A Palestinian American activist with a history of ties to groups linked to terror recently used a platform at a radical Chicago-area Mosque to promote antisemitism and conspiracy theories among Arab-Americans.
Khalid Turaani, who serves as regional coordinator for the United Mission for Relief and Development (UMR), was speaking at the Al Nahda Center in Worth, Illinois, just outside of Chicago on the topic of "Normalization and Zionism."
His lecture, Friday, November 15th, was dominated by conspiratorial anti-Israel rhetoric; and opposed the growing normalization of relationships between Israel and Arab states in the region, especially Saudi Arabia. Turaani decried the "deliberate and organized marginalization of the Palestinian question and the rabid attempts at normalization [with Israel], and how the proponents of normalization have become Zionists."
Turaani claimed Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are leading a conspiracy in the Arab world by meeting Israeli officials and hiring high-tech Israeli companies. He added that the goal behind such attempts was to arrive at compromises at the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which Turaani regarded as unacceptable.
He went on to state that the Arab World had the natural resources and strategic location to become a superpower. Therefore, he concluded that Israel could not survive in the region unless the Jewish State keeps the Arabs divided and backward. Turaani also described Israel as "organically linked" to Arab authoritarian regimes, claiming the Jewish stated supported Arab and Muslim dictators in the region by assassinating the dissidents and had kept the region backward by assassinating Muslim scientists.
UMR, which is also known as United Muslim Relief, is an international charity currently led by Abed Ayoub, the former President of Islamic Relief-USA, a charity accused of extensive terror finance ties. UMR also claims to work extensively with Baitulmaal, a Texas-based Islamic charity accused of working alongside Hamas-linked charities in the Palestinian territories.
Turaani himself has a long history of serving with groups with ties to extremism. He previously served as CEO of another UMR partner, Michigan-based LIFE for Relief and Development, which is known for ties to Muslim Brotherhood leaders. LIFE officials were accused of supporting the Iraqi insurgency according to a U.S. coalition spokesman in 2004.
In 2008, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force raided five locations, including the main LIFE offices in Michigan and the homes of prominent LIFE leaders. Following a lengthy court process, LIFE executives agreed to pay $780,000 in penalties for having "knowingly and willfully formed a conspiracy for the purpose of transferring funds from the United States to Iraq ... "
Turaani served as the executive director of the American Muslims for Jerusalem (AMJ). In a 2002 speech he called for jihad to "conquer the land of Palestine." Turaani also served as a member of the American Muslim Council, a lobby group founded by Abdurrahman Alamoudi, an Al Qaeda fundraiser convicted in a plot to assassinate the Saudi crown prince.
According to documents in a lawsuit Turaani filed against the U.S. Department of Justice in 2018, Turaani attempted to purchase a firearm but was denied after delays in his NICS background check. According to Turaani's complaint, the FBI informed the gun store that Turaani was under investigation and the store refused to proceed with the sale. Turaani alleged his gun purchase was flagged because he was listed on the "Known or Appropriately Suspected Terrorists" list, commonly referred to as the "No Fly" list.
On July 8, on his Facebook page, Turaani praised Ghassan Kanafanil, a late leader of the Palestinian terrorist organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) while posting a video on Kanafanil's rejectionist positions.
Turaani maintains other radical ties as well. In a recent Facebook post, Sabri Samirah, a Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood spokesman who previously served as Chairman of the Islamic Association of Palestine (IAP) a now-defunct U.S.-based Hamas front group, posted and tagged Turaani in a photo of the two from a 2000 protest, where American Muslims for Jerusalem protested peace talks between then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, President Bill Clinton and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Turaani's appearance at the Al Nahda center is no surprise, given the organization's own ties. Al Nahda Center's founder Ghassan Ballut, was accused in 2003, along with Sami Al Arian, of leading U.S. operations for the terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. While Al Arian was convicted and eventually deported, Ballut was acquitted. Al Nahda Center has featured a number of extremist speakers including hosting a memorial service for the Muslim Brotherhood leader and former Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi.
Chicago remains a significant hub of Islamist activity as groups like al Nahda Center provide a forum for the promotion of virulent antisemitism and Middle Eastern-style conspiracy theories. Turaani's public comments and extremist ties remind us that behind a public façade of charity can lurk an Islamist network whose explicit goals are the promotion of hatred and extremism.
While it is heartening to know that the FBI appears to have kept Turaani under investigation, more needs to be done by domestic law enforcement to address U.S.-based Islamist charities and their connections to terror groups abroad. Doing so requires educating the American public of the danger posed, and ultimately, will require citizens demanding action from their legislators.
Hesham Shehab is the Chicago Associate for the Counter Islamist Grid (CIG)