By Abha Shankar and Sam Westrop
September 24, 2018
From October 9 to 12, London-based
barrister Abdur Razzaq will visit Washington, D.C. to meet with White House
officials, legislators, House committee staffers and analysts at a number of
think tanks. That a lawyer is speaking with politicians is not particularly
worrying. But the fact that Razzaq is also an assistant secretary general of
the violent South Asian Islamist group, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), is an enormous
problem. Are D.C. officials aware of who exactly they are meeting?
Founded in Lahore (then British India) in
1941 by the Islamist theorist Abul Ala Maududi, JI has established branches in
countries all around the world, including a substantial network in the United
States. JI came to prominence in 1971 after its operatives assisted in the
murder of hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis fighting for freedom from
Pakistani rule. Three million people reportedly died in the catastrophic war
and millions fled to neighbouring India as refugees.
In the decades since the 1971 war, JI has
committed violent acts all across South Asia and, today, the Bangladeshi branch
is closely involved with Islamist terror in both Bangladesh and India. JI
leaders have openly expressed support for Taliban terrorists and mourned their
deaths. And in 2017, the U.S. government designated Hizbul Mujahideen, a
Kashmiri jihadist group and JI Pakistan’s “militant wing,” as a terrorist
Over the last decade, a war crimes tribunal
has tried a number of the 1971 JI operatives for their role in the genocide,
which included establishing and leading killing squads to slaughter innocent
men, women, and children. Some of those convicted were executed.
The lead defence counsel for these war
criminals was none other than Abdur Razzaq.
In America, JI operatives have their own
prominent institutions, which pose as representative bodies of American
Muslims. These institutions and their officials have served as vocal supporters
of JI in Pakistan and Bangladesh, helped coordinate protests against the War
Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh, and organized lobbying and PR efforts in D.C.
In fact, one of the JI war criminals tried
in absentia in Bangladesh, Ashrafuzzaman Khan, fled to the U.S. and helped
establish and lead one of these American JI organizations: the Islamic Circle
of North America (ICNA). Testimony and evidence showed that Khan served as the
“chief executor” of a JI killing squad, named Al-Badr. The war crimes tribunal
concluded that he had carried out the abduction and murder of 18 Bangladeshi
intellectuals. “They killed top professors, journalists, and doctors to make
the nation devoid of any talent,” senior prosecutor M.K. Rahman said
immediately following the guilty verdict against Khan.
ICNA does not hide its JI affiliations, and
is openly identified as a JI proxy within Islamist circles. ICNA’s educational
programs have featured staunch hardline ideologues, and JI founder Maududi’s
books have been promoted on the website of ICNA’s youth division, Young
Muslims. In fact, JI leader Yusuf Islahi, a leader of JI’s Indian affiliate (JI
Hind), has spoken at ICNA conventions and is a chief patron of an ICNA
proselytizing project named “WhyIslam.” At a 2001 JI Hind event hosted in the
Indian city of Aligarh, Islahi reportedly blamed Jews for the 9/11 attacks,
which he nevertheless described as a befitting response to American arrogance.
ICNA operates an international relief arm
named Helping Hand for Relief and Development, a 501(c)(3) which raised an
astonishing $40 million in 2016. Despite its position as one of the wealthier
charities in America, Helping Hand organized a conference in Pakistan last
December with the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation, which was designated as a
terrorist organization by the State Department in 2010 because of its function
as the charitable wing of the Pakistani terrorist network Lashkar-e-Taiba,
which helped mastermind the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Helping Hand chairman Mohsin Ansari (also
the former chairman of ICNA Relief) openly identifies as a JI member, and
refers to the convicted 1971 killers as “heroes” whom the “Pakistani nation
will remember… for centuries to come.” He praises Islamist politicians who are
elected in spite of efforts by “anti-Muslim media headed by Jews [sic].” And in
2016, Ansari revealed that ICNA was asked to arrange funeral prayers for one of
the executed war criminals, Motiur Rahman Nizami, the founder of the Al Badr
killing squad. Ansari praised Nizami and noted that his son had “has worked in
USA (sic) tirelessly for years to help relieve the victimization of Jamaat
workers in Bangladesh.”
Terror ties have dogged American JI groups
for years. One of the two women indicted for their role in a 2015 Islamic State
bomb plot lived in an ICNA-run shelter and appeared in ICNA promotional
material. And just the other week, on Sept. 6, an ICNA official in Connecticut,
Fareed Khan, was indicted by a grand jury after lying to the FBI about his
involvement with ICNA and Helping Hand. An FBI affidavit revealed that Khan had
been questioned on suspicion of financing terror in Pakistan through the purchase
and sale of medical supplies.
Razzaq’s visit to the U.S. — to woo
administration and legislative officials who will likely never have heard of JI
— is just the latest in a long campaign by JI’s senior leaders. They seek to
persuade American policymakers that JI is a benign force, while neatly avoiding
mention of its long history of theocratically driven violence and ties to
In 2011, a senior JI leader, Mir Quasem
Ali, and his U.S.-based brother reportedly spent over $300,000 to hire a top
lobbying firm to influence American lawmakers against the war crimes tribunal.
Quasem Ali was hanged in September 2016 following his conviction on eight
charges by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal, including the abduction
and killing of a teenager who had dared to support Bangladeshi independence.
The brother, Mir Masum Ali, serves on the
executive board of the JI-tied Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA), another
prominent American JI outpost. In 2010, MUNA organized a picnic, at which
Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, JI’s then-assistant secretary general, was the guest of
honour. In 2013, the war crimes tribunal sentenced Kamaruzzaman to death for
his role in the murder of 120 unarmed farmers.
JI is an extremist minority movement. In
South Asia, it has never achieved significant electoral success. In America, a
2011 Gallup poll revealed that a mere 2% of American Muslims thought ICNA best
represents their interests.
has no mandate, advocates hard-line Islamism, and has engaged in brutal
violence for decades. Policymakers should not be placing its operatives on
guest lists; they belong on terror lists.
Abha Shankar is the Senior
Intelligence Analyst at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, and Sam Westrop
is the Director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.