On January 1, President Trump tweeted that Pakistan gives “safe haven to the terrorists.” The State Department subsequently suspended over a billion dollars of security assistance and military funding to the country. The suspension of this aid is both welcome and long overdue. For decades, elements within Pakistan’s government have openly supported America’s most virulent enemies, including funding and training the Afghani Taliban and sheltering Osama bin Laden. Today, the country continues to provide support and sanctuary for the perpetrators of terrorist attacks against the U.S. and its allies. But if the Trump administration is determined to cripple Pakistan’s support for Islamist terror, it cannot limit its focus to South Asia; it must also confront Pakistan’s Islamist proxies in the U.S.
One of the most important Islamist networks running America’s Muslim communities today is Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). Founded in British India in 1941 by the prominent Islamist theorist Abul Ala Maududi, JI maintains branches in dozens of countries across the globe. In 1971, JI terrorists helped Pakistani forces murder hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis fighting for freedom from Pakistani rule. In the decades since, JI has been complicit in violence across the subcontinent. As a result, the U.S. government has designated the head of JI’s paramilitary wing in Pakistan and Kashmir, Syed Salahuddin, as a “global terrorist.”
Despite JI’s violence, its front groups in America have flourished — enjoying partnerships with government, praise from politicians and journalists, and funding from prominent charitable foundations.
One of the most important American JI organizations is an international aid charity named Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD). Founded in 2005, HHRD was annually raising an astonishing $40 million by 2015.
HHRD is openly connected to terror. In December 2017, HHRD organized a conference at a government-run college in the Pakistani city of Timergara. Other organizations sponsoring the event included the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation and the Milli Muslim League, the charitable and political wings respectively of the notorious Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba. In 2016, the U.S. government designated the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation as a terrorist organization. Today Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba and the mastermind behind the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks, lives freely in Pakistan, despite a $10 million U.S. bounty.
When HHRD is not meeting with designated terrorist organizations, it can usually be found partnering with JI charities that are also closely linked to terrorism. Another sponsor of the HHRD conference in December was a Pakistani charity named Al-Khidmat, which is the main charitable wing of JI. According to the Indian BBC journalist Subir Bhaumik, Al-Khidmat “aids militancy and helps to support the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Jamaat’s armed wing and other groups.” In 2006, JI announced that Al-Khidmat sent 6 million rupees ($100,000) to Hamas for their “just Jihad.” HHRD is currently working with Al-Khidmat on a number of projects.
But HHRD is not just connected to JI through charitable partnerships and conferences. A look at HHRD’s American staff and officials reveals that they openly identify as JI operatives.
Mohsin Ansari, for example, is the chairman of HHRD. He is an alumnus of Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami’s branch in Pakistan. Today he runs a “networking” group for its graduates in the United States. Ansari frequently promotes JI on his Facebook account, attends JI rallies and events in America, Europe, and Pakistan, and has approvingly shared photos of Jamaat-e-Islami rallies in Pakistan at which the crowds wave placards reading: “Death to Israel. Death to America.”
Ansari also devotes dozens of Facebook posts to praising JI terrorist operatives convicted for their roles in the 1971 mass killings, claiming that the “Pakistani nation will remember these heroes for centuries to come.” He even boasts of meeting with the son of a JI war criminal, Motiur Rahman Nizami, whom Bangladesh’s International War Crimes Tribunal convicted of genocide, rape, and torture, and who was subsequently executed for his crimes. But Ansari assured his Facebook followers that the war criminal Nizami had been a mujahid [holy warrior] and remains a shaheed [martyr].
Ansari’s social-media accounts are replete with extremist rhetoric and praise for other Islamist causes. He has frequently expressed support for Turkey’s Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, at one point exclaiming that Erdoğan’s party, the AKP, is in power despite the “power brokers of the world, the liberal anti Muslim media headed by Jews.”
HHRD’s CEO, Raza Farrukh, also openly affiliates with JI. While serving as the head of HHRD, he took pride in meeting with JI’s Pakistani deputy leader Khurshid Ahmad at a meeting in Pakistan organized by HHRD’s partner, Al-Khidmat. Ahmad has previously described the Taliban as “refulgent and splendid” and has written about the “implication of Europe’s being in the clasp of Jews.”
Despite its partnerships with terrorist organizations and its officials’ promotion of extremism, HHRD has long enjoyed non-Muslim support. HHRD reveals that its donors include the British government, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization, and prominent American corporations such as Microsoft, Cisco, PepsiCo, and Dell.
Despite its partnerships with terrorist organizations and its officials’ promotion of extremism, Helping Hand for Relief and Development has long enjoyed non-Muslim support.
Brochures published by the State Department laud HHRD as an important American Muslim charity. In 2013, HHRD announced that it had been named one of the “top ten” charities in America. That same year, the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management informed HHRD that it would be included on the government’s Combined Federal Campaign list, a workplace-giving program that enables federal-government employees to donate from their salaries to HHRD.
HHRD is not the sole JI organization operating in America. It is just one component of a powerful network of JI groups coordinated by an organization named the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA). ICNA has openly identified itself as a JI organization on a number of occasions. Other ICNA-run organizations include another aid organization named ICNA Relief (formerly run by HHRD chairman Mohsin Ansari) and a youth wing named Young Muslims.
Since ICNA’s founding in 1968, its leaders have included Ashrafuzzaman Khan, who during the 1971 Liberation War in Bangladesh served as commander-in-chief of a JI militia group. In 2013, Bangladesh’s International War Crimes Tribunal found Khan guilty of abducting and murdering 18 Bangladeshi intellectuals. Khan was sentenced to death in absentia for his role in the genocide.
These ties to war criminals are enduring. In 2016, HHRD chairman and former ICNA Relief head Mohsin Ansari revealed that ICNA and its offshoots were asked to organize funeral prayers for the aforementioned JI war criminal, Motiur Rahman Nizami.
ICNA and its offshoots also promote extremism at home. Its annual symposium in Chicago is one of the largest conferences in the American Muslim calendar. The conference frequently features JI operatives and some of America’s most extreme and bigoted Muslim clerics. ICNA’s youth wing, Young Muslims, operates in mosques all across America and teaches extremist Islamist tracts to Muslim youth.
In spite of its extremist associations, in 2016 ICNA received a grant of over $1.3 million from the Department of Homeland Security. ICNA Relief is also included in the U.S. government’s workplace-giving program. Moreover, as I have previously noted for National Review, other JI front groups in Pakistan have secured another $2 million in U.S. government grants since 2013.
There is no doubt that HHRD, ICNA, and their various offshoots are proxies for Jamaat-e-Islami. The U.S. government’s designation of JI’s military wing as a terrorist organization also leaves no doubt that JI is a violent Islamist network. Its front groups in the subcontinent and the West are funding Hamas, working with designated terrorist groups, instilling Islamist ideas in young western Muslims, usurping the leadership of American Muslim communal institutions, and using charitable giving to sanitize JI’s reputation and further its pernicious agenda.
The government’s decision to cut support for duplicitous Pakistan is an important step towards confronting Islamist terror. But for these efforts to be truly effective, the administration’s attention must now turn to the lawful Islamist networks that openly support foreign terrorist organizations and foment extremism from the comfort of their 501(c)(3)s in the United States. These proxies have operated with impunity for decades under the patronage of America’s indifferent corporate foundations and witless public officials. It’s time for a change.
— Sam Westrop is the director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.