Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Meet With Terrorist-Run Pay-To-Slay Group


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“There’s no other conference like this,” the Coalition for Civil Freedoms (CCF) claimed ahead of its ninth annual Family Conference and Lobby Day in Washington D.C. last month. You can say that again.

CCF is a legal advocacy and support group founded by a convicted terrorist that functions as a de facto “martyrs fund” for American jihadists and their families. Would-be suicide bombers, terrorism financiers, and jihadist recruiters can rest easy knowing that CCF will pay their prison commissary and provide for their families should they end up on the wrong side of the law.

However, this “pay-to-slay” program doesn’t seem to alarm a handful of U.S. lawmakers and their staff — including the office of Democratic presidential frontrunner Sen. Elizabeth Warren — who welcomed CCF to Capitol Hill on October 28 and lent a sympathetic ear to this terrorist fan club and lobby group.

CCF spent three days grooming terrorist next-of-kin on how to effectively lobby Congress, before parading this delegation through the Capitol Building to meet with U.S. lawmakers and propose legislation. The Entrapment and Government Overreach (EGO) Rel͏i͏ef Act would deprive law enforcement of some of the most effective prosecutorial tools at their disposal, effectively prohibiting the use of undercover informants and decriminalizing material support for terrorism.

But that’s not the worst of it. “If the EGO bill passes, it may be possible to bring many, if not most, preemptive cases back into court to be reevaluated under the new standards imposed by EGO,” said Leena Al-Arian, CCF associate director and the daughter of CCF founder and President Sami Al-Arian.

Al-Arian has a personal stake in reversing terrorism convictions. He pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiring “to make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a Specially Designated Terrorist.” The former University of South Florida professor was later deported to Turkey, where he gave a speech in a 2018 calling the United States “our enemy.” Qatar, which consistently offers a haven to terrorist leaders from Hamas and the Taliban, continues to provide the elder Al-Arian a platform to demonize Israel and the West.

Although Al-Arian couldn’t join his daughter in Washington, authorities temporarily released accused Hamas leader Abdelhaleem Ashqar from house arrest so he could attend the CCF function. Ashqar was accused of being “a critical communication conduit for the Hamas enterprise,” and a 1993 FBI raid of his apartment turned up “a treasure trove of Hamas-related documents.” He served 11 years in prison for refusing to testify before a grand jury subpoena regarding Hamas activities in the United States, a sign of his continued loyalty to the foreign terrorist organization.

Other family members attended the lobby on behalf of their imprisoned loved ones. CCF coordinator Ashley Young, sister to former Metro Transit Police Officer Nicholas Young, was a part of the delegation. Her brother was sentenced to 15 years in prison for sending prepaid phone cards that he believed ISIS would use for jihadist recruitment.

Terrorism is a family affair for CCF board member Hawa Wehelie, who also attended the conference and lobby. Her brother, Yusuf Wehelie, was sentenced in 2017 to 10 years in prison for illegally transporting high-powered weapons. Her father was fired as an FBI linguist and charged with interfering in an investigation involving Al Shabaab militants, and another brother was placed on a no-fly list in 2010 for making suspicious trips to Yemen.

Besides Warren’s office, CCF met with North Carolina Rep. David Price (D) and possibly a handful of other lawmakers. Based on social media pictures, it appears that the Islamist coalition engaged with Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Roy Blunt (R-MO), or members of their staff. Another presidential hopeful, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), was photographed in June with CCF activists, who provided him a copy of their EGO bill.

This bipartisan group didn’t need to research terrorism case law to understand with whom they were consorting. CCF is composed of various Islamist factions that are demonstrably tied to jihadist organizations.

For instance, the Florida branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations is perhaps the most radical chapter of a nationwide extremist group acknowledged in civil court as a “terrorist supporting front organization.” In 2014, its Florida members held a pro-Hamas rally outside the Israeli consulate in Miami, where attendees shouted: “We are Hamas!” and “Hamas kicked your -ss!”

The Islamic Circle of North America’s (ICNA) Council for Social Justice also falls under the CCF umbrella. ICNA is the chief U.S. proxy to the violent South Asian Islamist movement, Jamaat-e-Islami, and one of its branches openly coordinated with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the terror group behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Another CCF subgroup, the Aafia Foundation, is solely committed to the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a former FBI most wanted terrorist widely known as “Lady Al Qaeda.” In seeking to secure her release, CCF is united in common cause with ISIS and the Taliban, which have bartered unsuccessfully to exchange Siddiqui for U.S. hostages.

Family members left to pick up the pieces following terrorism prosecutions have only one person to blame for their present circumstances: the convicted. But that’s not the way that CCF tells it, and far too many senior lawmakers are apparently willing to listen.

Ironically, Blunt co-sponsored the Taylor Force Act, a bill passed in 2018 that denies funding to the Palestinian Authority until it stops “paying monetary rewards to terrorists and their families.” It is time to demand the same from pay-to-slay groups at home.

Benjamin Baird is the coordinator for Islamism in Politics, a project of the Middle East Forum.

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