White House Hosts Syrian Activist Who Sees Al Qaeda-Tied Rebels as Moderate
Fresh from Congressional approval to arm and train Syrian rebel groups fighting the vicious Islamic State terrorist group, the White House met this week with Syrian American advocates to discuss how to proceed.
But one of the people consulted is on record defending and sympathizing with Syrian rebels tied to al-Qaeda.
Mohamad Alla Ghanem, government relations director for the Syrian American Council, touted his White House visit on his Facebook page Thursday.
Last November, Ghanem wrote about a trip to Doha, where he got to meet Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a spiritual guide to the Muslim Brotherhood who has endorsed attacks against American troops in Iraq and suicide bombings against Israelis.
“I love this appreciated scholar very much,” Ghanem wrote, “even I adore his jurisprudence. I consider this a great honor. Now, I am over the moon.” Qaradawi has been banned from entering the United States and United Kingdom due to his support for terrorism.
But that’s not the only time Ghanem has praised jihadists.
In December2012, Ghanem wrote a column in the Washington Post in which he criticized the United States for classifying Jabhat Al Nusra as a terrorist organization. Sure, many Jabhat leaders are ideological on par with al-Qaeda, he wrote, but not all of its members share that view. And the group “has achieved military successes and has delivered critical civilian aid.”
In a column published a week ago by The Hill, Ghanem noted a recent Islamic State attack that wiped out the leadership in the Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sham. It is perhaps “the most hardline Syrian rebel group,” and founded by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s personal representative in Syria, but it is an Islamic State rival nonetheless.
Ghanem said he didn’t mention the group to endorse it, but argued it was “a great shame that” American support to Syrian rebels was held back “for fear of rebel groups like Ahrar al-Sham, as Syrians were slaughtered by the thousands.”
Advocates for increased U.S. support for Syrian rebels acknowledge the steep challenge of ensuring weapons and training don’t go to other radical jihadists. Having Ghanem advise the White House on the issue, when it either didn’t know about his past statements or didn’t care, isn’t going to instill confidence.
And Ghanem’s organization, the Syrian American Council, sponsored last year’s U.S. fundraising visit of Rateb Al Nabulsi. Nabulsi is a Syrian Islamic scholar who labeled all Jews as legitimate targets for suicide bombers. Now Al Nabulsi, along with an imam named Osama Al Rifai, who also came to the U.S with the help of SAC to raise money, are on the Syrian Islamic Council, which issued a statement opposing the American airstrikes against the Islamic State.