The militant Islamic group exhorts Muslims to suicide bombings, martyrdom against American "infidels" and the killing of Jews. It openly advocates replacing all Middle East governments with an Islamic caliphate and rails against "the American campaign to suppress Islam."
The group has been outlawed in all Arab countries, as well as in Turkey, Pakistan, Russia and throughout Central Asia, where hundreds of its members have been jailed. Germany, too, has banned the group because it "supports the use of violence as a means to realize political interests," according to the German Interior Ministry.
Pakistani policemen arrest an activist of the Islamic Liberation Party at an October anti-U.S demonstration in Lahore.
(Mohsin Raza -- Reuters)
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But the Bush administration, which has designated more than 390 groups and individuals as "global terrorists," has declined to add this particular one to the list.
How to handle Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami -- the Islamic Liberation Party or HT -- has become the focus of a debate inside and outside the Bush administration that weighs the president's promise to promote democracy in the greater Middle East against the new imperatives of the fight against terrorism.
Two conservative think tanks, the Nixon Center and the Heritage Foundation, are pressing the administration to designate the Islamic Liberation Party as a terrorist group. Human Rights Watch, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, and experts at the liberal Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Brookings Institution contend that such a step would fan the fires of Islamic extremism.
Zeyno Baran, the Nixon Center's international security program director, has held a series of workshops this year in Ankara, Turkey, and Washington to highlight the party's revolutionary goals and tactics. She argues it should not be protected on grounds of freedom of religion or speech. "It's not a religious organization, it's a political party that uses religion as a tool" and is drifting toward violence, she said.
Both Baran and the Heritage Foundation's Central Asian specialist, Ariel Cohen, have testified in Congress urging designation. But others argue that would incite Central Asian governments to crack down on all Muslim groups, making the situation worse.
"It doesn't serve anybody's interest to go after peaceful Muslim believers," said Acacia Shields, senior Central Asia researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch. "There has to be a distinction made between Muslims we have disagreements with and Muslims actively involved in violence."
Despite the inflammatory rhetoric on its Web site and in pamphlets, the Islamic Liberation Party does not explicitly espouse violence as a means of coming to power itself. Nor has the party been found engaging in terrorism, according to State Department officials.
The party is gaining followers throughout Central Asia, and some U.S. officials say that a decision to brand it a terrorist entity could turn it into another al Qaeda and undermine U.S. efforts to encourage the emergence of moderate Islamic groups throughout the region.
The matter could be further complicated by the U.S. relationship with Uzbekistan, which has permitted the United States to use an air base for its operations against al Qaeda inside neighboring Afghanistan. The Islamic Liberation Party -- though outlawed -- is becoming the main political opposition to Uzbekistan's repressive secular government. To some U.S. human rights groups, the party has become a symbol of the struggle for religious and political freedoms against such repressive governments.
Although it has branches in many European countries, there have been no reports of Islamic Liberation being active in the United States, though its literature has appeared in some mosques.
Under a 2001 presidential order, a foreign entity can be designated a global terrorist if it either engaged in an act of terrorism, provides material support to another designated group or poses "a significant risk" to U.S. foreign policy. A designation results in U.S. and U.N. sanctions that make the group an international pariah.
Under another provision of the 2001 USA Patriot Act, the U.S. government can also designate an organization if it "incites to commit" a terrorist act. Seldom used to justify designations, the State Department did so on Dec. 17 in the case of a television network -- al-Manar -- that belongs to Lebanon's Shiite political group Hezbollah.