Source: Investigative Project, by John Rossomando, November 7, 2019
A New Jersey mayor who expressed bewilderment after being stopped and questioned by Customs and Border Protection (CPB) agents in August distributed aid in 2013 with pro-Muslim Brotherhood jihadists allied with al-Qaida’s former Syrian affiliate, social media posts show. Other posts show Prospect Park Mayor Mohamed Khairullah’s sympathies with various Syrian jihadist groups.
It isn’t known whether those activities triggered the CBP questions. The agency declined to comment.
Nevertheless, Khairullah told the Washington Post in September that he “doesn’t go near shady organizations” during numerous trips to Syria as a relief worker.
He complained at a September press conference organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that CBP pulled him aside upon his August return from Turkey to New York’s JFK airport .
The agents took his electronic devices and interviewed him about his travels and his background. Agents told Khairullah they were keeping his phone, and it took him 12 days to get it back.
“I felt that I was selected basically because of my name and identity,” Khairullah said.
He also claimed that his support for U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar might have led to his having been singled out.
“It’s flat-out insulting,” he said. “It’s flat-out stereotyping of Muslims and Arabs.”
Khairullah claimed his rights were violated when CBP agents asked him if he had met with any terrorists during his trip.
CAIR backed his claim that Khairullah was targeted solely due to his religion.
“And the only reason they’re taken back to secondary inspection and questioned that way is because of their faith, what they happen to be wearing, and what direction they pray,” said CAIR-New York Litigation Director Ahmed Mohamed.
It is more likely that Khairullah was pulled aside by the CBP due to his frequent travel to the Syrian warzone via Istanbul, former CBP Agent Phil Haney, who specialized in targeting potential terrorists, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).
“This has to do with indicators of potential terrorism,” Haney said, noting that the 2008 Holy Land Foundation Hamas terrorism financing case proved the existence of a network of individuals and groups in the U.S. that support Islamist terrorism abroad.”
Khairullah’s Charity and its Terror-linked Partners
The mayor worked on relief missions and was a board member with Watan USA, the American branch of the London, England-headquartered Watan Foundation. Watan’s partner organizations and some of its leaders have supported and assisted Al-Qaida in Syria. Its co-founder and President Moaz al-Sibaai belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Muslim Council of Britain’s Business and Economics Committee.
A 2015 IRS tax form listed Khairullah as a Watan USA board member. It signed a cooperation agreement in 2016 with Turkey’s IHH Humanitarian Relief.
Leaked Turkish documents show IHH provided logistical and financial support to al-Qaida’s then-Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, in 2013, in conjunction with Turkish intelligence agency, the MIT. IHH has aided al-Qaida since the 1990s and maintains close relations with Hamas, according to a report by terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann, published by the Danish Institute for International Studies.
Khairullah’s social media shows he repeatedly expressed support for Jabhat al-Nusra. For example, he praised the 2014 defection of a Hizballah faction to al-Nusra saying, “The Lord will be pleased.” Other Khairullah Facebook posts show him supporting the Jabhat al-Nusra-led jihadist coalition called the “Army of the Conquest.” He backed its 2015 military campaign in Syria’s Idlib Province.
A 2016 Facebook post by Khairullah shows the Army of the Conquest entering the city of Idlib after kicking out the troops loyal to the Assad regime. A linked video in the post showed a tank flying the flag of Jabhat al-Nusra.
“Kneeling for thanks on the occasion of the liberation of #Idlib,” Khairullah wrote.
He also posted a video by Ahrar al-Sham, sometimes referred to as the “Syrian Taliban.” It was founded by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s personal representative in Syria, Abu Khalid al-Suri.
Khairullah even thanked ISIS for taking bandits off the streets of Syria.
“A good thing that ISIS has done is to eliminate the thieves and bandits in their area of control. Allah knows what was behind this move,” Khairullah wrote in a Jan. 5, 2014 tweet.
Khairullah did not respond to an email asking about his statements.
Mulham al-Jundi, the Turkey-based Syria director for Watan, with which Khairullah works, also has expressed support for Jabhat al-Nusra. For example, he condemned the Obama administration’s December 2012 decision to classify it as a foreign terrorist organization.
Al-Jundi called al-Nusra the “strongest striker on the ground against [Syrian dictator] Bashar al-Assad and his army.”
Syria’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood also condemned the designation. So did Mohammed Ghanem, former government relations director of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Syrian American Council (SAC). Khairullah served as an SAC board member in 2016.
In 2012, al-Jundi thanked Jabhat al-Nusra’s humanitarian arm for taking control of flour distribution to Aleppo’s bakeries. News accounts from that time show that the terrorist organization took control of the flour industry as part of its hearts and minds campaign.
“AQ’s Syrian branch controls and runs flour mills, and sells to bakeries and direct consumers. The group uses this method to increase popular support more than for profit margins,” a 2017 Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) report said. “Upon taking control of grain silos and bakeries in Aleppo in early 2013, AQ created and implemented a complex bread-distribution program designed to feed the entire city.”
FDD noted that al-Nusra’s involvement in the bread-baking business also provided a revenue source.
“Today we have reached some factories, the price of the mobile bakery costs about $200,000 to produce 10,000 bundles of bread a day… tighten your tricks :),” al-Jundi wrote in a December 2012 Arabic tweet, while acknowledging his organization had been to some of the bakeries.
At that time Jabhat al-Nusra’s humanitarian arm had a monopoly on raw materials for baking bread in the area around Aleppo. Jabhat al-Nusra also was declared a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department in December 2012.
“#Nusra_Front in its endeavor to ease the human suffering of the people of the city of Aleppo helped to provide some bakeries with flour to assure bread for the citizens of #Syria,” al-Jundi wrote, acknowledging Jabhat al-Nusra’s involvement with providing raw materials to bakeries in Aleppo.
Other photos on Khairullah’s Facebook page from that time showed him at an apparent Jabhat al-Nusra rally in Aleppo following Friday prayers. In one picture, three people held up the terrorist group’s flag. Khairullah was in Aleppo at the time on behalf of Watan delivering bread to those in need.
Jabhat al-Nusra’s black flag is featured at a rally Khairullah attended.
Khairullah accompanied a Muslim Brotherhood-linked militia called the Sheikh Abdu Fatah Abu Ghuddah Battalion during his April 2013 trip. It was named after the second supreme guide of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood who led an uprising against dictator Hafez al-Assad in the early 1980s. The Abu Ghuddah Battalion shared a common shariah committee with Jabhat al-Nusra, the Emirati newspaper Al-Etihad Press wrote.
Watan leaders, including Khairullah, used GoFundMe campaigns and other online fundraisers to finance their operations. Most of his links, as well as those posted by fellow Watan leaders, have either been deleted or expired. JP Morgan Chase closed an account belonging to Watan USA in 2015 without explanation. The account was restored. The bank declined to comment on the reasons behind closing the account.
Research Analyst Teri Blumenfeld contributed to this report.