Lawmakers have called on the Biden Administration to investigate four Shi'a mosques in the United States they believe are working on behalf of Iran's Islamist government.
In a July 28 letter shepherded to publication by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., lawmakers asked Attorney General Merrick Garland and Avril Haines, director of National Intelligence, to investigate Shi'a religious institutions across the U.S. Citing information published in Focus on Western Islamism, the lawmakers declare that the mosques appear to form "a network of regime-sponsored mosques acting as agents for a foreign adversary."
There's very little doubt that the mosques in question — which have been subjected to very little scrutiny by mainstream media outlets in the U.S. — are controlled by the Islamist regime in Iran, said an Iranian dissident speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"In Iran, there's a Basij [Islamic Republic paramilitary] base in every mosque that constantly ensures the political loyalty of the clergy," the source told FWI, adding that regime security services vet mosque appointments. "The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) are controlling the mosque appointments in the US. MOIS oversees the regime's U.S. operations, which includes using religious institutions."
The regime-tied Shia mosques function as proxies of the regime, which "wants to influence US culture to destroy the US from within," the source said.
One mosque mentioned in the letter is the Islamic Education Center (IEC) in Houston, Texas, formerly led by Maulana Ghulam Hurr Shabbiri. Shabbiri's current employer, the Islamic Community Centre in Nottingham, England, says on its website that Iran's "office of the Supreme Leader" appointed Shabbiri to his position at the IEC. As documented by FWI last summer, the Houston IEC recorded its children singing the regime's anthem, "Salam Farmande" (Hello Commander), idolizing Khomeini and swearing allegiance to the regime.
"While the English language version was stripped of some of the more incendiary lines, the intent clearly remains the same: to propagandize the vulnerable into supporting a violent, theocratic regime," the letter states. "Indeed, the Iranian regime is proud of it: Iranian state media outlets have shared the video of American children pledging allegiance to their cause."
The letter notes that the Houston mosque's property belongs to the Alavi Foundation, which is being prosecuted by the U.S. government for serving as a front for the Iranian government, allegedly funneling millions into the country in violation of federal sanctions. The Houston IEC denied knowledge of the Alavi Foundation's alleged operations on behalf of the regime.
The letter also highlights Iranian regime funding to a mosque in Potomac, Maryland. As documented by FWI, the Islamic Education Center, like IEC Houston, received funds from the Alavi Foundation mentioned above. Not only has IEC taken funds from the Alavi Foundation, but their property belongs to the Alavi Foundation. The lawmakers expressed alarm that an image obtained by Iranian dissidents shows children at the mosque paying homage to the regime's revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, as they gather in song around his picture.
The lawmakers also raised concern about the Islamic House of Wisdom (IHW) in Michigan, led by a former head of "political ideology" for the Iranian Navy, Mohammad Ali Elahi. As documented by FWI, Elahi claims friendship with three of the regime's former presidents. He allegedly first came to the United States on behalf of Tehran "to inspect American branches of Hizbullah (Tehran's network of agents) and to reinforce Tehran's influence on Shi'ite communities."
Last summer, FWI reported on the IHW mosque's online library that "encouraged readers to read resources advocating the subjugation of the world under Islam, fighting Jews and Christians, upholding martyrdom as a Shi'ite goal, denigrating women, and prescribing the death penalty for apostasy. After FWI revealed this, IHW attempted to delete the evidence. Citing FWI reporting, the lawmakers declare that "IHW has been a significant purveyor of extremist propaganda, in line with the Iranian regime's views."
The lawmakers also expressed concerns about the Manassas Mosque in Manassas, Virginia, which also appears heavily influenced by Tehran. They have received Alavi Foundation funds to the tune of $200,000 and appear to praise members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, designated by the United States government as a terrorist organization.
"A recent video of inside the Mosque showed it is adorned with pictures of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) 'martyrs' who were killed in Syria, a life-sized cutout of Khomeini, as well as Iranian flags and slogans. In 2019, it openly celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran," the letter states, adding that the mosque also received about $200,000 from the Alavi Foundation and has expensive relics from the Iranian regime.
Lawmakers warn the intelligence community in their letter that the mosques appear to be part of a network of institutions promoting Iranian regime propaganda. "The radical ideology being promoted by this regime preaches hatred not only towards Jews, Christians, and westerners but also to Sunni Muslims and fellow Shi'a Muslims who do not accept the regime's ideology. But Iran's use of religious and cultural institutions to spread its radical and hateful ideology is not unprecedented, and in fact, other examples in the West are openly acknowledged." The lawmakers state that officials in the United Kingdom have started to address the problem and that U.S. officials need to follow suit.
The lawmakers acknowledge that the mosques in question have every right to practice their religion as they see fit under the U.S. Constitution, but add that "a state sponsor of terrorism such as Iran providing support for those who celebrate murderous terrorists such as Qassem Soleimani is unacceptable. Iran's use of institutions of religious worship for illegitimate foreign influence operations threatens our national security, and intentionally threatens our Constitutional order."
In addition to asking if there is a comprehensive strategy across U.S. government departments and agencies to address this issue, they also ask if officials are using the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) to counter the regime's malign influence on the country.
Adrian Calamel, an analyst specializing in the Middle East and Islamism in the West, says the Iranian regime uses Shia mosques to culturally influence the West. "Individuals [who work in Shi'a mosques in the U.S.] need to be vetted by the Supreme Leader's Office because they are seen as vanguards of the Islamic Revolution, pushing the soft power and the first step in penetrating Western society which has been at the cultural level," said Calamel, adding, "The most extreme case is Mohsen Rabbani in Argentina who ran a mosque, coordinated with several regime 'cultural offices' which ran spies, served as a beef inspector for an Iranian shell company, and he was involved in the AMIA bombing."
"This is what gives me pause, I know the clerics appointed to these centers are not just masters of scripture because they certainly push anti-American propaganda, but are they trained in surveillance, countersurveillance, operational security?" said Calamel.
Susannah Johnston is Focus on Western Islamism's investigative reporter.