Islamist humanitarian aid charities in the West, particularly in the United States, play an insidious role in the advancement of extremism and terror around the world, serving as financial powerhouses for the world's radicals.
On 4 May, India's National Investigation Agency raided 16 locations in Jammu and Kashmir, reportedly as part of a crackdown on terror financing networks established by the South Asian Islamist movement Jamaat-e-Islami.
Such aggressive counter-extremism efforts appear in sharp contrast to the approaches of governments in Europe and North America, where Jamaat-e-Islami organizations operate freely. In the United States, in fact, Jamaat-e-Islami organizations enjoy millions of dollars of support from state and federal government agencies, even after partnering with terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba.
While India's recent efforts to clamp down on Islamist terror finance are important, authorities should now also consider bans on foreign Western Islamist organizations, which are so closely tied into terror networks all across South Asia, and which operate freely in India.
Muslim Aid is a major Jamaat-e-Islami charity headquartered in Britain, and operates a wealthy US branch.
The charity has a long history of extremist ties. In 2013, a war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh sentenced Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, the founder of Muslim Aid, to death in absentia. Mueen-Uddin had been found guilty of the mass-murder of civilians as part of a Jamaat-e-Islami killing squad during Bangladesh's 1971 Liberation War.
Other Muslim Aid officials have included Manzair Ahsan, best known for coordinating Islamist riots in the UK against novelist Salman Rushdie. Ahsan is closely involved with the UK-based Islamic Foundation, Jamaat-e-Islami's think tank in Europe.
In 2010, Muslim Aid was found (and admitted) to have been funding front organizations for designated Palestinian terrorist groups. In addition, analyst Chris Blackburn reports that Muslim Aid's Australian branch once supported jihadist-funding organizations in Indonesia, and that Spanish police declared that Muslim Aid financed jihadists in Bosnia in the 1990s.
Today, despite its terror ties and radical origins, branches of Muslim Aid work openly in India. The US branch claims to fund projects across the country. Meanwhile, a dedicated Indian branch of Muslim Aid is managed out of Hyderabad, and is also involved with entities in the United Kingdom controlled by Islamist fugitive Zakir Naik.
Helping Hand for Relief and Development
Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) is the humanitarian aid arm of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the US branch of Jamaat-e-Islami.
In 2017, the Middle East Forum revealed that HHRD had organized a conference at a government-run college in Pakistan in collaboration with the charitable and political wings of the Pakistani terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba. This partnership has led to multiple congressional investigations.
HHRD has partnered with Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's terror-tied Al-Khidmat branch, at least 214 times. And in the United States, HHRD and its parent, ICNA, are key components of a powerful anti-India activism network, and enjoy close relations with Pakistan's terror-tied ambassador, Masood Khan.
Despite all this, HHRD operates across India. In its 2019 tax return, HHRD claimed to have spent $700,000 in the country that year on projects such as "orphan support"—a rather traditional charitable activity for terror-tied Islamist charities.
Islamic Relief USA
Islamic Relief is the leading charitable institution of the Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen, better known as the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in the United Kingdom, the US branch is among the franchise's richest, raising over $100 million in annual revenue.
In recent years, European and Islamic governments have denounced Islamic Relief because of the extremism of its officials and its long reported history of close ties to Hamas and other designated terrorist groups. In 2020, the US State Department warned about the "blatant and horrifying antisemitism and glorification of violence exhibited at the most senior levels of Islamic Relief Worldwide."
In 2017, Islamic Relief, as well as the two charities mentioned above—HHRD and Muslim Aid—took part in a charitable delegation to Pakistan, organized by a Turkish regime umbrella organization named the Union of NGOs of the Islamic World (UNIW). These charity officials, alongside other terror-tied groups, visited the offices of Al-Khidmat, as well as the "head office of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan," where they "met with leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan."
In its 2019 tax return, the US branch of Islamic Relief claims to have spent almost a million dollars on activities in India, including, once again, on "orphan sponsorship."
Tip of the Iceberg
There are plenty of additional US charities operating in India that work to support international Islamist networks.
Indian Muslim Relief & Charities, for instance, operates almost entirely in India, distributing more than $7 million to other organizations in India in 2020. As noted by Abha Shankar at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, IMRC works closely with US Islamist organizations such as the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) to campaign against India's "Hindutva Regime." Indeed, ISNA and IMRC share senior officials. In 2018, the Canadian branch of ISNA was fined by the Canadian government for reportedly funding proxies for Hizbul Mujahideen.
Other Islamist charities operating in India include the Zakat Foundation of America, which is aligned closely with the Turkish regime. Zakat Foundation founder Halil Demir previously worked for the Benevolence International Foundation, a major funder of jihad shut down by the US government in 2002.
Then there are charities such as Baitulmaal, which also claims to operate in India. This Texas-based charity openly funds terrorist proxies in Gaza, and is currently run by Mazen Mokhtar, a former fundraiser for the Taliban and other jihadist groups.
One of the key lessons from tackling terror finance after 9/11 was that so much of the ideological fervour that drives radicalization and jihad around the world is paid for and organized through the nonprofit system.
Vast charities, funded by hostile foreign regimes and enormous nonprofit financial networks, serve as the flagship institutions for global Islamist movements such as Jamaat-e-Islami, the Muslim Brotherhood, and various Salafi and Deobandi movements. These institutions play a much more significant role than radical mosques or secretive cells in the global propagation of terror and hate.
Europe and the United States were too slow to realize the power of the Islamist charitable model. India, in contrast, appears prepared to act. And while it is right for the NIA to tackle violent networks in Jammu and Kashmir, it is vital that New Delhi now also expands its focus to American and European Islamist groups operating on Indian soil.
Sam Westrop is director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.