Thursday, February 22, 2024

Hamas Backers Descend on Tampa

Opinion & InterviewOpinionHamas Backers Descend on Tampa

In the vibrant city of Tampa, Florida, the Hyatt Place Tampa Wesley Chapel is set to host an upcoming conference organized by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). When agreeing to host the conference, scheduled to take place this Saturday, the hotel was likely ignorant of ICNA’s many links to terrorism and the controversial behavior of the event’s leadership and featured speakers.

What were hotel officials thinking when they agreed to host this conference?

ICNA was founded in September 1968, incorporating the jihadist ideology of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the largest Islamist faction in South Asia. Since at least November 2000, ICNA has been both a “Partner” and “Donor” to Al-Khidmat (AK), a JI charity that has been a proud financier of Hamas and Hamas’s violence against Israelis. Today, one can find ICNA’s logo prominently located on AK’s homepage, under the section “Our partners/donors.”

ICNA’s Chief Information Officer, Amir Saeed, compared Israeli soliders to Nazi guards in a concentration camp in 2021.

Even more chilling is the fact that, for decades, ICNA has listed an alleged “death squad leader” from the 1971 Bangladesh genocide, Ashrafuz Zaman Khan, as one of its leaders. In November 2013, Khan was sentenced in Bangladesh – in absentia – to death for the murders of 18 individuals, whose lives were taken during the genocide. Following the atrocities, Khan served as Vice President of ICNA National and President of ICNA New York. According to Khan’s LinkedIn page, he is currently an imam for ICNA.

Further deepening the concern is ICNA’s promotion of Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), an alleged terrorist organization, in its materials and in at least one event organized by ICNA’s charity, Helping Hand. FIF has been designated by the United States government a terrorist organization and a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, the violent Pakistani group responsible for the 2008 Mumbai massacre. FIF has even been banned by Pakistan itself.

Additionally, in 2000, ICNA’s Southeast division placed hyperlinks on its website homepage to the official websites for Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Taliban. The division also posted a message on its homepage from then-ICNA National President Mohammad Yunus urging ICNA’s followers to provide “material support” to what appeared to be Chechen militants linked to al-Qaeda. Immediately following the message was a link to qoqaz.net (“Jihad in Chechnya”), a well-recognized financing and recruitment website for al-Qaeda.

These troubling connections extend to ICNA’s leadership, as well. Its Chief Information Officer, Amir Saeed – entrusted with shaping the organization’s message – has compared Israel to Nazis on his social media. ICNA’s Chief Operating Officer Abdul Rauf Khan has used his own social media to target Jews and gays and to glorify Hamas in the wake of the October 7 barbarism perpetrated by Hamas on Israeli civilians. Such figures at the helm raise serious questions about the organization’s true values and purpose.

The conference, ironically titled “Nourishing Hope, Fulfilling Lives,” will feature numerous extremists. They include Muslim activist Majed Mahmoud, who posted a video on his social media outrageously claiming that the rapes perpetrated by Hamas against Israeli women on October 7 never took place.

Also featured as a speaker at ICNA’s conference is ICNA Relief USA Southeast Regional Director Shamikh Sahadat, who, in May 2021, participated in an anti-Israel rally, where he repeated multiple times the Hamas call for Israel’s destruction. Sahadat, is also the proud student of Shafayat Mohamed, a South Florida imam who was kicked off numerous county boards for his bigoted rhetoric against the LGBTQ community.

Given the mountain of evidence against ICNA, its leadership, and the conference’s speakers, Hyatt Place Tampa/Wesley Chapel’s decision to allow the event to take place on its property is a grave misstep. The dangers posed by ICNA’s extremism cannot be swept under the rug.

After the atrocities committed on October 7 and FBI head Christopher Wray’s warning of imminent terror attacks in the US, there has been a public outcry from the community against several Islamist gatherings, citing security and terror threat concerns and leading to their cancellation. Most recently, a pro-Hamas conference to be hosted by a Coral Springs, Florida, Marriott was shut down, after concerns much like those regarding the Tampa Hyatt event were brought to the attention of hotel management.

What were hotel officials thinking when they agreed to host this conference?

Joe Kaufman is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and the Chairman of the Joe Kaufman Security Initiative.

Beila Rabinowitz, Director of Militant Islam Monitor, contributed to this report.

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