When accusations first emerged that Steven Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) had an informant inside the Ohio office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), it was clear that the media had missed the story entirely. Instead of bemoaning “spying” by a “mole” inside the most high-profile Islamist group in the nation, the headlines should have read “Moderate Muslim Infiltrates Islamist Organization.”
The story was pretty straightforward. A Muslim named Romin Iqbal had given information about his employer to a think-tank founder and investigative journalist. But when Iqbal’s cover was blown, and he did what he had to do to avoid being exiled by his “community” (or worse), the Ohio media acted as though they had discovered and exposed a scandalous and potentially illegal espionage scheme, and then the national media followed blindly in their footsteps.
Rather than shunning and slandering Emerson for investigating CAIR (which in 2008 was characterized, in the Dallas Morning News, as having been a front for Hamas in 1993 and whose founding members included former members of the Islamic Association for Palestine, which funneled money to Hamas before disbanding in 2004), the Ohio press should be celebrating him. Rather than distorting Emerson’s record and accusing him of being an “Islamophobe” running a hate group, the lazy writers in Ohio and elsewhere should emulate him and do some research of their own.
Like newsreaders regurgitating the words that appear on a teleprompter, Ohio reporters mostly repeated what CAIR told them, sometimes going a half step beyond to quote the Clinton-Podesta outfit known as the Center for American Progress. Not a single Ohio reporter that I found seemed to have taken time even to look at Wikipedia to learn about “allegations of Islamist ties.”
And those ties are more than alleged. Though CAIR will smear as “Islamophobes” any who call attention to its checkered history, the government of one nation, the United Arab Emirates, designated it a terrorist organization in 2014. The Simon Wiesenthal Center put CAIR on its Global Anti-Semitism 2021 Top Ten list. According to the Independent Sentinel, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (presumably safe from the charge of “Islamophobe”) once asserted that CAIR’s co-founders, Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmad, had “intimate links with Hamas” and that “we know [CAIR] has ties to terrorism.”
Prominent CAIR members convicted of terrorism-related charges include Abdurahman Alamoudi, Bassem Khafagi, Ghassan Elashi, Muthanna al-Hanooti, Randal Todd Royer, and Nabil Sadoun. Others, like Siraj Wahhaj and Mousa Abu Marzook, are unindicted co-conspirators in terrorism cases; in fact, CAIR itself is listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest terrorism-funding case ever. And CAIR has long championed a number of terrorists, from Sami al-Arian to Aaifa Siddiqui (also known as “Lady Al-Qaeda”), the muse of Malik Failsal Aakram, who targeted Jews worshiping at a Texas synagogue earlier this month.
Even in identifying the two parties involved, one after another Ohio scribe was entirely uncritical about CAIR and libelous when it comes to Emerson and the IPT.
Sheridan Hendrix of the Columbus Dispatch called CAIR “a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization” and the IPT “a known anti-Muslim group.”
Emily DeLetter at the Cincinnati Inquirer called CAIR “a national nonprofit civil rights organization” and the IPT “a known anti-Muslim hate group.”
Tana Weingartner of WVXU, Cincinnati’s NPR affiliate, also called the IPT “a known anti-Muslim hate group” and added that Emerson is a “key misinformation expert” (a phrase she filched from the Center on American Progress).
Writing for Axios Columbus, Tyler Buchanan called CAIR “an Ohio Muslim organization” and stood out slightly from the rest of the “copy and paste” Ohio press by adding a veneer of objectivity identifying that the IPT is “considered to be an anti-Muslim group” (though he failed to indicate exactly who considers it so).
Maybe this flawed reporting is just an unfortunate side effect of the hollowing out of local news, which has hit Ohio as much as elsewhere. But readers expect better from a national publication such as the Washington Post. Unfortunately they would be disappointed to read the exposé published there by Michelle Boorstein and Hannah Allam, who engage in equally uncurious, lazy reporting of innuendo when it comes to IPT and Emerson and in uncritical, gullible, and evasive writing when it comes to CAIR.
Boorstein’s and Allam’s “scoop” is that the IPT had a “mole” not only in the Ohio office of CAIR but also in the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, where another moderate Muslim, Tariq Nelson, had infiltrated the infamous al-Qaeda-friendly mosque. They also allege that the Dar Al-Hijrah informant was compensated for his efforts, implying that paying informants (as law-enforcement agents and intelligence officers do all the time) is a grievous breach of ethics if not of law. But even the high and mighty New York Times acknowledges that “checkbook journalism” is acceptable when it’s “in the public interest” and when it “serves democracy.”
Their “exclusive” also included a new source, their own “mole” who used to work at the IPT and told them a tale of being “tricked into believing that we were working for a patriotic cause,” while merely “protecting a foreign government — Israel.” I wonder if Boorstein and Allam (or CAIR) paid this “informant.”
Boorstein and Allam make two erroneous assumptions: that investigative journalism is akin to government surveillance (a comparison they repeatedly make) and that there is something devious about a reporter researching Hamas “communicating with the Israeli government.”
They quote Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on the matter of “surveillance,” as he insinuates that Emerson’s investigation and tactics are tantamount to “spying on Muslims engaged in legitimate First Amendment activity.” Ellison is apparently unaware that the First Amendment applies to the press too.
On the matter of “communicating with the Israeli government,” when investigating Hamas and its front groups, who knows more than Israeli counterterrorism officials?
Like the Ohio scribes, Boorstein and Allam fail to mention important facts about CAIR, such as that the FBI cut off all relations with CAIR in 2009 because of its Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas connections, and that the Department of Justice reprimanded several FBI field offices in 2013 for failing to do so. Instead they simply refer to CAIR as “the nation’s biggest Muslim civil rights group,” while quoting a CAIR spokesman identifying the IPT as a “dangerous . . . Islamophobic group.”
Worse still, Boorstein and Allam refer uncritically to the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center simply as “one of the D.C. region’s largest mosques.” Talk about missing the story.
The Dar Al-Hijrah Center and mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, have a long and storied history of jihadi activity. Built in 1991 with Saudi money through the North American Islamic Trust (another unindicted co-conspirator), the deed to the property was signed by Jamal al-Barzinji (of Palestinian Islamic Jihad). The center’s founder was Ismail Elbarasse, a Muslim Brotherhood big shot who had in his possession the infamous 1991 memo documenting the Brotherhood’s plan to wage “civilizational jihad” against the U.S. (See the book on the topic by National Review’s Andrew McCarthy, and read the memo at the IPT website under “documents.”)
The Dar Al-Hijrah mosque has had one radical preacher after another leading Friday prayers. Anwar al-Awlaki was the imam in charge in the 9/11 era. He had everyone in government fooled, thinking he was a moderate, patriotic American Muslim, though the congregants who witnessed his fire-and-brimstone jihad hate sermons knew better. Meanwhile, he was aiding and abetting 9/11 hijackers and increasingly becoming al-Qaeda’s most successful recruiter. After his cover was blown, he decamped to Yemen to head al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). There he created the online magazine Inspire and recruited via YouTube. When Barack Obama had him taken out with a drone strike in 2011, he became the first American ordered by a president of the United States to be assassinated.
Johari Abdul-Malik, a Dar Al-Hijrah imam, was fond of calling for “sabotage” against Israel and once compared the Islamist call for jihad martyrdom to the U.S. Marines’ motto Semper fidelis.
Rounding out the plethora of fishy associates, Dar Al-Hijrah can boast of board member Abdelhaleem Ashqar (currently serving time for impeding an investigation into Hamas’s U.S. money-laundering operations) and connections with Hamas commander Mousa Abu Marzook. None of these facts made it into the Washington Post article.
In the distorted and bizarre world of Boorstein and Allam, the Muslims who infiltrated CAIR and the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque were “moles” who needed to be “uncovered” and “exposed.” I’d say they were heroes, a term applicable for any moderate Muslim willing to go undercover as an Islamist, penetrate the heart of al-Qaeda’s favorite American mosque or an American organization with historic ties to Hamas, and provide information to a think tank willing and able to do the work that the Department of Justice is too politicized to do.
So Bravo, Mr. Emerson, and bravo to the people still working at the IPT, both in the office and in the field, searching for tomorrow’s jihadi attackers, enablers, and financiers. It’s mostly thankless, and often dirty, dangerous work, but someone’s got to do it.
A.J. Caschetta is a Ginsberg-Milstein fellow at the Middle East Forum and a principal lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.