CAIR has stated it receives no "support from any overseas group or government."
But IPT research shows it has gotten money from two Saudi Arabia-funded organizations--the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). U.S. agents have raided their U.S. offices to investigate possible links to terror groups.
The IPT says, "CAIR received $500,000 from a Saudi prince in 2002 and, in 1999, $250,000 from a Saudi-based bank currently headed by the former director of the Muslim World League (MWL), a charity identified by Osama bin Laden as a primary source of Al Qaeda's funds. MWL's U.S. office has been raided by federal terrorism investigators."
-Rowan Scarborough, a former national security reporter at The Washington Times, is a special correspondent for Insight. He is the author of "Rumsfeld's War" and "Sabotage."