Following the recent hostage-crisis at a synagogue in Texas, a significant amount of public attention has been placed on the Islamist groups and clerics committed to the release of convicted terrorist Aafia Siddiqui, in whose name the hostage-taker acted.
Media focus, however, has largely been centered on organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations and its partners. There are other unmentioned groups, however, equally deserving of the spotlight, and few more so than the Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA), located in Richardson, Texas.
Following Aafia’s arrest, the MLFA raised tens of thousands of dollars for her defense, and worked with the Pakistani government to provide Aafia with legal representation.
Aafia was not the MLFA’s only cause. Over the past 15 years, it seems that the MLFA has gone out of its way not to defend ordinary Muslims in legal trouble, but jihadists working to fund and conduct terrorist acts.
A History of Defending Terror
Muhammad Salah, whose legal defense was funded by MLFA, was arrested in 2004 following an indictment alleging he “participated in a 15-year racketeering conspiracy in the United States and abroad by joining with 20 identified co-conspirators and others in illegally conducting the affairs of the foreign terrorist organization Hamas.”
In 2006, MLFA also funded the defense of Hamid Hayat. Hayat was sentenced to 24 years of imprisonment “in connection with a series of terrorism charges related to his 2003/2004 attendance at a jihadi training camp in Pakistan and his 2005 return to the United States with the intent to wage violent jihad.”
In 2019, a federal judge vacated Hayat’s conviction. Journalist Lloyd Billingsley argues, however, that Hayat’s release “was not based on the facts as presented in 2006. It is based on a performance review of the very attorney Hayat’s supporters selected for him, and who denied responsibility for losing the case. The release of Hamid Hayat does not mean that Wazhma Mojaddidi won the case by default, or that Hamid Hayat did not send money to [Deobandi terrorist group] Sipah-e-Sahaba.”
In 2013, a Miami imam named Hafiz Muhammed Sher Ali Khan was convicted on all counts in an indictment charging him with “providing material support to terrorists, including the Pakistani Taliban.” Khan and his two sons reportedly conspired to support the Pakistan Taliban. According to U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer, “[Khan] acted with others to support terrorists to further acts of murder, kidnapping, and maiming.” Once again, the MLFA funded his defense.
In 2014, the MLFA “agreed to fund legal fees and expenses required to safeguard” Sami Al-Arian as he awaited deportation. The former University of South Florida professor pleaded guilty to a charge of “conspiring to provide services to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a specially designated terrorist organization” in 2006. Al-Arian was deported to Turkey in 2015, from where he has continued to coordinate a number of dangerous Islamist initiatives.
The MLFA does not pretend to be neutral party. Khalil Meek, then executive director of MLFA, declared: “We’re happy that charges against Dr. Al-Arian were finally dropped. Now, we need to make sure his legal and human rights are respected as he moves forward.”
These are not the only examples.
Reasserting its Extremism
Today, the MLFA remains a potent Islamist force. On December 18, MLFA celebrated its 20th anniversary and honored the life of its founder, Tarek Al-Kadri, at its annual gala.
The gala was available to the public as an online streaming event and the life of a man who worked his entire life to defend terrorists was, indeed, remembered honorably.
Speakers at the gala to honor Kadri included notable radical names such as Hatem Bazian and Omar Suleiman, and others.
Bazian is the founder and national Chair of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and an acting chair for the MLFA. He has long served as a prominent Islamist activist involved with an reported “support network” for the designated terrorist organization, Hamas, and is a virulent anti-Semite.
Suleiman, meanwhile, was the event’s keynote speaker. He praised Kadri as a “dear friend and brother.” Suleiman is the founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute, and no stranger to showing support for violent extremists. Recently, he “cheered” the early prison release of Ali Al-Tamimi, who was convicted in 2005 for “soliciting and engaging others to levy war against the United States and attempting to contribute services to the Taliban.”
Mohamedou Ould Slahi was another notable guest at the MLFA gala. He was once described as a “well-connected Al Qaeda operative,” who spent 14 years in US custody at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, where it is claimed he was tortured. In 2016, he was released and his memoir, Guantánamo Diary, become an international bestseller.
Coincidently, a now-defunct Islamist charity, the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), was also based in the same Dallas suburb of Richardson as the MLFA. Another special guest at the gala included Abdulrahman Odeh, one of the “HLF five” who was charged with helping funnel $12 million to Hamas, a designated terrorist organization.
MLFA represented Odeh and the other four defendants in the trial of U.S. v. [HLF] for Relief and Development, et al. In 2008, these defendants were found guilty on all counts of financially supporting terrorism. Odeh was released from prison on December 21, 2020. At the gala, he was touted as an individual who was “prosecuted for doing humanitarian work in Muslim-majority regions around the world.”
Odeh was the New Jersey representative of the HLF. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years for “one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization, one count of conspiracy to provide goods, funds, and services to a specially designated terrorist, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.”
MLFA staff appear to share the radicalism of its founder and the gala’s supporters. Senior MLFA official Ayman Aishat, for example, uses his social media to share videos that promote anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the “Rothschild Zionism Secret Regime in America” as well as posts that warn of the “worst characters” in human history, such as (imprecisely) “the Jew, Charles Darwin.”
In January, Aishat, along with MLFA CEO Arshia Ali-Khan, and the aforementioned anti-Semitic activist Hatem Bazian, took part in an interview with radical cleric Amjad Qourshah, whom the analyst Cynthia Farahat reports was “imprisoned in Jordan in 2016 for promoting jihadist propaganda” and, “in his lectures,” “has defended ISIS members as ‘decent men.’”
Since 2020, the MLFA – a registered nonprofit– has received over $450,000 in direct payments and loans from the federal government.
Should these terror support services be able to make use of the 501(c) system and benefit from the public purse?