A longtime adviser and close confidant of President Bush funneled millions of dollars in U.S. government grants to radical Islamist organizations, many of whose leaders have been convicted or indicted in terrorism cases in the United States, respected terrorism expert Steven Emerson told Congress last week.
"When Ms. [Karen] Hughes was appointed as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, she set the tone to continue a disastrous policy of outreach with Islamist partners," Emerson told the House International Relations Committee.
Among the recipients of the State Department grants actively championed by Hughes was Ahmed Younes, formerly an official with the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a group that has "publicly challenged the designation of Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist organizations" and whose leaders "have made extreme statements defending terrorist organizations," Emerson said.
Another beneficiary of Hughes' outreach program to American Muslims was Aly Abuzaakouk, the executive director of the American Muslim Council (AMC) and a former director of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT).
The North Virginia-based IIIT "is suspected of being a pivotal cog in the Muslim Brotherhood's high command in America," according to federal law enforcement records newly released to Emerson's Investigative Project on Terrorism under the Freedom of Information Act.
Many of the State Department grants championed by Hughes were conducted under the Citizen Exchange Program, but went to U.S.-based Islamist groups or their leaders to sponsor overseas speaking tours.
Since 2004, The State Department has provided $340,000 in taxpayer dollars to the Palestinian American Research Center (PARC), co-chaired by Columbia University professor Rashid Khalili, who served as a spokesman for late Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat at a time when the PLO was still considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
The funding to PARC was "disturbing considering the radical, divisive positions of many of its leaders and the unbalanced views espoused by fellows of the organization," who consistently blame Israel for violence in the Middle East but not once condemned Palestinian terrorism and extremism, Emerson said.
In addition to the grants to known Islamist organizations, Hughes brought Islamist leaders to Washington, D.C., and personally attended conferences held by anti-American organizations, Emerson said.
The outreach policy championed by Hughes "legitimizes Islamism to the world and sends mixed messages to our allies," while "sending a terrible message to moderate Muslims who are thoroughly disenfranchised by the funding," said Emerson.
Citing earlier warnings by Emerson and other experts, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on July 10, demanding that she instruct the State Department to cancel all outstanding grants to radical Islamist groups.
When Coburn learned last year that the State Department was funding radical Islamist entities, he requested a meeting with Goli Ameri, who at the time was the nominee to become the assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, the bureau that issues and manages the grants.
"During the discussion of her nomination," the senators wrote, "Ms. Ameri promised Senator Coburn that the State Department would stop funding these entities once she was confirmed."
And yet, shortly after Ameri was confirmed, one of the groups cited by the senators and by Emerson for its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood announced that it had just received fresh funding from the State Departtment office that was now under Ameri's control.
The new funding was awarded as a subgrant to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), "a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated organization, [which] was an unindicted co-conspirator in last year's terrorist financing trial against the Holy Land Foundation," Emerson told Congress.
Despite ISNA's known ties to terrorist-related entities, Hughes attended the group's 2005 national conference in Chicago, and "held private meetings with organization leaders and delegates, including representatives of the Muslim Students Association," another "Muslim Brotherhood-linked group," Emerson said.
A number of groups that the State Department has funded or collaborated with have links to entities such as al-Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah, all of which are designated as terrorist organizations by the United States government, Emerson revealed in his testimony.
"The question is: Why should the State Department spend U.S. taxpayer dollars to work with Islamists who actively oppose the foreign policy goals of the United States and subscribe to a supremacist, oppressive ideology?" Emerson said.
He recommended that "the State Department discontinue its cooperation with Islamist groups."
Shortly before the last week's hearing, supporters of MPAC protested in front of the Sherman Oaks, Calif., offices of Rep. Brad Sherman, the Democratic chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Terrorism and Nonproliferation that had asked Emerson to testify.
Responding to the noisy protest, Sherman told reporters that the hearing would go on as scheduled, "to make sure that the State Department is not giving U.S. tax dollars to those on the other side in the war on terrorism.
"I know there are many in our community so desperate for peace that they want us to sweep under the rug the pro-terrorism positions of some groups," Sherman said. "There are groups in the Islamic world truly dedicated to peace, but we should not blind ourselves to the fact that some are not."
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