CAIR OK’d to meet in Capitol

A House Democrat has arranged for a conference room in the Capitol building to be used tomorrow by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim advocacy group criticized for its persistent refusal to disavow terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

The District-based group also is singled out by other Democratic lawmakers and some law-enforcement officials because of financial ties to terrorists.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., New Jersey Democrat, reserved the basement conference room for CAIR’s panel discussion Tuesday titled “Global Attitudes on Islam-West Relations: U.S. Policy Implications.”

“We just see it as a simple room request,” Pascrell spokesman Caley Gray said. “We did receive a room request and evaluated it and approved it.”

He said the forum “opens up an important dialogue about global public opinion concerning the United States.”

Still, the event’s sponsor raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill, even if all sorts of groups routinely hold receptions and meetings in the Capitol.

“It does happen all the time but usually it is the United Way or some constituent group or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, not a group with supposed ties to terrorism — in the Capitol no less,” a Hill staffer said.

CAIR officials did not return a call seeking comment.

The room — H-137 — is controlled by the Ways and Means Committee.

Mr. Pascrell is a committee member and can reserve the room for any guest provided he “vouch it complies with House rules,” said committee spokesman Matthew Beck.

CAIR, which is country’s largest Islamic civil liberties group with 31 chapters nationwide, has never been charged with terrorism crimes and the organization is known to cooperate with the FBI and the Justice Department.

However, CAIR officials have been charged with — and some convicted of — offenses related to the support of terrorism, including CAIR fundraiser Rabih Haddad, founding board member Ghassan Elashi and former CAIR civil rights coordinator Randall Royer.

Haddad was deported to Lebanon in 2003 after being arrested in a raid on an Islamic charity that federal officials said had “provided assistance to Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda network, and other known terrorist groups.” Last year, Elashi was sentenced to six years in prison after being convicted on numerous charges related to schemes to funnel money to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Royer was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in 2004 to conspiring to train terrorists in Virginia.

CAIR also was named as a defendant in a class-action lawsuit relating to the September 11 attacks.

Prominent lawmakers, watchdog organizations and law-enforcement authorities insist CAIR has terrorist ties, despite the group’s endorsement by Republican and Democratic leaders, including President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

“We know [CAIR] has ties to terrorism,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and vice chairman of the party’s Senate conference. He also criticized the group for having “intimate links with Hamas.”

Late last year, Sen. Barbara Boxer withdrew a “certificate of accomplishment” that the California Democrat had awarded to CAIR official Basim Elkarra, citing concern over the group’s relationship with terrorist groups.

CAIR’s panel discussion in the Capitol will include Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, who will offer analysis of polls on Muslim-West relations conducted in 27 countries and two surveys in Iraq and Iran.

CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad will comment on his recent participation in an Organization of Islamic Conference meeting on Islam-West dialogue held in Turkey.

• Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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