The representative of a human rights group headed by a designated al Qaeda terrorist was denied a visa by the State Department after being invited by congressional Democrats to discuss drone strikes.
Mohammad Al Ahmady, the Yemen director for Geneva-based NGO Al Karama, was expected to brief Reps. Alan Grayson (D., Fla.), Barbara Lee (D., Calif.), and Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) the morning of the Nov. 19, according to press release from Grayson’s office.
Ahmady, who also serves as a top official in an al Qaeda-linked Yemeni political party, did not attend because of visa issues. The State Department said it could not comment on visa matters.
Several Al Karama officials have faced terrorism allegations. Al Karama’s founder and current president Abdul Rahman Naimi was designated as a terrorist and al Qaeda supporter by the U.S. Treasury Department in December, along with the group’s Yemen representative Abdulwahab Al-Humayqani. Al Karama’s legal director, Rachid Mesli, is currently wanted for terrorism charges in Algeria.
Schakowsky’s office referred questions to Grayson and Lee, saying the other offices led the briefing.
"She is listed as a member attending the briefing, the briefing was led by the other 2 offices," said a spokesperson in an email.
A spokesperson for Grayson said Ahmady did not actually attend the briefing and that the terrorist designation of Al Karama’s president was "not in place at the time of the briefing, so again, we had no reason to suspect any wrongdoing on the part of Mohammad [Al Ahmady]."
Lee’s office did not respond to request for comment.
Al Karama executive director Mourad Dhina said he was unsurprised the State Department turned down Ahmady’s visa request.
"To be frank, it was not a big surprise to us, because obviously the report [that Al Karama had recently published on U.S. drone strikes in Yemen and that Ahmady was going to present] was not something to be welcomed by the U.S. government," Dhina said. "We hoped that Mr. Ahmady would have been able to come and present the thing and debate things with whoever would be interested in debating that."
National security hawks blasted the Democrats for seeking advice on U.S. policy from a group run by an apparent al Qaeda supporter.
"More than a decade into this war, people serious about American national security need to look at how our leaders can be so consistently fooled by groups like Al Karama, who warn about empowering al Qaeda in public but fund the jihadist group in private," said the Center for Security Policy’s David Reaboi.
The Capitol Hill briefing is one of several instances of the terror-linked Al Karama attempting to influence U.S. counterterrorism policy through Washington policymakers, international institutions, and the media.
The group has issued reports criticizing the U.S. drone program in Yemen and has worked with major names in the human rights community, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the Daily Beast reported in December.
Naimi is still president of Al Karama, the group told the Free Beacon. He had previously told other media outlets he resigned after his terror designation was announced.
Al Karama’s executive director said the foundation must go through a formal process to decide whether Naimi will resign, beginning with a board meeting that will likely be held next week.
"The decision [on whether he resigns] also has not been made," Dhina said. "Technically it could also be another decision."
According to the Treasury Department, last year Naimi "ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al Qaeda via al Qaeda’s representative in Syria, Abu-Khalid al-Suri, and intended to transfer nearly $50,000 more."
Naimi also "reportedly oversaw the transfer of over $2 million per month to al Qaeda in Iraq for a period of time" and "provided approximately $250,000 to two U.S.-designated al-Shabaab figures" in 2012.
Prior to Naimi’s terrorist designation, the State Department routinely cited Al Karama’s work in its annual Human Rights Country Reports. A spokesperson for the State Department did not respond to questions about whether it would continue to use Al Karama as a resource for its reports.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus has also touted Al Karama’s work, posting the group’s testimony on U.S. drone policy on its website.
Al Karama has tried to make inroads at the United Nations as well. Later this month, the U.N. Committee on NGOs is scheduled to rule on the group’s application for consultative status, which would allow it access to official U.N. events and human rights mechanisms.
The foundation has also worked with the media. Jeremy Scahill, a reporter for the Nation, participated in the group’s human rights award ceremony in Geneva on Dec. 6, just days before Al Karama’s president received his terrorist designation.
Scahill accepted the Al Karama award on behalf of Abdulelah Heidar Shaye, a journalist and accused terrorist currently under house arrest in Yemen. According to the U.S. government, Shaye is associated with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Scahill did not respond to request for comment.
Al Karama maintains that Shaye was imprisoned because he "documented and denounced U.S. airstrikes in Yemen." The group has advocated for his release.
Ahmady told the Washington Post in May 2012 that drones are "killing al Qaeda leaders, but they are also turning them into heroes."
Ahmady complained about having his visa request rejected by the U.S. government, according to translation provided to the Free Beacon.
"For the second time Obama’s embassy in Sana’a denied granting me a visa to enter the United States of America to participate in human rights activities counter to American policies and abuses," Ahmady wrote a week before he was scheduled to appear. "I am honored to be among those not accepted by the White House […] my great American friends will remain close friends […] I curse Obama and the traders of wars…"
"Why is it that the fighters of al Qaeda ‘the terrorists’ are the only ones who adorn a smile and whose faces show [God’s] acceptance after their death even if their faces have many injuries?!" wrote Ahmady. "A question that has been on my mind for a long time."
Despite the addition of Al Karama leaders to terrorist watch lists, established human rights NGOs are not ruling out working with the group in the future. Human Rights Watch said Naimi’s terrorist designation should not detract from the rest of Al Karama’s work.
"The accused terrorist has resigned from Al Karama," said Human Rights Watch spokesperson Emma Daly, referring to Naimi, who has not resigned. "Al Karama’s position would suggest it doesn’t identify with al Qaeda despite the unproven allegations against its former non-executive chair."