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How A Fake Imam, The Krassenstein Brothers And A Canadian Played Roles In A Dubious Story About Ilhan Omar And Qatar

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Luke Rosiak Investigative Reporter
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  • A Jerusalem Post story suggesting that Rep. Ilhan Omar could secretly be a foreign agent for the nation of Qatar is highly dubious.
  • The story is based on the claims of Alan Bender, a self-described fixer for the Saudis, who are Qatar’s sworn enemies. He claims Qatari officials summoned him and divulged their innermost secrets.
  • The accusation appears to be part of a campaign by “Imam of Peace” Mohamad Tawhidi, who positions himself as a western-friendly, anti-extremist Muslim, but who studied under an ultraconservative cleric.

Foreign elements are pushing a dubious story, targeted at American conservatives, that Ilhan Omar is a secret agent of the nation of Qatar.

The claim comes from a deposition from a Canadian self-described problem-solver for the Saudi ruling family — the arch-nemesis of Qatar — who gave 200 pages of testimony that offered a haphazard smorgasbord of accusations against the country.

The Oct. 23 deposition of the fixer, Alan Bender, was taken as part of a case that had little to do with him, and most of the questions and answers had no seeming relevance to the case either.

The Daily Caller News Foundation reviewed the deposition and deemed it not credible. It even gets Omar’s job wrong, repeatedly calling her a senator.

But the Jerusalem Post published that a “Florida court has heard” that Omar was a secret foreign agent, and the story rapidly began making the rounds among American conservatives.

In the deposition, Bender attested that the Qataris called him out of the blue, flew him to the royal palace, and shared their misdeeds with him in extreme detail, despite his prior association with their rivals.

The deposition includes all manner of accusations, such as that Omar is a “sex maniac” and that reporters at CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times are on the payroll of Qatar. Bender appeared eager to expose all of that dirt, yet inexplicably said he’d “rather not” provide key details, such as the names of the reporters supposedly taking bribes.

“I’d rather not say ’cause I know the name and details,” he said of CNN. “I’d rather not mention specific names but I have, yes, several names,” he said of the New York Times.

Bender did not return a request for comment. In the deposition, he said he will “sometimes intervene on behalf of members of the ruling families; mediate, solve their problems.”

‘Imam of Peace’

Mohamad Tawhidi, an Australian Muslim with a large social media following under the handle “Imam of Peace,” has been pushing the idea that Omar is connected to Qatar for months.

Tawhidi also spuriously accused a journalist at the DCNF of being on the payroll of Qatar for not quickly and uncritically printing storylines pushed by him, despite the DCNF repeatedly covering misdeeds by Qatar. He falsely claimed that any hesitation was because of an editor “who I can confirm works for Qatar…. It took me 48 hours to find out.”

Tawhidi would not tell TheDCNF’s reporter which of his colleagues had supposedly entered into a secret agreement with a Gulf nation. (RELATED: Lamborghinis, Burkas, Sex Party Invites And ‘Chop Chop Square’: A New York Lawyer’s 15 Years In The Middle East)

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported in 2017 that Tawhidi’s alma mater said he never graduated and it “does not recommend” him “for lecturing in any way. Accordingly, he has no competency to do religious activities or preach sermons.”

Tawhidi has built 600,000 Twitter followers by criticizing extremist and anti-West elements of Islam.

But the Australian outlet says after dropping out of university, he studied under a fringe cleric who holds ultra-conservative positions, such as that men may marry nine-year olds, that Sharia law should govern, and that women should not hold roles in government.

“The teachings I learnt were not incorrect but some were better off concealed. The coming year, 2016, will be a big year for me,” he wrote in a letter cited by the ABC. “You will be seeing and hearing more of me in the media and social networks. Thus, I request from you all to keep in mind that my mission is an ideological one.”

An aerial view shows Doha's diplomatic area March 21, 2013. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad (QATAR - Tags: CITYSCAPE TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1E93L1O2W01

An aerial view shows Doha, Qatar’s diplomatic area March 21, 2013. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad

Krassenstein brothers

As the evidence-free story of Omar as a secret foreign agent spread on social media, the cast of characters got even odder as the Krassenstein brothers got involved.

The left-wing content-creator twins Brian and Ed are authors of a 2018 children’s book about a shirtless Robert Mueller.

In 2017 law enforcement seized nearly half a million dollars from them as part of an investigation into online scams and pyramid schemes, contending the money was derived from wire fraud, the Daily Beast reported.

The brothers were not charged with any crime, and soon moved on to an online venture that involved constantly baiting President Trump on Twitter, garnering large followings by exploiting political tribalism until they were banned from Twitter in May for violating its rules.

On Tuesday, a post on the brothers’ Facebook page said that four months ago Bender contacted the Krassensteins to tell them that Tawhidi was working for Qatar’s enemies to spread lies about Omar.

Then in early August, they said, Bender changed his tune and said that Tawhidi’s allegations were true. “It appears that something happened in August which turned … Alan Bender against Qatar. Whether it was another foreign government paying [him] (i.e. Saudi Arabia) or some other international battle in the mid-east, I am not 100% certain,” the post said.

Brian Krassenstein told the DCNF he had previously communicated with Bender as a knowledgeable source about Middle East affairs for the Krassensteins’ website, and “in July he contacted us with damaging information on Tawhidi,” including “recordings and texts from Tawhidi which described a plot to smear Omar with what Bender said were forged documents and lies.”

He said the day after Tawhidi found out they had information on him, Ed’s wife received threatening text messages from unknown numbers. (Tawhidi denied involvement to the DCNF.)

“Then in August Bender changed his tune and suddenly claimed to back what Tawhidi was claiming. Bender then began threatening to testify under oath that he was told by officials in Doha that Ed and I were agents of Qatar,” he continued.

“Ed and I have hundreds of claims made by Bender, both before and after he suddenly changed his narrative. One such claim was that Saudi Arabia offered him $20m in order to sell out Qatar and provide their secrets to the Saudis,” he said.

Brian Krassenstein also told the DCNF that the brothers have never committed financial misconduct and don’t make money on their political activities.

In their online postings, Krassensteins attributed Tawhidi-Bender operation to two different countries — the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — and a host of prominent American conservative figures, a motley crew that would seem unlikely to come together around an obscure Canadian businessman.

Yet the Krassensteins did seem to have some insight into the operation. As Tawhidi built suspense endlessly on Twitter about how a second witness would emerge, the Krassensteins said it would be a man named Abdullah Al-Saleh.

They turned out to be right: Al-Saleh tweeted similarly thin evidence a short time later.

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