Despite a previous denial, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – which regards itself as the leading U.S. Muslims civil rights group – participated in a three-day summit of members of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.
The evidence surfaced at the trial of the Texas-based Islamic charity Holy Land Foundation and five of its former organizers, who are accused of supporting Hamas. Prosecutors named the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.
According to Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism, FBI Special Agent Laura Burns testified Thursday that the “Nihad” listed in documents related to the 1993 meeting of Hamas members in Philadelphia was Nihad Awad.
CAIR is a spinoff of the defunct Islamic Association for Palestine, or IAP, launched by Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook and former university professor Sami al-Arian, who pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to provide services to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Awad served as the IAP’s public relations director.
Nihad Awad with then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush
Several CAIR staffers have been convicted on terrorism-related charges, and CAIR founder Omar Ahmad – also an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case – allegedly told a group of Muslims they are in America not to assimilate but to help assert Islam’s rule over the country.
In 2003, Awad was confronted about the Philadelphia meeting during a deposition for a civil rights lawsuit, the Investigative Project on Terrorism noted. Initially Awad said he didn’t think he attended, but when pushed, he replied, “I don’t remember.”
A videotape from a 1994 seminar at Miami’s Barry University captured Awad acknowledging, “I am in support of the Hamas movement.” CAIR officials have refused to condemn Hamas by name after it carries out a bombing attack.
The Philadelphia meeting took place just after a White House ceremony that formalized the Oslo Accords, which sought to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
FBI agents listened in on the meeting, the Investigative Project on Terrorism said, and concluded the two-dozen men present were Hamas members or supporters who sought to kill the peace accord.
The men tried to hide their true agenda, according to FBI reports, by agreeing not to use the word Hamas in private conversations.
Previously available evidence shows Awad was at the 1993 Hamas meeting, according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism. The idea for the meeting was discussed in a telephone call recorded by the FBI on Sept. 14, 1993 between Ahmad, then president of the IAP, Shukri Abu Bakr, president of the Holy Land Foundation and now on trial, and Abdelhaleem al-Ashqar, executive director of a Hamas-linked charity Al Aqsa Educational Fund.
The men mentioned “Nihad” in the conversation, referring to his work in “media.” At that time, Awad was the spokesman for the IAP. Abu Bakr refers to a Dallas Morning News story that quotes “Nihad.” On the day of the meeting the paper published a story that extensively quoted Awad.
Among other evidence was transcripts released in U.S. v. Marzook et. al. confirming “Nihad LNU (Last name unknown)” spoke at the Philadelphia meeting.
In March, the House Republican Conference urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to cancel an event hosted on Capitol Hill by CAIR, calling the group “terrorist apologists.”
CAIR’s regular meetings with the Justice Department and FBI have prompted complaints from case agents, who say the bureau rarely can make a move in the Muslim community without first consulting with CAIR, which sits on its advisory board.
CAIR has conducted “sensitivity” and cultural training with federal agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement and with the military. In June, a senior Department of Homeland Security official from Washington guided CAIR officials on a behind-the-scenes tour of Customs screening operations at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in response to CAIR complaints that Muslim travelers were being unfairly delayed as they entered the U.S. from abroad.
Last year, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., withdrew an award she gave to a local CAIR official, saying she was concerned about some statements by CAIR leaders.
CAIR says its aim is “to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.”