(RNS) — A Muslim American civil rights advocacy group is claiming the Investigative Project on Terrorism targeted African American Muslims and the organizations that worked with them in a multi-year effort.
The Council on American Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim civil rights group, is currently conducting an ongoing internal investigation over claims it was spied on by the D.C.-based Investigative Project on Terrorism. Last month, CAIR said its longtime officer of a Ohio chapter of the organization, Romin Iqbal, had admitted to providing information to IPT in an incident that CAIR described as “spying.”
In a press conference on Wednesday (Jan. 12), CAIR revealed a second IPT informant, Tariq Nelson of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, one of the D.C. region’s largest mosques.
In a Jan. 11 statement, Nelson said he accepted $3,000 a month from IPT to provide information on Muslim Americans from 2008 to 2012. Nelson admitted he agreed to undertake the work for largely financial reasons, having personally been hit by the 2008 economic recession. Nelson, an African American Muslim, said he was approached directly by Steve Emerson, the founder of IPT, to provide information on CAIR activities.
Although not in an official leadership position, Nelson was a volunteer at Dar Al-Hijrah, working with youth and publicly promoting Islam, according to The Washington Post. Nelson came forward after CAIR after feeling guilty about his past activities.
CAIR said Keith Ellison, one of America’s most prominent African American Muslims, was a “main target” of IPT efforts. Nelson said he provided IPT with an audio recording of then-Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) in 2010. That recording later emerged during Ellison’s campaign to become the chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
In the controversial recording, Ellison voices skepticism of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, saying it “is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people,” in reference to the state of Israel.
Ellison, who was the first Muslim to be elected to the U.S. Congress, is now the attorney general of Minnesota. Ellison dismissed the recording at the time, stating it was accurate but had been taken out of context.
CAIR also shared screenshots of what it said was a leaked internal email that showed an interest in efforts to discredit the Muslim Alliance of North America, a leading African American Muslim organization. The authenticity of those screenshots could not be verified.
“I would like to take this opportunity to call on the Justice Department, the FBI, on the U.S. Treasury to hold Steven Emerson and the investigative project accountable,” said Nihad Awad, the executive director of CAIR, during the press conference.
During the press conference, CAIR accused IPT of working in league with Israeli officials during some of their activities. CAIR provided alleged email screenshots, which appear to show Israeli officials asking for information about the views of various groups toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the parties involved. One email pertains to Boko Haram, a Nigerian terrorist organization, and another to Students for Justice in Palestine, an NGO active on multiple American college campuses. The organization was founded at the University of California, Berkeley in 1993.
IPT has maintained it is a public organization and has denied that it “accepted any money from the United States government or any foreign source.”
Some of the information CAIR provided is allegedly from a former member of IPT who has asked to remain anonymous.
During the press conference, CAIR Deputy Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said it was for “law enforcement to determine” if any laws had been broken through IPT’s action. Mitchell recalled previous efforts by foreign entities to spy on American Muslims, in particular efforts by China to spy on Muslim American voices critical of China’s policy toward Uyghurs and other Muslim groups.
Last year, the FBI announced that Chinese espionage efforts targeting “U.S. based Uyghurs and other Chinese diaspora members” was a violation of U.S. law.