An Arab-American activist who attended an outreach session at the White House complex in April had his Chicago home raided by the FBI last week and appears to be a focus of an unfolding federal terrorism-support investigation.
Hatem Abudayyeh, who serves as executive director of the Arab-American Action Network, took part in a meeting for Arab-American leaders held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on April 22, according to appointment data posted on the White House website.
"He attended a briefing held by the Office of Public Engagement on April 22, 2010, to update members of the Arab-American community on issues of their concern," White House spokesman Shin Inouye said.
The guest list for the event was drafted by the Arab-American Institute. Inouye said President Barack Obama did not take part in the session, which appears to have involved more than 80 people.
Last Friday, FBI agents executed a search warrant at Abudayyeh's Chicago home as part of a coordinated series of raids involving at least one other Chicago site, along with the homes of anti-war activists in Minnesota. A copy posted on the web of a grand jury subpoena served on one target of the raids in Minneapolis demands "all records of any payment provided directly or indirectly to Hatem Abudayyeh, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine ("PFLP") or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ("FARC")."
A search warrant served on a Minneapolis anti-war activist, Michael Kelly, ordered agents to seize records relating to Kelly's travels to "Palestine, Colombia, and … within the United States." It also mentions possible connections to Hezbollah.
The warrant and subpoena suggest the probe, which is being run by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago, is focusing on illegal support for terrorist organizations, particularly by a Minnesota-based group called the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. PFLP, FARC and Hezbollah are designated as terrorist groups by the U.S. government. A spokesman for Fitzgerald's office declined to comment on the probe.
Abudayyeh has not been charged with any crime, nor do the court documents made public by targets of the searches make any explicit allegation of ties between the Chicago activist and any of the groups.
The White House briefing Abudayyeh attended was organized by the Arab-American Institute in connection with its annual dinner and related events, AAI President James Zogby said Friday.
"Each year we do a leadership summit of our institute leadership also of leadership from the Arab-American network. That is a network of Arab –American community and social service organizations and the group in Chicago is one of the network members and so they were invited," Zogby said. "We did, as part of the weekend, a White House briefing and Hatem was included as part of the network."
Zogby said the national network Abudayyeh's group is part of works on domestic issues, such as immigration reform and civil liberties. "I know Hatem is active on those issues in Chicago. He's very much a part of immigration reform coalitions there. That that would have been the purpose of the network's inclusion in this meeting," Zogby said.
A lawyer for Abudayyeh, Jim Fennerty, said he was not aware of his client's White House visit. Asked if the investigation into Abudayyeh was underway at the time of his White House visit in April, Finnerty said, "We only became aware of [the probe] when people got their houses raided and search warrants carried out…..I think the grand jury started sitting a year ago though." The lawyer said the investigation may extend back to protests held in connection with the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., in 2008.
Fennerty said he believed his client was being targeted because of his anti-war activism. On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the attorney said Abudayyeh supports "a single, secular democratic state," not the two-state solution endorsed by the U.S.
In a 2006 interview with Fight Back News, an outlet run by Minneapolis activist Kelly, Abudayyeh seemed to disagree rather strenuously with at least some of the U.S. government's use of the "terrorist" label.
"The U.S. and Israel will continue to describe Hamas, Hezbollah and the other Palestinian and Lebanese resistance organizations as 'terrorists,' but the real terrorists are the governments and military forces of the U.S. and Israel," Abudayyeh said. "The vast majority of the world sees and understands this, and are in full support of Lebanese, Palestinian and worldwide resistance to Israel and the U.S.'s naked aggression, war, imperialism and occupation."
Fennerty said he was surprised to hear Abudayyeh was invited to a White House event. "He runs like a social-welfare office that helps people get citizenship, apply for benefits, welfare if they're entitled to it," the lawyer said.
According to a bio on the AAAN website, Abudayyeh has been affiliated with the group since 1999 and took over as executive director in 2003.
Abudayyeh's White House visit was noted Thursday by several conservative websites, including the Gateway Pundit blog at First Things magazine.
Abudayyeh's group, AAAN, briefly drew attention during the presidential campaign following reports that a foundation on whose board Obama served donated $40,000 to the group for "community organizing" in 2001. Conservative critics said the group and Abudayyeh have promoted anti-Israeli views. AAAN officials said the organization is strictly focused on local community issues and doesn't get involved in international politics.
In 2003, Obama spoke at an AAAN-sponsored farewell dinner for Rashid Khalidi, a professor who was decamping from the University of Chicago to Columbia. During the 2008 campaign, the Los Angeles Times obtained a video of the event and reported that Obama lavished praise on Khalidi, who once served as a spokesman for the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Other speakers at the event railed against Israeli policies.
Late in the 2008 campaign, Republican nominee Sen. John McCain attacked the Times for failing to make the video public. The newspaper said it obtained the video on the condition that it not be released publicly.
High-level contacts between politically active Arab-American leaders and White House officials have stirred controversy in the past after the activists became caught up in terrorism-related probes. In some cases, defense attorneys for those charged have sought to use their White House visits to undermine the prosecution's assertions that the individuals were dangerous.