A June 25 article incorrectly described two terrorist attacks in Lebanon. The bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in April 1983 killed 63 people; a bombing at the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in October of that year killed 241 military personnel. (Published 6/27/02)
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III is coming under fire from some conservatives for agreeing to deliver a keynote address this week to the American Muslim Council, a group whose founder has declared support for the Hamas and Hezbollah militant groups.
The council, which is holding a four-day convention in Alexandria that begins Thursday, also has urged members to contribute to two charities, the Holy Land Foundation and the Global Relief Foundation, whose assets have been frozen by the Bush administration for alleged ties to terrorists.
Critics also note that one of the AMC's former board presidents was Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, the black militant previously known as H. Rap Brown, who is serving a prison sentence for killing a Georgia sheriff's deputy and has twice been listed on the FBI's most-wanted list.
The controversy underscores the political difficulties that face the Bush administration as it attempts to reach out to segments of the American Muslim community after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
FBI officials said Mueller agreed to the Friday luncheon speech because the council is considered "mainstream." An AMC spokesman said the organization is the victim of a smear campaign by "the right-wing conspiracy."
Mueller's speech is part of an outreach effort by the FBI, officials said. Many Muslim groups, including the AMC, have criticized a detention campaign conducted since Sept. 11 by the Justice Department and FBI that has primarily affected foreign nationals, many of them Muslims.
"It is considered by most experts to be a mainstream Muslim organization in the United States," said FBI spokesman Bill Carter. "The main reason for the speech is to solicit their cooperation and support in the ongoing war on terrorism, and to encourage them to report any incidents of hate crimes to the FBI."
But Thor Ronay, executive vice president of the Center for Security Policy, a conservative think tank, countered that "this group is anything but mainstream. What they have consistently done irrespective of who their director was at the time is to support Hamas, Hezbollah and myriad other terrorist groups."
About 30 people attending the convention will also be given a briefing by White House staff prior to Mueller's speech. In addition to Mueller, the convention includes an appearance by a representative of the State Department's Foreign Service Institute.
The briefing at the White House is part of the Bush administration's "ongoing outreach to people of all faiths and religious beliefs," said spokesman Scott McClellan. The AMC held a similar meeting with White House officials during its convention last year, McClellan said.
But David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, which has frequently criticized the AMC, said the Bush administration's involvement in the convention is "very ill-advised.
"It certainly doesn't qualify as an organization that stands with us in the war on terrorism," Harris said. "Everything we know about the American Muslim Council over the last decade or more makes very clear on what side of the divide they stand, and it's not on our country's side."
Faiz Rehman, the AMC's communications director, called such allegations "fundamentally flawed," and argued that Mueller's decision to speak at the convention underscores the council's mainstream credentials.
"I don't think the FBI chief would have accepted our invitation without some due diligence," Rehman said. "It's McCarthyism at its worst. They are trying to marginalize us and demonize us."
Much of the public controversy over the group has centered on its founder and former executive director, Abdurahman Alamoudi. At an anti-Israel rally outside the White House in October 2000, Alamoudi responded to media reports that he was a supporter of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
"We are all supporters of Hamas," Alamoudi said. "I wish they added that I am also a supporter of Hezbollah," a Lebanese group that was behind the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, which killed 243 Marines.
The comments prompted the campaigns of George W. Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton to return campaign contributions from Alamoudi. Rehman said yesterday that Alamoudi, who also sat on the AMC's board, no longer has any position with the group.
But Harris and other critics point to other controversies involving the AMC, including its support of the Holy Land and Global Relief foundations even after the groups were shuttered by the U.S. government last year as suspected terrorist fundraisers.