On June 2 at 1:00 PM local time, six men performed Islamic prayers on the sidewalk in front of an emerald green building in Los Angeles' Japantown neighborhood.
They waited for more people to gather, until a small crowd of approximately 25 Muslim-American men and women and a handful of non-Muslim supporters had gathered outside the local consulate of Saudi Arabia. The group began unfurling signs and chanting slogans in defense of "our scholars" who were scheduled to be executed by the Saudi government.
"Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Saudi's crimes!" "Rest in peace Jamal Khashoggi!" "Down! Down! With [Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman]!" "Free expression, no oppression!" And, of course, the traditional activist chant: "No justice! No peace!"
These protestors were not just ordinary Muslim-Americans, however, but members of the Muslim American Society's Greater Los Angeles chapter (MAS-GLA). And the scholars were leading clerics with a history of ties to Islamic extremism and terror: Salman al-Odah, who issued calls for killing American troops in Iraq and was linked by Spanish prosecutors to the 2004 Madrid train bombing carried out by al-Qaeda; Ali al-Omari, a member of the International Union of Muslims Scholars, which the Saudi government has designated as a terrorist organization and which called for the killing of Americans in Iraq in 2004, and Awad al-Qarni, who once offered $100,000 to any Palestinian who successfully kidnapped an Israeli soldier.
Why did this particular organization come out in support of these radical three clerics?
First, MAS has been named by federal prosecutors as the "overt arm" of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in the United States, and the group often does little to hide its radical sympathies. MAS was designated a terrorist group in 2014 by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Describing the decision to designate MAS and similar groups, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan said that the small Gulf state "... cannot accept incitement or funding" of terrorism.
At last year's MAS's west coast convention, the keynote speaker was Tareq Al-Suwaidan, a Kuwaiti-based Brotherhood leader and open anti-Semite — who, incidentally, is banned from entering both Saudi Arabia and the United States — who spoke via Skype. Suwaidan has previously called for jihad to liberate Palestinians, including once boasting that "the Jews will meet their end at our hands."
Both Suwaidan and al-Odah are leading members of the Global Anti-Aggression Campaign (GAAC), a Qatari sponsored network of radical clerics, which includes multiple MB acolytes and other Islamist clerics. It was this association that formed part of the justification for the arrest of the three clerics and 27 others in September of 2017.
It should come as no surprise that MAS's declaration of the three imams as "our scholars" indicates a shared association with the Brotherhood.
And the ties are even more direct in the case of al-Qarni, who has had previous involvement with MAS. In December 2012, al-Qarni was scheduled to speak at MAS's annual national convention but was blocked from entering the country because of his inclusion on the U.S.'s no-fly list — a direct result of his advocacy for jihad.
The protests were led by five California-based Islamist activists, most notably Yasmeen Azam, a 23-year-old activist who currently works as the assistant regional coordinator for MAS-GLA. She was among the protest's primary organizers. It is worthwhile to learn about Azam and keep an eye on her now, as she is just beginning to establish herself as an activist — rather than waiting until she becomes more prominent and effective. Opponents of the domestic Islamist movement in America do not need another Zahra Billoo or Linda Sarsour.
Azam has been making a name for herself in L.A. Islamist circles for years now, including a profile in September 2016 as the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' "SoCal Muslim of the Week." The fawning write-up noted that Azam gave a speech at the United Nations based on an essay she submitted into a contest, "The Call to Light," which described "her personal spiritual awakening." It also noted Azam's involvement with Students for Justice in Palestine and the MSA chapter at California State University Long Beach, for which she would serve as president. Today the MSA is described by law enforcement as a "radicalization incubator." Azam is also a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, with her anti-Israel campus activism documented in an extensive profile at the indispensable Canary Mission website.
Others who led the group, giving speeches and booming slogans through the bullhorn, included such familiar voices in Southern California Islamist circles as Dr. Khaled Abou Fadl (described by Daniel Pipes in 2004 as a "stealth Islamist"), Imad Bayoun (a regular MAS lecturer who has praised MB founder Hassan al-Banna and defended MB theorist and jihad apologist Sayyid Qutb), Shakeel Syed (who has advocated for the release of al-Banna's Islamist intellectual leader grandson Tariq Ramadan, who is currently held in France on rape charges), and MAS-GLA's Director Tareq Purmul.
Putting together these varied data points from the protests, the promotion of international MB figureheads, and the activist priorities of Azam, MAS's role in Islamist activism comes into clearer focus: Much more so than other groups, MAS takes a particular concern in international issues and strives to provoke American Muslims to see themselves as one part of a global "ummah." What's so problematic about this is that in MAS's formulation, this ummah is one that consists of MB activists and ideologues linked with terrorists — and is dead set on the destruction of Israel, to boot.