- - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Both gunmen identified in the May 3 attack against the “Draw Muhammad” event at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, attended the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, according to news reports. Elton Simpson and his roommate, Nadir Soofi, both were known to mosque leadership dating from 2006, although Usama Shami, chairman of the mosque’s board of trustees, claimed they stopped attending recently.

Interestingly, the imam at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix (ICCP) is Sheikh Mahmoud Abdul-Aziz Ahmad Sulaiman, one of the so-called “flying imams,” who filed suit in March 2007 against US Airways officials for allegedly showing discrimination in removing them from a flight after the imams’ suspicious behavior raised alarm among crew and passengers. That behavior included loud praying at the gate area prior to boarding, refusal to sit in assigned seats, requests for seat belt extensions that were unnecessary and unused, and travel on one-way tickets with no checked baggage.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which was demonstrated in federal District Court to be affiliated with Hamas (the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a designated terrorist organization as listed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), and its attorney, Omar Mohammedi, a former president of CAIR’s New York chapter, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the six imams, including Imam Sulaiman.

The Egyptian-born Imam Sulaiman has served since 2002 as the imam at the ICCP, which was founded in 1982 and received its tax-exempt 501(c)3 status as a religious establishment. The ICCP website openly identifies the mosque as Shariah-compliant, with reference on its donations page to paying the “zakat,” an obligatory annual tax for all Muslims that is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and of which one-eighth must go to support jihad. According to its website, the ICCP’s property is owned by the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT). The trust is yet another Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, as confirmed in a 2009 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Dallas Division, which identified the trust as a Hamas associate.

Imam Sulaiman is a member of the Washington, D.C.-based North American Imams Federation, whose board of trustees include the Jordanian-born Imam Omar Shahin (another of the so-called “Flying Imams” and former imam of the Islamic Center of Tucson, Ariz.) and Imam Siraj Wahhaj, whose name appeared on a U.S. government list of unindicted co-conspirators for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Imam Sulaiman is a 1992 graduate of the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, where he received his doctorate with a specialization in the hadith, the accounts of the life and deeds of Islam’s founder, Muhammad. He memorized the Koran at the age of 11 and overall, has spent some 33 years in the study of Islam. Given this background, Imam Sulaiman is a very senior cleric, whose authority projects influence in the Phoenix area. Unfortunately, in April 2004, when Zuhdi Jasser, the founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, organized a Muslim Rally Against Terrorism, Imam Sulaiman and other imam members of the Valley Council of Imams refused to lend their support because they refused to condemn terrorism in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Although not yet confirmed, it’s likely that the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix was the mosque where Texas gunman Elton Simpson, born in 1991 in Illinois before moving to Phoenix, was converted to Islam, reportedly while attending high school, 2005-09. It was, however, about 2006 when he began discussing the Muslim’s obligation to engage in jihad in telephone conversations recorded by the FBI. Due to the court’s apparent ignorance of the fact that the only kind of jihad discussed anywhere in Islamic Law is “war against non-Muslims,” the government failed to convict him of anything beyond making a false statement about his intention to go to Somalia to participate in jihad. Further, according to published media reports, it was in 2006 that Usama Shami, the ICCP mosque president, dates his own relationship with Simpson, who would have been converted to Islam at about that time.

The Islamic Community Center of Phoenix’s Facebook page has posted links to both the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Muslim American Society and the Islamic Community Center of Tempe (or Tempe Masjid). Although not an event linked by the ICCP, the Tempe Masjid’s Facebook page currently contains an announcement for a May 15-17 course titled “Dawn of Mercy: The Messenger in Mecca.” One of the featured speakers for that event is Siraj Wahhaj, whose name appeared on a U.S. government list of unindicted co-conspirators for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Finally, in April 2015, Imam Sulaiman figured among other local imams who condemned the Islamic State and its barbarity as somehow divorced from Islamic doctrine and singled out Fox News, which he claimed was “paid to create an animosity between people.”

At least in the case of these two jihadi gunmen, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, the formative influence of a mosque like the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix and its clerical leadership must not be overlooked, especially when their affiliations, leadership and programs are as troubling as these.

Clare M. Lopez is vice president for research and analysis at the Center for Security Policy.

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