The following is an article by Mary Jacoby
January 29, 2009
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has cut off contacts with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) amid mounting concern about the Muslim advocacy group's roots in a Hamas-support network, the Investigative Project on Terrorism has learned.
The decision to end contacts with CAIR was made quietly last summer as federal prosecutors prepared for a second trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), an Islamic charity accused of providing money and political support to the terrorist group Hamas, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
CAIR and its chairman emeritus, Omar Ahmad, were named un-indicted co-conspirators in the HLF case. Both Ahmad and CAIR's current national executive director, Nihad Awad, were revealed on government wiretaps as having been active participants in early Hamas-related organizational meetings in the United States. During testimony, FBI agent Lara Burns described CAIR as a front organization.
Hamas is a US-designated foreign terrorist organization, and it's been illegal since 1995 to provide support to it within the United States.
The decision to end contacts with CAIR is a significant policy change for the FBI. For years, the FBI worked with the national organization and its state chapters to address Muslim community concerns about the potential for hate crimes and other civil liberty violations in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
But critics said the FBI improperly conferred legitimacy on CAIR by meeting with its officials, even as its own investigative files contained evidence of CAIR leaders' ties to Hamas.
Last autumn, FBI field offices began notifying state CAIR chapters that bureau officials could no longer meet with them until CAIR's national leadership in Washington had addressed issues raised by the HLF trial, according to people with knowledge of the notifications.
CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper declined to comment Wednesday when the IPT called for comment. Before hanging up, Hooper said "We're more than happy to cooperate with legitimate media. But we don't cooperate with those who promote anti-Muslim bigotry."
In one letter obtained by IPT News, James E. Finch, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Oklahoma City field office, canceled a meeting of the local Muslim Community Outreach Program, a state-federal program designed to enlist Muslims in terrorism prevention and investigate reports of civil liberties violations.
"Regrettably, due to circumstances beyond my control, the meeting will be postponed until further notice as a result of the planned participation by the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations," Finch's Oct. 8, 2008 letter to Muslim groups in the Oklahoma outreach program said.
Finch made clear the Oklahoma office valued its relationship with local Muslims. He said the stumbling block to further outreach was CAIR's national leadership.
"[I]f CAIR wishes to pursue an outreach relationship with the FBI, certain issues must be addressed to the satisfaction of the FBI. Unfortunately, these issues cannot be addressed at the local level and must be addressed by the CAIR National Office in Washington, D.C.," the letter said.
A spokesman for the FBI's Oklahoma City office referred questions about the letter to the FBI's national press office. In Washington, FBI spokesman John Miller said, "We've certainly been in contact with CAIR chapters" about the un-indicted co-conspirator designation. "The letter speaks for itself."
Letters with similar wording were sent in other states, people with knowledge of the matter said. It is not known how many letters were issued, but the FBI has had strong working relationships with CAIR chapters in states including Ohio, Michigan, Arizona and Florida.
Hamas was formed in 1987 as the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, the global Islamic political movement that aims to spread the rule of Shariah, or Islamic law, throughout the world.
A North American branch of the Brotherhood supervised HLF, CAIR and other organizations to build political, financial and public relations support for Hamas, evidence at the HLF trial showed.
The U.S.-based Brotherhood formed a Palestine Committee, headed by Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook, in 1988 during the first intifada uprising in Palestinian territories against Israel. Hamas's stated policy is for the destruction of Israel.
CAIR co-founders Ahmad and Awad were early active members of the Palestine Committee, evidence showed. Wiretaps recorded the two CAIR leaders participating in strategy meetings of the committee in the 1990s, and both were also on a phone list of its members, the evidence showed.
The first HLF trial in Texas ended in a mistrial in October 2007. In November 2008, the second trial resulted in convictions of five former HLF officials on all counts of providing material support to Hamas.
It is unclear what changed between the first and second HLF trials to make the FBI rescind its policy of outreach to CAIR. The un-indicted co-conspirator designations were made on May 27, 2007 in connection with the first HLF trial. Moreover, much of the evidence linking the CAIR officials to Hamas was aired in an earlier public trial in 2006.
CAIR, however, vigorously challenged the un-indicted co-conspirator designation as a violation of its First and Fifth Amendment rights, accusing the government of "demonization of all things Muslim" in a brief filed in the summer of 2007 with the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
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