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A Closer Look at CAIR

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Editor’s note: The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been in the news heavily this week because of the organization’s role in getting Juan Williams fired from his NPR post over comments he made on Fox News’ “O’Reilly Factor.” In the July 2009 issue of Townhall Magazine, Robert Spencer wrote an exclusive, in-depth investigative piece about the shadowy group with very suspicious ties. Below is the full text of the piece titled, “Devil May CAIR.” Subscribe to Townhall Magazine today to get even more reporting and analysis like this.

“We are similar to a Muslim NAACP,” says the spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Ibrahim Hooper. The group says that its mission is “to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.”

Law enforcement officials all over the country have received sensitivity training from CAIR, and—up until October 2008, when the FBI belatedly and tentatively cut off cooperative efforts—the organization has been a key partner in the FBI’s attempts to reach out to Muslim communities in the United States. The mainstream media routinely seek CAIR out for a moderate Muslim perspective, despite the fact that led to the FBI’s decision to finally cut its ties to the group: CAIR was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), which was once the largest Islamic charity in the United States but has been shut down for funneling charitable contributions to the jihad terrorist group Hamas.

That unindicted co-conspirator status is just one aspect of CAIR’s dark side, belying its moderate pretensions. All those who love freedom and want to defend the United States should know about this dark side—and it should give pause to government and law enforcement officials who still work with this unsavory group.

In broad outline, CAIR’s dark side has been known for years. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said that CAIR is “unusual in its extreme rhetoric and its associations with groups that are suspect.” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said of CAIR that “we know it has ties to terrorism” and “intimate links with Hamas.” Schumer’s words have been proven correct.

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Bill Shuster said: “Time and again the organization has shown itself to be nothing more than an apologist for groups bent on the destruction of Israel and Islamic domination over the West.”

Of course, if Hooper or other CAIR officials were asked about such statements, they would probably characterize them as “hatred” and “bigotry.” But are these three elected officials merely purveying hatred and bigotry? Are these statements about CAIR false and defamatory?

The record points to no.


In June 2007, federal prosecutors named CAIR as a participant in what the New York Sun called “an alleged criminal conspiracy to support a Palestinian Arab terrorist group, Hamas.” This was when CAIR was first designated an unindicted co-conspirator for its support for the Holy Land Foundation. The federal prosecution document described CAIR as a present or past member of “the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee and/or its organizations.” The Muslim Brotherhood is the parent organization of both Hamas and al Qaeda.

That came as no surprise to counterterrorism expert Steve Emerson, who has called CAIR “a radical fundamentalist front group for Hamas.” And Steven Pomerantz, the FBI’s former chief of counterterrorism, stated long before the feds named the group an unindicted co-conspirator, “CAIR, its leaders and its activities effectively give aid to international terrorist groups.”

Another former FBI counterterrorism chief, John P. O’Neill Sr., died on 9/11 in the World Trade Center. His family has named CAIR in a lawsuit as having “been part of the criminal conspiracy of radical Islamic terrorism” responsible for the Sept. 11 atrocities.

Is all this just slander, as CAIR spokesmen would perhaps claim? No, it isn’t. The unindicted co-conspirator designation linking CAIR to funding for Hamas is by no means the first time CAIR and Hamas have been linked.


CAIR was founded in 1994 by Nihad Awad and Omar Ahmad. Awad had been the president of the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP) and Ahmad its public relations director. The IAP, which was shut down by the government in 2005 for funding terrorism, was founded in 1981 by a Hamas operative, Mousa Abu Marzook. Marzook currently heads Hamas’ “political bureau” and is engaged in negotiations with Fatah in hopes of forming a Palestinian unity government. In the course of these negotiations, Hamas reaffirmed its refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist—which is tantamount to vowing its total destruction.

According to a report dated Aug. 14, 2001, from the Immigration and Naturalization Services, the IAP was dedicated to “publishing and distributing HAMAS communiqués printed on IAP letterhead, as well as other written documentation to include the HAMAS charter and glory records, which are tributes to HAMAS’ violent ‘successes.’” The same report also stated that IAP had received “approximately $490,000 from Marzook during the period in which Marzook held his admitted role as a HAMAS leader.”

Emerson said that the IAP was Hamas’ “primary voice in the United States,” and another former chief of the FBI’s counterterrorism department, Oliver Revell, called the IAP “a front organization for Hamas that engages in propaganda for Islamic militants.” Nihad Awad stated in 1994 at Barry University in Florida: “I’m in support of the Hamas movement.” However, in the summer of 2006, Awad came under pressure for this in connection with his support for the campaign of Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison, who that November became the nation’s first Muslim congressman. Awad disavowed Hamas at that time.

Arguably, Awad and Ahmad left the IAP for CAIR because they had renounced the IAP’s view of Islam and jihad and had become moderates. If they did, however, they evidently still had some trouble distinguishing moderates from extremists, as the arrest records of some former CAIR officials show.


CAIR has insisted that its former employees and board members who are now doing hard time for terrorism charges were not employed with CAIR when they were involved in their illegal activities and that the organization can’t possibly be held responsible for everything done by anyone who was ever connected with the organization.

Very well. One inevitably wonders, however, how these men got their jobs in the first place. If CAIR is a moderate group that abhors all jihad violence, how did those former CAIR employees who are now in prison get through the interviewing process? The Islamic world is engulfed in an immense international upheaval, with millions of jihadists claiming to represent “true Islam” and recruiting among peaceful Muslims on that basis, and somehow that subject never came up when CAIR officials were getting to know Randall Royer or Bassam Khafagi or Rabih Haddad?

Randall Todd (“Ismail”) Royer was CAIR’s communications specialist and civil rights coordinator. He was part of the “Virginia jihad group,” which was indicted on 41 counts of “conspiracy to train for and participate in a violent jihad overseas.” They were accused of association with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a jihad terrorist group.

Matthew Epstein of the Investigative Project on Terrorism has reported that Royer helped recruit the other members of the Virginia group to the jihad while he was working for CAIR.

Royer was also among those charged in a separate indictment that said they conspired to help al Qaeda and the Taliban fight against American troops in Afghanistan. And Royer admitted to a grand jury that he had already waged jihad warfare in Bosnia and that his commander took orders from Osama bin Laden.

According to terrorism expert, author and columnist Daniel Pipes, “Royer eventually pleaded guilty to lesser firearms-related charges, and the former CAIR staffer was sentenced to 20 years in prison.”

Then there was Ghassan Elashi, the founder of CAIR’s Texas chapter. He was charged in July 2004 with giving Hamas more than $12 million while he was running the Holy Land Foundation. Elashi was convicted in November 2008 of providing material support to terrorism in connection with his role in the HLF. Elashi had already been convicted in July 2004 of illegally shipping computers to two state-sponsors of terrorism—Libya and Syria. And he was convicted in April 2005 of knowingly doing business with IAP founder and Hamas operative Marzook. Elashi was found guilty of conspiracy, money laundering and dealing in the property of a designated terrorist.

Bassem Khafagi was CAIR’s community relations director. He pled guilty in September 2003 to lying on his visa application and passing bad checks, and he was deported. Before he worked for CAIR, he was president of the Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA)—which is under investigation by the Justice Department for terrorism-related activities. According to court documents, the IANA was devoted to spreading “radical Islamic ideology, the purpose of which was indoctrination, recruitment of members and the instigation of acts of violence and terrorism.”

Rabih Haddad was a CAIR fundraiser who was arrested in December 2001 and deported. The charges were terror-related.


Maybe all these people had jihadist sentiments either before or after working for CAIR but were completely moderate while working for it. Maybe. But this is just part of the picture. CAIR is, evidently, a moderate group that has several one-time employees arrested on terror charges. It is a moderate group that came out of another group that has been identified as the “primary voice in the U.S.” of a terror group. It is a moderate group that traffics in legal threats and intimidation against those of which it disapproves.

This is also a moderate group that in 1998 demanded that a billboard be removed. CAIR found the billboard offensive to the delicate sensibilities of Muslims in America. According to Pipes, the billboard called Osama bin Laden, who at that time had already declared jihad against the United States, “the sworn enemy.” CAIR said this was insulting to Muslims. This is a moderate group that, according to its own Form 990 filings for 2003, invested $325,000 from its California offices with the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT). Newsweek reported that “NAIT money has helped the Saudi Arabian sect of Wahhabism—or Salafism, as the broader, pan-Islamic movement is called—to seize control of hundreds of mosques in U.S. Muslim communities.”

When they seize this control, what do they propose to do with it? And what is CAIR’s overall goal in the United States?

According to reporter Lisa Gardiner at the San Ramon Valley Herald, CAIR’s co-founder and former board chairman, Omar Ahmad, told a Muslim audience in 1998, “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran … should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on earth.” In 2003, when these words started to get publicity, Ahmad denied saying this. He denies he said it, and he denies that he believes this. However, the original reporter, Lisa Gardiner was contacted, and she stands by her story.

Nonetheless, Ahmad has denied saying or believing this in no uncertain terms. He evidently disagrees, therefore, with Ibrahim Hooper, who said in 1993, before CAIR was founded: “I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future.” Radio host Michael Medved told me that Hooper has repeated this sentiment on his show more recently.

Set aside both the alleged statement by Ahmad and the statement by Hooper. Look at what CAIR does, not what it says, and think about what might be the result.

CAIR has for years pursued a consistent policy of attempting to silence critics and those who say things about Islam and jihad that the organization doesn’t like. The group has carried out campaigns of intimidation against the late great radio commentator Paul Harvey, former Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., Daniel Pipes, columnist Cal Thomas, talk show host Michael Graham, National Review magazine, Fox’s fictional drama “24” and many others for statements about Islam and terrorism that they found offensive.

This campaign of intimidation has had its effect. Many mainstream media figures, even those who like to think of themselves as fearless conservatives, have not wanted to discuss the elements of Islam that jihadists use to justify their actions—even to help sincere Muslim reformers formulate positive ways to deal with those elements. They fear the wrath of CAIR.

CAIR was also involved in the notorious “Flying Imams” lawsuit. “The Flying Imams,” as they became popularly known, were six imams who sued US Airways in 2007 after they were removed from a flight for suspicious behavior. They also attempted—unsuccessfully, as it turned out, due to quick action by the then-Republican majority in Congress—to sue the passengers who reported them. If the Imams’ suit had succeeded, no one would have dared report suspicious behavior in an airport or airplane, for fear of being sued, and jihad terrorists would have had a free hand in American airports.

The lawyer for the Flying Imams was Omar T. Mohammedi, who as of 2006 was president of CAIR’s New York chapter.

If CAIR succeeds in smearing and silencing all those who dare to speak about the elements of Islam that jihadists use to justify their actions and who dare to call upon CAIR itself and other groups to go beyond vaguely-worded condemnations of terrorism to real efforts to teach against the jihad doctrine of Islamic supremacism in schools and mosques, what chance will Americans have to resist the spread of that doctrine?


CAIR wants us very much to believe that they abhor terrorism and stand together with non-Muslim Americans in resisting it. When asked whether they condemn terrorism, CAIR officials frequently point to the organization’s endorsement of a fatwa, or religious ruling, against terrorism issued July 28, 2005, by the Fiqh Council of North America, an 18-member board of Islamic scholars and leaders. The declaration received international publicity as one of the few instances after the Sept. 11 attacks in which Muslims unequivocally declared that those attacks were carried out in defiance of the principles of Islam.

The fatwa affirmed “Islam’s absolute condemnation of terrorism and religious extremism.” It declared that “Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism.” Foreshadowing the State Department’s 2008 guidelines directing American officials to refer to jihadists as nondenominational criminals or evildoers, it declared, “Targeting civilians’ life and property through suicide bombings or any other method of attack is haram—or forbidden—and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not ‘martyrs.’”

The Fiqh Council declared that “all acts of terrorism targeting civilians are haram (forbidden) in Islam.”

Unfortunately, this is not the unequivocal condemnation of jihad violence that many non-Muslim analysts have taken them to be. The chief weakness is that the Fiqh Council doesn’t define their terms. While non-Muslim Westerners may assume a particular meaning for “terrorism,” “innocent lives” and “civilians,” these are in fact hotly debated terms in the Islamic world.

For example, Anjem Choudary, a spokesman for a leading jihad group in Britain, told an interviewer that the victims of the July 7, 2005, bombings in London were not “innocent,” because they were not Muslims: “When we say innocent people, we mean Muslims. As far as non-Muslims are concerned, they have not accepted Islam. As far we are concerned, that is a crime against God. … As far as Muslims are concerned, you’re innocent if you are a Muslim. Then you are innocent in the eyes of God. If you are non-Muslim, then you are guilty of not believing in God.”

This argument is by no means uncommon in the Muslim world. According to a 2002 report in The Guardian, a Palestinian Arab jihadist expressed a similar sentiment in justifying attacks on Israeli civilians. “There are no civilians in Israel. All the Israelis are military, all of them,” he insisted. “They are all military, and they all have weapons and guns, and the moment they are called up, they are going to be using their weapons against me.” The Tunisian jihadist Rashid al-Ghannushi has issued a fatwa to the same effect, declaring, “There are no civilians in Israel. The population—males, females and children—are the army reserve soldiers, and thus can be killed.”

What’s more, this view—that there are no innocent civilians among Muslims’ perceived enemies—is not confined to some extremist Islamic fringe. The internationally influential Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has won praise from Islamic scholar John Esposito for engaging in a “reformist interpretation of Islam and its relationship to democracy, pluralism and human rights,” addressed the morality of suicide bombings against Israeli women and civilians thus: “Israeli women are not like women in our society, because Israeli women are militarised. Secondly, I consider this type of martyrdom operation as indication of justice of Allah almighty. Allah is just. Through his infinite wisdom he has given the weak what the strong do not possess and that is the ability to turn their bodies into bombs like the Palestinians do.”


The fact that a significant number of Muslims, including such high-profile figures as Qaradawi, hold such views illustrates the inadequacy of the statements issued by the Fiqh Council of North America.

Were the issuers of these statements and their supporters such as CAIR really trying to convince their fellow Muslims that contemporary jihad terrorism is illegitimate? If so, it was not enough to condemn “terrorism”—not enough, that is, if the council was trying to win over to their point of view people who don’t believe that what they are doing constitutes terrorism at all. It is not enough to condemn the killing of “innocent civilians” when the jihadists believe their victims are neither innocent nor civilians.

Moreover, CAIR officials have repeatedly declined to condemn Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups. Although they will issue such a condemnation when it’s politically necessary—such as Awad’s disavowal of Hamas during Keith Ellison’s election campaign—CAIR representatives really don’t like to speak ill of such organizations. When a reporter from the Los Angeles Times asked CAIR spokeswoman Munira Syeda to condemn Hamas or Hezbollah as terrorist groups, she responded, “I don’t understand what the relevance is.” In April 2007, I participated in a heated hour-long radio debate with CAIR’s Hussam Ayloush, during which I asked him repeatedly to condemn Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist groups. He refused.

For CAIR in general, it was a revealing, and emblematic, moment.

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