An American Islamic leader friendly with the White House who leads an interfaith-dialogue movement was unexpectedly confronted at a Connecticut synagogue about her organization's ties to the radical Muslim Brotherhood, the parent of al-Qaida, Hamas and numerous Islamic groups that aim to establish Islamic law worldwide through terrorism and other means.
Ingrid Mattson, director of the Islamic Society of North America, ISNA, was a featured speaker May 4 at an interfaith event hosted by Congregation Kol Haverim in Glastonbury, Conn., titled "How Religious People of Peace Can Transform Differences and Build Bridges of Understanding."
Jeffrey Epstein – who as president of the non-profit America's Truth Forum has researched and hosted conferences on the Islamic terror threat to the U.S – told WND he "felt it best to leave" after the president of the synagogue interrupted his second question, which had elicited noticeable gasps from the mostly Jewish audience of about 100.
Epstein first asked Mattson to explain why there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia, noting the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently designated 10 Muslim countries as among the worst violators of religious freedom.
"I'm not a Saudi and have no say over what they do," Mattson replied, according to Epstein and two other witnesses who asked not to be named.
"We all know that the Saudi government is not a democracy and doesn't do things like we do," she said, according to Epstein. "The royal family is a dictatorial regime and has a history of human rights violations and persecuting minority religions. They don't respect women's rights."
Mattson, whose group was founded in 1981 by the Saudi-funded Muslim Students' Association, traveled last month to Saudi Arabia for a meeting of the Islamic Development Bank, according to African media.
The bank was chartered by the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference in 1973 "in accordance with the principles of Shariah," or Islamic law, as prescribed by the Muslim Brotherhood, notes counter-terrorism scholar Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the American Center for Democracy.
Mattson's national profile was raised by her prayer at Obama's inauguration prayer service, and she attended the president's Ramadan dinner at the White House.
The moderator of the interfaith gathering said there would be no time for further questions, but Epstein insisted on asking another one, noting Mattson had agreed to answer two questions.
Epstein asked: "Ingrid, how can you sincerely represent yourself as a peace partner in terms of promoting interfaith dialogue and bridge-building, when you preside as president of the Islamic Society of North America – a known operating wing of the Muslim Brotherhood which is a terrorist organization that spawned both Hamas and al-Qaida."
Mattson replied by listing her associations with the federal government, saying she worked with the CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the White House.
The synagogue president then intervened, explaining it was not the time for politics.
With the microphone still in his hand, Epstein maintained that his question was not about politics but about terrorism.
He pointed to Mattson as the leader of an organization classified by the Justice Department as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Dallas trial of the Holy Land Foundation, which was found guilty in 2008 of raising money for the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.
ISNA was named in a May 1991 Muslim Brotherhood document "An Explanatory Memorandum on the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America" as one of the Brotherhood's likeminded "organizations of our friends" who shared the common goal of turning the U.S. into a Muslim nation under Shariah, or Islamic law.
Mattson, who also is the director of Hartford Seminary's Muslim chaplain training program, did not respond to WND's request for comment.
ISNA, through its affiliate the North American Islamic Trust – a Saudi government-backed organization – reportedly holds the mortgages on 50 to 80 percent of all mosques in the U.S. and Canada.
WND previously attended a Muslim Students' Association event at which speakers called for violence against the U.S..
Islam scholar Stephen Schwartz, a Sufi Muslim known for his critique of Islamic fundamentalism, describes ISNA as "one of the chief conduits through which the radical Saudi form of Islam passes into the United States."
Counter-terrorism expert Steven Emerson describes ISNA as a "radical group hiding under a false veneer of moderation" that publishes a bi-monthly magazine that "often champions militant Islamist doctrine." The group also "convenes annual conferences where Islamist militants have been given a platform to incite violence and promote hatred," states Emerson.
ISNA raised money for the defense of Hamas leader Mousa Marzook after he was arrested and eventually deported in 1997. The group also has condemned the U.S. government's post-9/11 seizure of Hamas' and Palestinian Islamic Jihad's financial assets.
ISNA sponsored the event at New York University in February in which President Obama's top adviser on counter-terrorism, John Brennan, came under fire for controversial remarks to Muslim law students. The director of the group's Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances, Sayyid Syeed, was part of a delegation that met with the directors of Obama's transition team and discussed a request for an executive order ending "torture." Top White House aide Valerie Jarrett addressed ISNA's 46th annual convention as part of Obama's outreach to Muslims, according to the White House.
'Trying to build understanding'
The rabbi at the host Connecticut synagogue, Craig Marantz, told WND he was not familiar with Mattson's organization and its documented links to violent Islamic jihad.
"This is something I don't know about," he said. "I'm not certain of its relevance to the conversation we had on Tuesday night."
Marantz told WND that "for us to even discuss issues like that" with Muslims "we have to have an agreement to hear each other out and to recognize the concerns in such a way that we could develop some understanding."
"It's a matter of trying to build understanding, not force an agenda," he said.
Marantz said Epstein "is entitled, like anyone else, to have other people hear his concern, hear his pain, to be able to name his pain and not be ridiculed or ostracized."
"At the same time, he can't do the same to others while he's trying to be understood," Marantz said. "And this is the key to dialogue. And that's what we were trying to achieve; to introduce people to the potential and power of such dialogue."
Epstein told WND that "as a Jewish American of patriotic lineage," it was "surreal to see the terrorist-linked leadership" of a group "sworn to the destruction of both the state of Israel and the Jewish people elevated to a position of prominence" at a synagogue.
"I never dreamed that a congregation would marginalize what I had to say and consider me to be a threat to their safety – especially since all facts presented were based upon evidence from law enforcement investigations and court transcripts," he said.
The other speakers at the event were Hartford Seminary President Heidi Hadsell and Yehezkel Landau, director of the seminary's Building Abrahamic Partnerships program and faculty associate in interfaith relations.
As WND reported, the Connecticut seminary now offers training to Muslims who want to become an imam in the U.S.
The seminary launched its Graduate Certificate in Imam Education program this spring with help from the seminary's Duncan Black MacDonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, the Fairfax Institute and the Fairfax Institute's parent, the International Institute for Islamic Thought, or the IITT.
The IITT also was named in the 1991 Muslim Brotherhood memorandum as a likeminded "organizations of our friends" and is a defendant in two class-action lawsuits brought by the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks.
Hartford Seminary spokesman David Barrett said the IIIT came to the seminary with the suggestion for the imam training program.
Hartford Seminary was founded in the 18th century by members of the Congregationalist denomination to prepare pastors and other Christian ministers for service. The seminary opened its doors to the first Muslim on its core faculty in the 1990s, shortly after a decision had been made to pursue "Christian-Muslim relations."