The Biden administration handed out over $5.1 million in grants and contracts to radical organizations during 2021, including over $1.5 million to a network under scrutiny from federal agencies for its ties to overseas terrorist organizations, the Middle East Forum (MEF) has uncovered.
Cross-checking over 5,000 organization names against the government’s federal spending dataset, and excluding two million dollars of COVID funding released by the Small Business Administration (which was distributed blindly), MEF obtained and reviewed almost 1,700 grants to Islamic organizations around the world, worth a total of $240 million.
From 2007 to the present, almost $70 million of this funding ended up in the coffers of institutions MEF identified as Islamist-controlled.
Under the Biden administration, the most alarming grant is $50,000 from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD), the humanitarian aid arm of the Islamic Circle for North America (ICNA) and seemingly one of the most dangerous Islamist charities in the United States.
In 2017, HHRD openly partnered with the designated Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which carried out the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks, in which 166 were murdered.
Another $1.5 million was handed out by three federal agencies to HHRD’s sister organization, ICNA Relief.
Both HHRD and ICNA Relief are listed by the violent South Asian Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami as donors to its welfare arm, Al-Khidmat Foundation, which is closely involved with the Kashmiri jihadist organization Hizbul Mujahideen, and which proudly boasts of funding Palestinian terrorist group Hamas for its “just jihad.”
In March 2022, citing MEF research, three members of Congress wrote to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, warning about the danger posted by HHRD. They noted that, in 2019, an “organizer of an ICNA/HHRD fundraiser was convicted of lying to the FBI as part of a terror finance investigation.”
That same month, a lawsuit against the U.S. government revealed that a senior official of HHRD had been questioned by Customs and Border Protection officers about his work with the charity.
Plenty of other troubling recipients appear in the government’s own data. Over $274,000 from the Food and Nutrition Service was given to the Islamic Center of Detroit, a mosque with a history of giving platforms to radical preachers.
In 2020, MEMRI reports, the Center’s imam, Achmat Salie, expressed conspiracy theories about Israeli technology, denounced presidential candidates as “puppets of the Zionists,” and claimed the existence of a plot to infect Muslims with COVID.
$145,000 was given to the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society, whose imam, Abdelmohsen Abouhatab, has denounced Jews as the “vilest people.”
And $210,000 was handed out to a New York branch of the Muslim American Society, which was named by federal prosecutors in 2008 as the “overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States.”
In 2019, the Philadelphia branch of MAS hit the headlines after it organized an event featuring songs about torturing and beheading Jews.
There are other worrying organizations among the recipients. But of those presented, the figures may not be the final amounts.
While examining the data, a number of grants to a radical organization totaling millions were initially present in the federal government’s dataset but subsequently disappeared; perhaps mistakenly removed, or perhaps mistakenly uploaded in the first place. Conversely, frequent duplicates show up in the spending data, and so exact total amounts must be taken with a pinch of salt.
Nonetheless, it is striking that the total amounts provided to domestic Islamists by the federal government in 2021 are still less than were handed out under the Trump administration in each of the previous three years.
In addition, Islamist organizations that enjoyed significant funding under the previous administration are noticeably absent from the list of federal grantees since Biden took office.
For example, between December 2016 and 2020, $175,000 was provided to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and one of its branches.
CAIR, one of the most prominent Islamist groups in America, was blacklisted by the Obama administration’s Justice Department in 2009 because of its close relationship with the the Holy Land Foundation, a major terror finance organization shut down by the government.
Similarly, between 2015 and 2019, the federal government handed out over $2 million to branches of Islamic Relief, the leading charitable arm of Muslim Brotherhood branches across the globe.
Since a December 2020 press release by the U.S. Department of State noting the charity’s “blatant and horrifying anti-Semitism and glorification of violence,” no further grants have apparently been approved.
However, there is in fact little reason to presume that the new administration is actively pursuing an anti-Islamist model in its federal funding of Muslim organizations.
Islamist groups are still receiving huge amounts of money, and the total lesser amounts provided could be merely because of unreported or misreported data; or perhaps the new administration’s efforts to determine its new partners and priorities, as well as world events, are keeping spending muted or focused elsewhere.
Another possible reason for the seemingly reduced amounts of taxpayers’ money provided to Islamist groups is the strong split among American Islamists over partnership with the Biden administration, with Qatari and Turkish-backed groups accusing the administration preferred Islamic intermediary, Emgage, of working to advance Israel’s interests.
Whatever the explanation, as programs such as the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (a rich source of funds for Islamist organizations over the years) continue to distribute more funding, it seems inevitable that additional Islamist groups will show up in finance data over the next few years as beneficiaries of the taxpayers’ largesse.
All sides of the political spectrum have enabled this funding of extremism. It is difficult to imagine, however, that the federal government could ever be well-equipped enough with the research and legal justifications to make better choices: coming up with a model to discriminate against Islamist organizations while continuing to partner with reformist and moderate Muslims is a difficult and problematic task.
Undoubtedly, there are also problems with federal funding within other religious communities as well. One solution, loathed by both the Left and Right and complicated by decades of legal rulings on the subject, might be for government to stop funding religious organizations entirely. This seems an entirely improbable policy change, given the legal overhauls first required; and yet, seemingly, it is the only option in the long run that could possibly work.
Sam Westrop is director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum