The congressionally funded United States Institute of Peace will host an event today in Washington on reforming Islam, with a guest panelist who has threatened the United States and openly supported terrorist groups, Insight has learned.
Among the guests in this afternoon's panel discussion is Muzammil Siddiqi, who until November 2001 was president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a leading Wahhabi front organization in the United States. Wahhabism is a radical form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia and advocated by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his terrorist leaders.
Siddiqi has accompanied visiting Saudi officials from the Muslim World League on fund-raising tours across America, and is listed on its Website as the organization's official representative in the United States. Offices of the Muslim World League in Herndon, Va., were raided by a federal antiterrorism task force in March 2002 because of suspected ties to al-Qaeda.
During an anti-Israel rally outside the White House on Oct. 28, 2000, Siddiqi openly threatened the United States with violence if it continued its support of Israel. "America has to learn ... if you remain on the side of injustice, the wrath of God will come. Please, all Americans. Do you remember that? ... If you continue doing injustice, and tolerate injustice, the wrath of God will come." By "injustice," he meant U.S. support for Israel.
Siddiqi also has called for a wider application of sharia law in the United States, and in a 1995 speech praised suicide bombers. "Those who die on the part of justice are alive, and their place is with the Lord, and they receive the highest position, because this is the highest honor," he was quoted as saying by the Kansas City Star on Jan. 28, 1995.
A Bush appointee to the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) says he must distance himself from today's event because it associates the USIP with groups "on the wrong side in the war on terrorism." USIP board member Daniel Pipes tells Insight that, in addition to his objection to Siddiqi, he has warned the USIP about the presence of the U.S. spokesman of al-Muhajiroun, a London-based group that claims to be recruiting jihadis for a worldwide "Mohammed's army" faithful to bin Laden.
Pipes tells Insight: "I believe that President [George W.] Bush appointed me to the USIP board in part to serve as a watchdog against militant Islamic groups. Unfortunately the management of USIP is not listening to my advice. I cannot be associated with the event today which associates USIP with some of the very worst militant Islamic groups."
Kay King, a spokesperson for USIP Chairman Richard Solomon, said USIP was "not aware of the allegations about Siddiqi, and we will look into them." However, she pointed out that Siddiqi "has attended Bush administration events with the president, and was invited to lead a prayer" at the national prayer breakfast following the September 11 attacks.
The March 19 event is cohosted by USIP and the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), a U.S.-based group that was created by board members and former staff of the American Muslim Council (AMC), a radical pro-Saudi group that largely ceased operations after its former chairman, Abdulrahman Alamoudi, was jailed last October on terrorist-related charges.
Pipes raised his concerns with USIP Chairman Chester Crocker and President Richard Solomon over the "extremist nature of CSID itself" starting last November. In addition to board members and an executive director who shifted over to the new group from AMC, Pipes pointed out that CSID fellow Kamran Bokhari has ties to al-Muhajiroun, an al-Qaeda support group. Until last year, Bokhari was the self-acknowledged North American spokesman for al-Muhajiroun.
Insight reported on the group's first anniversary "celebration" of the 9/11 attacks, held at the radical Finsbury mosque in London, where al-Muhajiroun showed off a poster that portrayed a burning World Trade Center under attack and called September 11 "a towering day in history."
At the group's second anniversary 9/11 "celebration," its members distributed a poster with photographs of all 19 hijackers, calling them "the magnificent 19."
CSID "fellows" are not research assistants, but integral members of the leadership of the organization. According to a copy of the CSID bylaws Insight has obtained, CSID fellows are responsible for electing the group's board of directors. All board members must first be fellows.
Bokhari has issued a statement denouncing political violence and al-Qaeda, and referred to himself as a "former Islamist activist." But given his leadership role with al-Muhajiroun, Pipes says, such statements were "deeply insufficient to rehabilitate him ... or make him someone suitable to be associated with USIP."
Pipes first raised concerns over the planned event in November, when the USIP initially had invited Taha Jaber Al-Alwani to speak on a panel to discuss reforming Islam. Al-Alwani was publicly identified in an affidavit by U.S. Customs special agent David Kane, unsealed just weeks earlier, as a director of "Safa Group companies including International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), FIQH council of North America, Graduate School of Islamic & Social Sciences ... and Heritage Education Trust."
The IIIT offices were raided in March 2002 as part of Operation Greenquest, a joint federal antiterrorism task force. IIIT has received money and sponsorship from the government of Saudi Arabia, and according to the affidavit had sponsored Basheer Nafi, "an active directing member of [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] front organizations" in the United States.
Following Pipes' objection, the USIP postponed the initial event and canceled its invitation to Al-Alwani to join the panel discussion, but continued to work with CSID despite Pipes' claims that the group included among its leadership individuals who were on the "wrong side" in the war on terror.
USIP spokesperson Kay King says the institute has "done due diligence" on CSID and found the group to be "moderate" and "responsible."
"We know that CSID has gotten grants from the State Department and from the National Endowment for Democracy," she said. "They are an organization that has been found appropriate by U.S. government agencies."
CSID showcases moderate Muslim thinkers such as professor Abdulaziz Sachedina of the University of Virginia. However, many board members have either led or worked for groups that were targets of a federal antiterrorist task force raid in March 2002.
CSID founding board member Jamal Barzinji headed the "500 Grove Street" charities in Herndon, Va., that were the target of the Greenquest task force. He left the CSID board in April 2003.
Another CSID founding board member, Louay M. Safi , is director of research at IIIT, according to the biography posted on the CSID Website. He is reported previously to have worked at an IIIT offshoot in Malaysia.
The CSID board also includes Muslim leaders who are former or current board members of the American Muslim Council, starting with CSID chairman Ali A. Mazrui. "CSID is part of the militant Islamist lobby," Pipes tells Insight. "It is well-disguised, and has brought in all the Islamist trends, giving them a patent of respectability."
The group's executive director in 2002 was Abdulwahab Alkebsi, a former AMC staff member. Alkebsi also is reported to have worked for the Islamic Institute in Washington, and now runs democracy programs in Iraq for the National Endowment for Democracy that have promoted, among others, the Iraqi Communist Party.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight.