Award-winning investigative journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh was attacked last summer as a “warmonger,” “hypocrite” and an “Islamophobe” by the shadowy organization Stand with Kashmir. This occurred before Singh was slated to testify at a congressional hearing that focused on the controversy surrounding India’s decision to revoke the special status of Kashmir, a majority-Muslim region that’s long been coveted by Pakistan and its jihadist allies. India’s actions took place after a terrorist attack killed more than 40 people.
At the hearing in Washington, D.C., Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) attacked Singh as harshly as Stand with Kashmir, impugning Singh as a “mouthpiece for a government,” and calling her credentials and objectivity into question. Omar’s harsh attack made international headlines. Yet Omar’s attack ignored the fact that Singh, a Kashmiri Pandit driven from her home in an act of ethnic cleansing, is avowedly secular and openly critical of the Hindu right. Singh blasted Omar, deriding the hearings as a “prejudiced, biased and a setup.”
Yet Singh may have the last laugh. In a series of recent reports, she documented the activities of several Islamist groups that have serious issues with terror financing, as well as the influence campaign aimed at promoting an Islamist view of Kashmir. Several of these same groups are closely and publicly aligned with Omar.
In her testimony, Singh highlighted U.S.- and U.N-designated terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizbu-ul-Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammad, as well as these groups’ wanton murder of Hindus and uncooperative moderate Muslims alike. Yet Omar ignored this, instead focusing solely on overreach by the Indian government. This is the narrative favored by Stand With Kashmir (SWK) and its numerous affiliated Islamist groups. SWK’s origins and funding is a mystery, but their officials include former activists from Islamist organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine.
Omar has since appeared in an interview with SWK hosted by Marc Lamont Hill, an activist and academic who was let go from CNN for publicly using rhetoric calling for the destruction of Israel.
Singh’s reporting delves into the activities of a large umbrella group, InterAction—specifically, InterAction’s “Together Project” (TP), a sub-umbrella of five charities with clear ties to radicalism and terror finance. TP’s primary aim, according to Singh, is to “delegitimize claims of wrongdoing aimed at its member organizations and … advance legislation designed to weaken counter-terror finance laws.”
Singh’s reports discuss two members of the Together Project with which Omar has publicly identified: Islamic Relief (IR); and Helping Hands for Relief and Development (HHRD), the international charitable wing and self-described “Sister Organization” of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).
Islamic Relief is an international aid charity that is banned by Israel and the United Arab Emirates. It is increasingly disfavored by European governments. One of its founders, Essam al-Haddad, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Office and Foreign Minister of Egypt during the Muslim Brotherhood’s brief reign. He is currently in jail due to his involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood and was charged with using aid money to fund terrorism during his time in government.
Omar has already earned a great deal of negative press for her affiliation with IR. She was scheduled to speak alongside now-former senior Islamic Relief USA official Yousef Abdallah, who repeatedly expressed violent anti-Semitism on social media. When confronted, Omar offered a series of implausible excuses—claiming that Abdallah had never been scheduled to speak—and continued with the event.
HHRD’s self-proclaimed “Sister organization” ICNA is, according to experts, the Western branch of Jamaat-e-Islami, a radical South Asian Islamist movement. HHRD has come under fire from members of Congress for sponsoring a conference in Pakistan with multiple branches of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba and for openly funding groups that themselves openly fund terrorism. Singh’s reporting revealed that HHRD, with the Together Project, lobbied against congressional efforts to seek answers about HHRD’s troubling actions.
Yet Omar prominently supports ICNA and HHRD. She starred in a fundraising video for ICNA, and proudly met with HHRD’s director of programs, Ilyas Choudry. ICNA has lauded Omar in numerous social–media posts and press releases. Senior ICNA leaders have signed public letters in support of Omar. Moreover, ICNA publicly works with Stand With Kashmir which, as Singh’s reporting showed, coordinates with other Islamist groups to drive their favored narrative on Kashmir.
Singh’s stories come at an inopportune time for HHRD/ICNA, as they are working to deflect criticism of their affiliation with terrorist groups. HHRD/ICNA recently hired Perkins Coie, the law firm responsible for the infamous “Steele Dossier,” to attack congressional investigative efforts into HHRD’s terror finance issues.
The actions of India concerning the difficult situation in Kashmir are subject to reasonable debate. But to Omar and her Islamist supporters, any suggestions that jihadist groups are at the heart of the problem is an anathema.
But Singh’s reporting demonstrates that Omar and her Islamist allies have a lot to hide. They may regret picking this fight.
Cliff Smith is director of the Middle East Forum’s Washington Project. You can follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.
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