The main liaison between the U.S. government and the Syrian rebels has declined to answer the Clarion Project’s tough questions and that should be of concern to all Americans, no matter where one stands on American involvement. The Syrian Support Group originally granted us an interview, only to be denied once the questions were sent. Since then, we have found additional links between the group and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Syrian Support Group (SSG) says it stands for a “free, independent and democratic Syria.” It is acting as a go-between for the U.S. government and the Free Syria Army (FSA), a loose collection of Syrian rebel forces. It is passionately lobbying members of Congress to support U.S. military intervention and is based only blocks away from the White House.
Its website says it “is the only organization licensed by the U.S. government to provide financial and non-lethal support to the Free Syrian Army.” Last July, the State Department granted the SSG an exception to provide “services otherwise prohibited.” The first deliveries of U.S. aid to the FSA came through the SSG.
There is a power struggle between Islamists and moderates among the Syrian opposition. The Clarion Project reached out to the SSG to interview someone that could discuss this division. There has been tough criticism of those who support aid to vetted, non-Islamist elements of the FSA. The questions posed to SSG addressed this criticism. The result was disappointing to say the least.
On June 21, I emailed five questions to SSG Media Relations Director Dan Layman after he agreed to an interview. He changed his mind once he saw them. There was no answer. Finally, on July 3, I asked if I should jus state that the SSG is declining to comment. Layman said “that’s fair.”
These are the five questions that the SSG did not reply to:
1) What is the Syrian Support Group's link to the Free Syria Army?
2) How do we know that the FSA is genuinely moderate and non-Islamist? A journalist who spent the past six months with them says that 60% are fighting for an Islamic state.
3) Why won't the supplies that the U.S. provides the FSA fall into the hands of Islamist fighters like Jabhat al-Nusra?
4) What do you say about the concern that U.S. support for the FSA is paving the way for an Islamist takeover, like how the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt?
5) The chairman of the board of directors is Mazen Asbahi. In 2008, his U.S. Muslim Brotherhood linkages received some negative attention. For example, he used to be an official with Allied Assets Advisors, a group that has the same address as the North American Islamic Trust, a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity. Why should Americans look positively upon a group whose board chairman has those links?”
SSG chairman Mazen Asbahi briefly served as the Muslim outreach director of then-Senator Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. He resigned after reports surfaced about his involvement with the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood.
The Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report found that Asbahi was the leader of the Muslim Students Association chapter at the University of Michigan. He then joined the board of Allied Assets Advisors, a subsidiary of the North American Islamic Trust.
Both the Muslim Students Association and the North American Islamic Trust are listed as U.S. Muslim Brotherhood fronts in a 1991 Explanatory Memorandum that defined its “work in America as a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within.”
In addition, the federal government designated the Trust as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation for financing Hamas. The government labeled the Trust as a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity. The Holy Land Foundation was another Brotherhood front and five of its officials were found guilty.
Jamal Said is another unindicted co-conspirator that the federal government labeled as a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood member, specifically of its Palestine Committee that was set up to advance the Hamas agenda. Said was a board member on Allied Assets Advisors at the same time as SSG chairman Asbahi.
Said and his Islamist colleagues wrested control of an Illinois mosque from moderates and he raised tens of thousands of dollars for Sami al-Arian, the now-convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative. Said has also praised Muslim Brotherhood preacher Sayyid Qutb.
Asbahi says he resigned in 2000 immediately after he learned of Said’s involvement but two other trustees have been identified as Brotherhood members and remaining ones have significant ties to the Brotherhood network. He also had positions in several other other Brotherhood-linked groups, according to the Global Muslim Brotherhood Daily Report.
Asbahi’s Facebook shows his affection for the U.S. and international Muslim Brotherhood network. He “likes” Abdullah Ibn Bayyah, the terrorism-supporting Vice President of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. The body is led by Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousef al-Qaradawi.
He also “likes” Anwar Ibrahim, a Malaysian Islamist that has been defended by Qaradawi and who said in 2006 that his biggest spiritual influences are Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, Brotherhood preacher Sayyid Qutb and Jamaat-e-Islami founder Maulana Maududi.
His other “likes” include the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a U.S. Brotherhood entity and the President of the Islamic Society of North America, another Brotherhood entity. He also “likes” Islamist imam Zaid Shakir; Shakir’s Islamist-led Zaytuna College; the Brotherhood-linked Islamic Relief USA and former CAIR official Ahmed Bedier, who wouldn't condemn Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The SSG’s Vice Chairman is listed as Majd Abbar. His apparent Twitter page states he is in Doha, Qatar and leads the Arabic Language Technologies Initiative at the Qatar Foundation. The Foundation is closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Qaradawi.
The SSG says it hopes to “serve as a counter-weight” to the growth of Al-Qaeda in Syria and “will only provide financial support to military councils who have adopted the Free Syria Army’s Proclamation of Principles.”
However, it doesn’t rule out giving support to Islamists. WorldTribune.com reported in July 2012 that the SSG “said it would work to equip any rebel fighters, regardless of religion or organizational affiliation.”
“We consider every Syrian freedom fighter is an FSA member regardless of his/her military or civilian background,” the website quoted from a SSG statement.
As the only U.S.-based group to be licensed to materially support the Syrian rebels, the SSG should be held to a high standard. The questions posed by the Clarion Project are reasonable. The SSG’s fear of answering them should raise a red flag.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.