State Dept. Gives Pass to Islamist Imam – Vetting Process Broken

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The State Department has apologized for promoting an article on Twitter by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah, a Muslim Brotherhood-linked cleric. In the article, Bin Bayyah condemned Boko Haram’s kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian girls. The incident is another example of how the U.S. government’s vetting process is broken and its definition of “moderate” is too broad.

The story began when the State Department’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau tweeted out Bin Bayyah’s condemnation of Boko Haram, highlighting him as an example of a moderate Islamic leader that is taking a stand.

Bin Bayyah’s May 13 statement reads in part:

“We absolutely…assert that it has no religious or logical justification. We implore this group to return these innocent girls to their homes and families, and to desist from these vile acts that all revealed religions unite in prohibiting, especially Islam, whose image has been vilified and its sanctity violated at the hands of individuals who do not comprehend its reality nor consult its learned religious leaders.”

Appallingly, the State Department’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau was apparently unfamiliar with Bin Bayyah’s background and did not properly vet him before essentially giving him an endorsement. His article identifies him as the President of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies. The title sounds moderate, but the Islamists have different definitions of “peace.”

Bin Bayyah is the Vice Chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, which is led by the Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader, Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi. Al-Qaradawi also leads the Union of Good, a network of charities that the U.S. government blacklisted as a terrorist entity. Bin Bayyah, like Qaradawi, also supports Hamas and endorsed a 2004 fatwa justifying attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Bin Bayyah also opposes any normalization of relations with Israel, implying that he will settle for nothing less than its elimination. He wants the United Nations to outlaw “blasphemy,” meaning criticism of Islam. In summary, Bin Bayyah is a classical Islamist radical. All it took was a condemnation of Boko Haram for him to be embraced by the State Department.

But his influence in the Obama Administration goes even higher. On June 13, 2014, he visited the White House to meet with National Security Council members (including senior NSC director Gayle Smith) and, according to Bin Bayyah’s website, White House spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri and U.S. ambassador to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Rashad Hussain. His article originally claimed he met with National Security Advisor Tom Donilon but that was later removed.

The vetting process is clearly broken. It seems that any Islamist gets a pass as long as they condemn Al-Qaeda and vague terms like “terrorism.”

Last year, President Obama addressed the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). The event featured radical speakers and ISNA’s leadership is stocked with Islamists. The Justice Department labeled ISNA an unindicted co-conspirator in the terror0financing trial of the Holy Land Foundation and listed it as a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper met with ISNA on June 12, 2012 and then his office falsely denied it one month later.

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development had an Islamist advisor named Abed Ayoub, the CEO of Islamic Relief USA and a governance committee member of its parent group, Islamic Relief Worldwide. IRUSA has strong Muslim Brotherhood links and the Israeli government says IRW is linked to Hamas. In May 2013, Ayoub was given another two-year term as an advisor.

Reasonable questions were also asked about Huma Abedin, former-Secretary of State Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff. She worked for an Islamist journal, had several relatives involved in the Muslim Brotherhood and her husband later received a donation from an Al-Jazeera lobbyist in his bid to be mayor of New York City. Abedin also served on the Executive Board of the Muslim Students Association – a Muslim Brotherhood entity – at George Washington University.

The Department of Homeland Security has a senior advisor named Mohammed Elibiary that has met with relatives of Hamas leaders and has close links to the former leader of the Holy Land Foundation who was convicted of financing Hamas. He is a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and used to be an official of the  Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that the Justice Department also says is a Muslim Brotherhood entity and was labeled an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land trial.

The Department of Homeland Security recently relied upon Islamists and their apologists to review its counter-terrorism training guidelines. The results were predictably damaging and have grave national security implications.

Moreover, the problem cannot be attributed to a political party. The Islamists have also been vetted with the Republicans, as well. The administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a prime example, as is the tenure of the Bush Administration.

One of the most obvious reasons for Muslim Brotherhood involvement in the American political process is the fact that it is not designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, even though it fits the criteria. As a result, foreign clerics like Bin Bayyah and domestic organizations like the Islamic Society of North America are not immediately disqualified.

Intelligence expert Dr. Michael Waller explains that background checks today focus almost entirely on illegal activity. It is not illegal to be affiliated with the Brotherhood, nor is it illegal to espouse sympathy for Hamas and other radical causes.

The State Department’s tweet is an example of a bi-partisan pattern. It seems that Islamist associations and radical statements are not taken into account so long as they are legal. The criteria for being a “moderate” is limited to condemning the 9/11 attacks and Al-Qaeda and supporting elections.

This is about more than an ill-advised tweet. It’s about a broken vetting process and a view of the Islamist threat that is seen through rose-colored glasses.


Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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