Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

Washington DC – A leading Muslim civil rights organization in the United States has called on the US government to investigate a group they own accused of espionage on members of the Muslim community.

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council for Islamic-Islamic Relations (CAIR), on Wednesday urged the FBI and other agencies to investigate the Terrorism Investigation Project (IPT), a group set up by the Southern Poverty Law Center by ‘ n “anti”. -Moslim activists ”.

Awad accused IPT of supervising Muslim Americans mosques and organizations, in collaboration with Israeli government officials.

“I would like to take this opportunity to call on the Department of Justice, the FBI, the U.S. Treasury to investigate and [IPT Director] Steven Emerson and his investigative project on terrorism are responsible, “Awad said during a virtual news conference.

“Why [is he] allowed to spy… in the service of the state of Israel? Spying on American Muslims, on legal organizations, should not be allowed. “

IPT denied in a statement to Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the organization had ever “accepted any money from the US government or any foreign source”.

“We are fully independent,” it said.

The Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

‘Espionage’ allegations

Awad’s comments came nearly a month after CAIR’s Ohio division announced he had fired Romin Iqbal, its executive and legal director in the Columbus-Cincinnati area, accusing him of leaking confidential information to IPT for years. . In an email to Al Jazeera last month, Iqbal’s lawyer declined to comment on the allegations.

CAIR on Wednesday identified a “spy” who he said worked with IPT and Emerson to guard a large mosque in northern Virginia, near Washington, DC.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, CAIR’s deputy director, also redistributed emails that, according to the group, showed exchanges between Emerson and Israeli government officials.

CAIR said one screenshot shows an email exchange between Emerson and Israeli government officials asking him for possible ties between Students for Justice in Palestine, a student-led advocacy group active in U.S. universities, and the Palestinian faction Hamas. The screenshot showed an Israeli government email address.

Al Jazeera could not verify the authenticity of the screenshots.

CAIR said Wednesday the emails were obtained by a former IPT employee who became disillusioned with the group’s actions.

“Does it violate federal law – that a foreign government asks a US non-profit organization to provide information about American university students? I do not know; it is for law enforcement to determine, ”Mitchell said. “It is definitely worrying.”

The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a U.S. law of 1938, requires individuals working on behalf of a foreign government to register as such with the Department of Justice and periodically disclose their political activities and contact with officials.

IPT rejects it to be characterized as anti-Muslim. It says it is focused on exposing what it calls “radical Islamic activity on American soil.”

But the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights organization that monitors hate groups in the US, has called Emerson an “anti-Muslim activist”.

a 2011 report (PDF) by The Center for American Progress, a liberal American think tank, accused Emerson and his group of pressuring them to portray Islam as violent.

“Such exaggerated portraits of Islam as inherently radical require a degree of creativity on Emerson’s part,” the report said. “To prove he is up to the challenge, Emerson boasts a history of producing evidence that perpetuates radical Islamic conspiracies that infiltrate America through Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizations.”

‘Betrayal’

Late last year, shortly after CAIR’s Ohio branch announced that he had fired Iqbal, the organization said another individual had come forward and admitted that he had received money from IPT to spy on a US mosque where he volunteered.

CAIR said the volunteer was Tariq Nelson, a man affiliated with Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia.

In a statement (PDF) published by CAIR on Wednesday, Nelson said he thinks passing information to IPT will “make him easy money” while not hurting the community.

Saif Rahman, director of public affairs at Dar Al-Hijrah, told Al Jazeera that “to know that there are people who may have been co-opted or tracked down or spied on to spy on the community, it is a feeling of betrayal and uncertainty ”.

But Rahman said the mosque would “remain an open space”.

“And we insist that the purpose of the house of Allah will continue to be a place that is welcoming to all.”

Nihad AwadCAIR’s Nihad Awad appeals to FBI and other agencies to investigate IPT [File: Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

Keith Ellison controversy

Nelson told The Washington Post, which first identified him on Wednesday, that he had leaked a controversial audio recording of Keith Ellison – the first muslim elected to the US Congress – during a private fundraiser in 2010.

Ellison, now serving as Minnesota’s Attorney General, competed to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in 2016 when IPT published a 36-second audio clip of Ellison’s remarks at the event.

“The United States’ foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad by a country of 7 million people,” Ellison said in the survey, referring to Israel. “A region of 350 million all revolves around a country of 7 million. Does it make sense? Is that logic? Right?

“When the Americans who trace their roots back to that 350 million get involved, everything changes.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a pro-Israel Jewish-American advocacy group, described the remarks as “deeply disturbing and disqualifying”.

At the time, Ellison dismissed the remarks as out of context. He finally lost his attempt to lead the DNC to former Labor Minister Tom Perez in a close vote.

The whistleblower who, according to CAIR, leaked the IPT emails, wrote an anonymous statement published by the advocacy group on Wednesday.

“I realized that IPT’s biggest concern was not to protect our nation from legitimate threats, but to protect a foreign government — Israel — from legitimate criticism. We were essentially used as an Israeli lobby organization, ”the whistleblower wrote.

“Demonstrating people who simply have opinions with which we may not agree has become a sport, but I did it as part of my job.”

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