In July, the Obama State Department approved an extraordinary license for a newly formed U.S.-based organization, the Syrian Support Group, to raise money for Syrian rebels – overriding the administration’s own sanctions and Obama’s Executive Order against such activity.
To some counterterrorism and terror finance authorities in Washington D.C., this extremely rare privilege raises considerable concerns.
This is especially true because two related figures with the organization, Louay Safi and Mazen Asbahi, have previously been tied to terror fundraising efforts by Islamic organizations identified by the U.S. government in federal court as fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood.
One U.S. Treasury official specializing in terror finance said:
This license sets a dangerous precedent because it gives complete and perfect cover to virtually all of their activities. They can honestly say, “I can’t be fundraising for terror because I have a license from the State Department.” But we have absolutely no idea where that money is going once it leaves the United States. And as the Supreme Court recognized in a court case a few years ago, money raised for terrorist groups is fungible.
The situation in Syria is so fluid, we don’t have the slightest idea who is actually benefiting from this money being raised here, and anybody from the administration who says that they do is bald-faced lying.
The Syrian Support Group was incorporated in April 2012, according to records obtained from the District of Columbia Corporations Division.
On May 24, the group sent a letter to the State Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, and on July 23 that same office issued the license – a copy of which was obtained by The Blaze – allowing them to “export, reexport, sell, or supply to the Free Syrian Army (‘FSA’) financial, communications, logistical, and other services otherwise prohibited by Executive Order 13582 in order to support the FSA.”
The Free Syrian Army is affiliated with the Syrian National Council governed by that group’s military bureau, which is overwhelming dominated by Islamist groups, including the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The SNC’s political director, Louay Safi, used to be one of the top Islamic advisers to the Pentagon and was only one of two officials authorized to certify Muslim chaplains for the U.S. military services.
The attorney who actually incorporated the Syrian Support Group and applied for the State Department OFAC license was a Chicago attorney, Mazen Asbahi. When running for president in 2008, Barack Obama appointed Asbahi to head Muslim outreach for his campaign – a position he held for only a short period of time.
After his appointment, several media outlets noted that Asbahi had previously served as a board member of the Allied Assets Advisors Fund, a division of the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT). NAIT was identified by federal prosecutors as a front for the Muslim Brotherhood in the Holy Land Foundation trial in 2007 and 2008 and named unindicted co-conspirator in the case. Prosecutors entered into evidence hundreds of wire transfers showing that NAIT was actually the conduit used by the Holy Land Foundation to transmit millions of dollars to the terrorist group Hamas.
Also joining Asbahi on the board of Allied Assets Advisors was Jamal Said, a Chicago-area imam who was personally named unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land trial. A February 2004 article on the front page of the Chicago Tribune reports on Imam Said raising $50,000 in one night for Sami al-Arian, the head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in North America.
Asbahi came under fire when news of his leadership role with NAIT, his affiliation with Jamal Said, and his connections with other Muslim Brotherhood front groups was noted by several media outlets. While he claimed that he only served for several weeks with the NAIT organization (a claim he never provided evidence for) he nonetheless resigned his position with the Obama campaign, though he continued to work “unofficially” in support of Obama’s election.
Re-enter Louay Safi, the onetime Islamic adviser to the U.S. government and current political director of the Syrian National Council based in Doha, Qatar.
Safi’s relationship with the Pentagon ended in 2010 after it was revealed in media reports that he was teaching classes on Islamic theology to deploying troops headed for Afghanistan. What concerned some observers was Safi’s ties to terrorism, which included his being named unindicted co-conspirator in the Sami Al-Arian terrorism support trial, being caught on federal wiretaps in conversations with top terror officials, and having his office raided in 2002 by U.S. Customs in a wide-spread terror finance investigation.
Those revelations prompted 13 members of Congress to send a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates demanding an end to the use of Safi as an approved instructor. By year’s end, Safi’s role with the Pentagon had come to an end.
Less than two years later, though, Safi reappeared as the head of the Syrian National Council at a press conference held in Istanbul.
Which brings us back to the Syrian Support Group.
The fundraising efforts of the Syrian Support Group, incorporated by Mazen Asbahi, are directed exclusively to the Free Syrian Army, which is affiliated with the Syrian National Council, whose political director is Louay Safi.
Asbahi and Safi showed up together at the same White House meeting on June 29, 2011, according to White House visitor logs, just a few weeks prior to Safi appearing in Istanbul announcing the formation of the Syrian National Council? (Safi would visit the White House one more time before jetting off to Doha and Istanbul.)
And Asbahi would visit the White House again this past April, just days after the Syrian Support Group was incorporated. The meeting itself was scheduled after the group’s incorporation papers had been filed and just one day before they were approved by the District of Columbia.
That the Obama administration has turned to people and groups tied to the Muslim Brotherhood to arm the Syrian rebels attempting to overthrow Assad is problematic on its face. But other questions are also raised about the State Department giving the Syrian Support Group a carte blanche to raise funds without any substantive oversight of where those monies are going. Especially when at least two of the individuals involved have already been tied to terror finance support.
One concrete example of that problem was noted by the New York Times in August when it observed that the Syrian Support Group had failed to file its monthly reports with the State Department’s OFAC:
The group has not disclosed its fund-raising efforts so far, though its license requires it to report each month to the State Department how much it raises and sends. If the Internal Revenue Service approves the group’s status as a charity, donations to help Syria’s rebels could soon be tax-deductible.
Other critics have complained that the issuing of the license very well could violate international laws and treaties. International law expert Francis A. Boyle at the University of Illinois has said the Syrian Support group’s license violates, “the United Nations Charter article 2(4) prohibition on the threat and use of force in international relations and the basic principles of customary international law prohibiting the interference into the domestic affairs of another state.”
Boyle noted further the hypocrisy of some U.S. government officials, such as Sen. John Kerry (D, Mass.) who supported the issuance of the license but previously claimed that similar support for the Nicaraguan Contras during the 1980s was illegal.
Another layer of hypocrisy is revealed when it is considered that the State Department issued the license to an organization incorporated by Mazen Asbahi, whose ties to the Muslim Brotherhood had been reported several years ago, at the same time that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R, Minn.) and four of her congressional colleagues were being pilloried for raising the concerns of possible Muslim Brotherhood influence in the Obama administration.
A real question is raised: considering the vilification of Bachmann and her colleagues just a few months ago, will any member of Congress be willing to look into the Syrian Support Group’s fundraising for the Free Syrian Army and its lobbying in Washington D.C. on behalf of organizations heavily dominated by the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood?