Media downplay Tsarnaev connection to Muslim student group
Coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing has ignored admitted bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s connection to his college’s Muslim Student Association, a group that has close relations with both the Muslim Brotherhood and a local imam friendly with an al-Qaida operative.
Although a student leader and the mainstream media have downplayed Tsarnaev’s ties to the the group, Tsarnaev associated frequently with the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth.
The Washington Post on April 27 reported that Tsarnaev, who has admitted his role in the Marathon terrorist bombing to police, played intramural soccer with MSA members, contradicting earlier reports that the U. Mass-Dartmouth student spurned an invitation to join the controversial Muslim Brotherhood-linked student organization.
“For a time, Jahar played on an intramural soccer team composed of students involved with the campus Muslim Student Association,” explained the Post’s Marc Fisher, a fact that has since been missing from coverage.
In fact, Tsarnaev played soccer with the Muslim Student Association nearly every week, according to MSA Secretary Bassel Nasri in an interview with George Stephanopoulos and Diane Sawyer on April 19, 2013. Nasri simply neglected to say they were MSA games. Although Stephanopoulos described Nasri as “a soccer buddy” of Tsarnaev, neither he nor Sawyer mentioned that they were co-religionists and that the soccer games were organized by the Muslim Student Association.
Nasri was later interviewed by CNN and again didn’t mention that he had known Tsarnaev through the Muslim Student Association’s weekly soccer games.
“We used to play soccer together,” Nasri told Piers Morgan. “We used to hang out a few times. We weren’t too close — we were more acquaintances than friends. But he was really mostly a pretty good guy in that sense. He would always like ask for — if you needed any help with anything. So I’m really surprised at the outcome of what happened in the past week or so.”
A day later, Nasri told 60 Minutes that he tried to recruit Tsarnaev to the Muslim Student Association, without any luck. He left out that the soccer games where Tsarnaev was a regular player were MSA activities. He even seemed to suggest to Scott Pelley that had Tsarnaev joined MSA more seriously, the bombing wouldn’t have happened. According to the 60 Minutes report:
These friends saw him two weeks ago. He was a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Ahmad Nassri and Bassel Nasri tried, without luck to get him to join the MSA, the Muslim Student Association.
Scott Pelley: Did you see him at mosque? You see him at prayers? Nothing like that?
Bassel Nasri: No, unfortunately.
Scott Pelley: Unfortunately?
Bassel Nasri: I would’ve loved for him to come to the MSA a few times so he can maybe understand his religion better. Maybe that would, that would’ve helped in what happened, I would say.
Assuming Nasri is telling the truth — he, along with half a dozen other MSA members and their faculty sponsor, Neil Fennessey, did not return request for comments — he is wrong about the Muslim Student Association’s not being a haven for radicalism, explains David Reaboi, vice president of strategic communications at the Center for Security Policy.
“As the first group established by expat Muslim Brothers in America in the 1960s, the MSA has a history of Islamist radicalism,” Reaboi explains. “At the time, educational grants and fellowships in the US brought large numbers of university-age students from the Middle East to study, especially in the Midwest. The MSA began as a front for Brotherhood activity in this country by providing cover for these recently emigrated Brothers to meet and connect.”
In fact, several Muslim Student Association students have been brought up on terrorism charges. In April 2012, Muslim Student Association member Tarek Mehanna, who earned a doctorate at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, was sentenced to 17 and a half years for conspiring to aid al-Qaida. Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki (a.k.a. Omar Hammani), a terrorist leader and former president of the University of South Alabama’s Muslim Students’ Association, was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted List in 2012.
The Facebook page of the Muslim Student Association at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth has over one hundred members and routinely advertises speeches and seminars taught by radical imams and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)’s Todd Gallinger, who visited the campus in the days after the Boston bombing.
Federal prosecutors in 2007 named CAIR as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a criminal conspiracy to aid Hamas, and an FBI agent testified that the group was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee. Although that case ended in a mistrial, the FBI in January 2009 instructed all field offices to cut ties with CAIR. Still, CAIR continues to be the go-to group for Muslim Student Association groups.
“Islamists’ hold on student groups like the MSA — which parallels the their hold on so-called Muslim ‘civil rights’ groups and other large Muslim organizations — speaks to the unfortunate monopoly Brotherhood-linked groups have over the organized Muslim community in the US,” says Reaboi.
In keeping with that radicalism, U. Mass-Dartmouth’s MSA Facebook group’s members repeatedly advertise talks by radical imams like Suhaib Webb of the Islamic Society of Boston’s Roxbury center. Webb, a convert to Islam who leads the largest mosque in New England, regularly preaches in the Cambridge mosque the two brothers attended.
Webb was an associate of Anwar Awlaki, an Al-Qaeda affiliated preacher killed in 2011 by a drone strike. Two days before the attacks of September 11, 2001, the two imams headlined a fundraiser [pdf] on behalf of Jamil al Amin (a.k.a. H. Rap Brown), who had murdered two police officers. Webb and Awlaki raised $100,000 to pay for Amin’s legal defense.
Although local and national media have repeatedly cited Webb as a voice of moderate Islam in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, the Massachusetts governor’s office decided to replace him as a representative of Boston’s Muslim community at an interfaith service remembering the bombing victims.
Webb subsequently distanced himself from Awlaki, but Tsarnaev did not. According to The Daily Beast, Awlaki’s pro-jihad sermons were the inspiration behind the Boston Marathon bombings, and there’s some reason to think that a Twitter account belonging to Tsarnaev was retweeting pro-Awlaki messages.
Tsarnaev had also been following a radical account @Al_FirdausiA, who goes by the name “Ghuraba.” Tsarnaev was the first to follow that account, which usually signals a strong personal connection and possible sock puppetry. Both users followed one another, meaning that direct messages are possible.
Ghuraba created his account on March 11, 2013, just over a month before the bombings and praised terrorist and Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whom Ghuraba recommends to his followers, saying that whoever listens to Awlaki will “gain an unbelievable amount of knowledge.”
On March 13, 2013, Tsarnaev retweeted one of Ghuraba’s messages: “It’s our responsibility my brothers & sisters to ask Allah to ease the hardships of the oppressed and give us victory over kufr #islam #dua”
That same language of kufr, or “infidel,” was reportedly also used by Tsarnaev’s brother, as well, when he shouted down a speaker at a Boston-area mosque.
The Muslim Student Association’s faculty sponsor and leadership did not return requests for comment through phone calls, Facebook and email.