Earlier this month, five Palestinian brothers were convicted in federal court of conspiring to use their Texas-based computer company to make illegal shipments of high-tech goods to Libya and Syria, two nations the State Department considers sponsors of terrorism. One of the brothers, Ghassan Elashi, the company’s vice president of international marketing, was convicted of three counts of conspiracy, one count of money laundering and two counts of making false statements about the shipments. Mr. Elashi, along with two of his brothers, also faces a separate federal trial on charges relating to business dealings with Mousa Abu Marzook, the deputy political leader of the terrorist organization Hamas. Mr. Elashi is also the founding board member of a Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) chapter in Texas, according to the Dallas Morning News. In February 2003, the Muslim Legal Fund held a fund-raiser for the Elashi brothers, hoping to raise $500,000 for their defense. As the Morning News reported then, two of the Fund’s board of directors had ties to CAIR.
In April, Randall Royer of Fairfax was sentenced to 20 years by a federal judge after pleading guilty to using and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony, reports Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum. (Mr. Pipes has been following many of the cases here related on his Web log, www.danielpipes.org.) Royer was arrested a year ago on charges of conspiring to join the Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, as well as weapons charges (an AK-47-style assault rifle was found in his car along with 200 rounds of ammunition upon his arrest). Royer had been CAIR’s communications director and civil-rights coordinator.
In September, Bassem Khafagi pled guilty to charges of making false statements on his visa application and bank fraud. He had been charged with funneling money to promote terrorist activities through the Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA), of which he was a founding member. The Washington Post reported in October that federal prosecutors described IANA’s objective as the “dissemination of radical Islamic ideology, the purpose of which was indoctrination, recruitment of members and the instigation of acts of violence and terrorism.” In January, the Syracuse Post-Standard revealed that Khafagi also had business ties to Rafil Dhafir, who has been accused of illegally sending money to Iraq. Dhafir is also a former vice president of IANA. Khafagi was sentenced to 10 months in prison and deported to Egypt. At the time of his arrest, Khafagi was a community affairs director of CAIR.
Last July, Rabih Haddad was deported to Lebanon after being arrested and held by federal agents during a raid on the Global Relief Foundation, which billed itself as a charitable organization. According to the Treasury Department the organization “has connections to, has provided support for, and has provided assistance to Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda network, and other known terrorist groups.” A co-founder of the Global Relief Foundation, Haddad was also a fund-raiser for the Ann Arbor CAIR chapter. Following the September 11 attacks, CAIR had a link on its Web site for persons to donate through the Global Relief Foundation. After federal agents shut down Global Relief in December 2001, CAIR removed the link from its Web site, according to Frontpagemag.com.
Also in December 2001, federal agents shut down the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, an Islamic “charity,” for raising millions of dollars for Hamas. In the aftermath of September 11, CAIR featured the Holy Land Foundation on its Web site. The Holy Land Foundation was founded by Hamas deputy Marzook (who is now believed to be in Syria). Ghassan Elashi was once its chairman.
Considering all of the above, it’s little wonder that a cloud of suspicion has hung over CAIR since September 11. The Washington-based organization, which has described itself as a “Muslim NAACP,” does itself no favors by failing to condemn these criminals when they are convicted; indeed, in numerous cases, it has continued to actively defend them. After the Elashi convictions, for example, Khalil Meek, who serves on the board of directors of the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of CAIR, said: “We believe that these convictions indicate a growing disparity and climate of injustice for Muslims, who we feel are being selectively prosecuted and given unfair sentences precisely because they are Muslim or Arab … This is not justice.” CAIR also labeled the government’s handling of the Royer case “draconian.” Such statements are part of CAIR’s dishonest campaign to create the sense of a widespread inquisition against Muslims and Arabs in America that simply doesn’t exist.
We understand that no organization can be responsible for the independent actions of its officials or affiliated members. To its credit, CAIR has denounced terrorist acts, most recently the beheadings of two Americans in Iraq. At the same time, the examples cited above reveal some unsettling connections between certain CAIR officials and extremist groups that demand at a minimum an internal investigation. The federal government has not yet turned its “draconian” reach on CAIR directly, and at this point we are not prepared to ask it to do so. For now, it would be better if CAIR itself began a conscientious and deliberate effort to purge members it believes have terrorist ties and to thoroughly condemn those already convicted.