Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tariq Ramadan’s latest attempt to legally obtain a visa to the United States was denied on Sept. 24. This was not the first time that Mr. Ramadan — an Egyptian-born, Swiss citizen and the grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna — was barred from the United States On July 28, 2004, the Department of Homeland Security revoked Mr. Ramadan’s visa under the Immigration and Nationality Act. In that instance, while no specifics were given, Mr. Ramadan’s activities — lectures and writings in support of the Islamist agenda — were presumed the obvious cause.

According to State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus, Mr. Ramadan’s latest application for a visa was denied “based solely on his actions, which constituted providing material support to a terrorist organization.” However, Mr. Ramadan, an Oxford University fellow, claims that his contributions of $940 between 1998-2002 to the French-based Hamas front “Committee for Palestinian Charity and Aid” were legal, because the United States listed it as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” only in 2003. Nevertheless, the Palestinian charity (and its 17 aliases) at the same Lille, Lyon and Paris addresses, had already been publicly identified and designated by Israel as a Hamas front organization in May 1997. Indeed, Mr. Ramadan reiterated his commitment to Hamas saying: “If the price to pay for this commitment is to never to tread upon American soil, I am ready to pay that without the slightest hesitation.”

Mr. Ramadan, however, claims his funding of Hamas was just an excuse. The “Bush administration has barred me for a much simpler reason: It doesn’t care for my political views.”

In public statements from London, where he was appointed last year to the government’s “working group on tackling extremism,” and in an Oct. 1 op-ed in The Washington Post, Mr. Ramadan declared that unlike the enlightened Europeans who allow criticism, especially regarding the war on terrorism, “the U.S. government’s paranoia has evolved far beyond a fear of particular individuals and taken on a much more insidious form: the fear of ideas.”

Although the U.S. government barred him for his terror financing, his “ideas” and influence among Muslims are nothing to sneeze at.

Consider the following: On Dec. 8, 2005, the French prosecution of Chechen terror network chief Menad Benchellali revealed evidence of Mr. Ramadan’s links to terrorists in Europe. Benchellali had traveled to Switzerland “one or two times in 2000, to attend conferences on Islam provided by Tariq Ramadan.” Benchellali, who later planned chemical attacks in France “under the supervision of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi,” was sentenced in June to 10 years in prison.

Earlier, in March 2005, Algerian al Qaeda member Djamel Beghal received 10 years in prison in Paris for participating in a foiled terror attack on the U.S. embassy there. Beghal testified in September 2001 that “his religious engagement started in 1994,” when “he was in charge of writing the statements of Tariq Ramadan.” That October, Beghal added that he had also taken “courses given by Tariq Ramadan.”

Moreover, a 2001 Swiss intelligence memo said: “brothers Hani and Tariq Ramadan coordinated a meeting held in 1991 in Geneva attended by [al Qaeda leader] Ayman Al Zawahiri and Omar Abdel Rahman,” the imprisoned planner of the 1993 World Trade Center attack.

Spanish Judge Balatasar Garzon, whose investigations into the terror activities of the Algerian Ahmed Brahim, rendered a 10-year prison sentence in April 2006, reported Ramadan’s “routine contacts” with Brahim, the alleged financial chief of Al Qaeda in Europe and financier of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Mr. Ramadan denies these charges. But according to French terrorism expert Jean-Charles Brisard, Mr. Ramadan also “denied being a director of the Geneva Islamic Center, a position he still holds, according to the official Swiss register of companies.”

Mr. Ramadan’s activities do not stop in Europe. In 1995, when the Algerian Armed Islamist Movement (AIM) perpetrated several terrorist attacks in Paris, French Interior Minister Jean Louis Debre barred Mr. Ramadan at that time from France — based on his links to AIM. Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and his native Egypt also bar Mr. Ramadan from crossing their boarders. He is denied entrance to those countries, not for supporting Hamas or because he carries peaceful messages. They keep him out because of his links to and influence on radical Muslim groups.

Regardless, Mr. Ramadan’s popularity among the Europeans is growing fast. He was just nominated by the EuropeanVoice, a Brussels-based newspaper covering the European Union, for a Europeans of the Year Award in two categories: the Non-EU Citizen who “has had the biggest impact on the Union in 2006,” together with Bill Gates, Kofi Annan, Alan Greenspan and Mahmoud Abbas, and as European of the Year with the likes of Italy’s prime minister, Romano Prodi, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

So do not count Mr. Ramadan out, yet. The American Civil Liberties Union, which filled several lawsuits on his behalf, condemned the State Department’s decision, and said, “it was considering an appeal.” Stay tuned.

Rachel Ehrenfeld is director of the American Center for Democracy. Alyssa A. Lappen is a senior fellow at the American Center for Democracy.

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