The FBI has been unable to find charges that stick to a Maryland Imam who openly encourages American Muslims to join the Islamic State.
The Imam, Suleiman Anwar Bengharsa, openly endorsed ISIS on facebook, has allegedly radicalized at least two would-be American terrorists, and is known to have sent large sums of money to active terrorist zones. At every turn, Bengharsa has pushed the First Amendment to its limit and shrouds his activities in secrecy to avoid prosecution.
Bengharsa is openly implicated in providing nearly 1300 dollars to would-be American terrorist Sebastian Gregerson, explicitly to expand his firearms and explosives arsenal. A 2015 FBI affidavit against Gregerson admits “there is reason to believe that Bengharsa and Gregerson are engaged in discussions and preparations for some violent act on behalf of [ISIS.]”
Bengharsa covered his alleged terrorism sponsorship by writing off the money as “zakat,” which loosely translates to Islamic charity. Bengharsa’s exploitation of charity laws gives him plausibility deniability as to how the funds would be put to use. ISIS militants frequently use the term Zakat in Iraq and Syria to secure extortion payments from the residents it controls.
Court Documents reviewed by The New York Times reveal Bengharsa has plenty of money, receiving a sum of nearly a million dollars in a recent wire transfer. The transfer came around the same time Bengharsa began to preach on behalf of the Islamic State. He is known to have transferred money to Yemen three times, where there is an active al-Qaida and Islamic State insurgency.
“It feels like McCarthyism,” Bengharsa told The Detroit News in 2015. He continued, “I am an advocate of the United States and the West getting the hell out of the Middle East and the Muslim world.”
He brushed off his alleged role in terrorist financing, saying, “If that individual turns around and wants to use that money for something else that’s illegal, the person who gave the money cannot be held responsible.”
(Editor’s note: This post has been updated)
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