JERUSALEM – The former director of Muslim outreach for President Obama’s 2008 campaign now is raising money for a charity in the U.S. to fund the jihadist-tied Syrian opposition.
Mazen Asbahi, a Chicago lawyer, resigned from Obama’s first presidential campaign after the Wall Street Journal reported that he sat on the board of an Islamic investment group called the Allied Assets Advisors Fund. Also on the board was Jamal Said, an unindicted co-conspirator in the prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation, the Texas-based group that raised millions of dollars for the Hamas terrorist organization.
The Allied Assets Advisors Fund was itself a subsidiary of the North American Islamic Trust, which is directed by the Islamic Society of North America, or ISNA.
ISNA was established in 1981 by activists from the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Muslim Students Association. ISNA was also named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land terrorism financing case.
ISNA was the subject of a terrorism investigation in December 2003 by the Senate Finance Committee, which looked into possible links between nongovernmental organizations and terrorist financing networks.
The official court documents in the Holy Land case named ISNA among “entities who are and/or were members of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood.”
Now Asbahi is back in the spotlight as the lawyer for the Syrian Support Group, which is raising money to fund the rebels attacking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Earlier this year, Asbahi applied to the U.S. government for a license to fund the Free Syrian Army.
There have been scores of reports worldwide that al-Qaida and other jihad groups are among the ranks of the Free Syrian Army. It is well established that jihadists dominate the Syrian opposition and various Free Syrian Army branches.
Asbahi’s Syrian Support Group boasted on its website that it received “a license from the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Asset Control that permits the organization to raise funds and provide certain services to the Free Syrian Army.”
The group says it is raising funds in the U.S. to provide “certain logistical, communications and other services to the [Free Syrian Army].” It defines the Army as “a coalition of affiliated armed rebel groups operating in Syria.”
Brian Sayers, director of government relations for the Syrian Support Group, admitted in an NPR interview that the money raised by his organization will go to weapons purchases as well.
“Yes,” he said when asked about weapons. “Weapons are going to be a part of the process, because if they’re going to set up safe zones for the Syrian citizens … those safe zones have to be defended.”
The Syrian Support Group addresses concerns on its website about whether some of the money it raises will go to al-Qaida organizations fighting with the Free Syrian Army.
“SSG acknowledges reports of increasing Al-Qaeda and other extremist activity within Syria. SSG hopes to serve as a counter-weight to this development and will only provide financial support to military councils who have adopted the Free Syrian Army’s Proclamation of Principles.”
The proclamation outlines the FSA’s commitment to a democratic Syria and also to “fight if necessary to end the tyranny and dictatorship of the Assad regime.”
The Free Syrian Army received a major diplomatic boost last week when Obama recognized the affiliated leading Syrian opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of Syria in the place of Assad’s regime.
With additional research by Brenda J. Elliott and Joshua Klein.