Democratic lawmakers are planning to attend prayer services at a Washington-area mosque that has been accused of acting as a front for Hamas and that served as the home of terrorist spiritual leader Anwar al-Awlaki, who reportedly mentored two of the 9/11 hijackers.
On the heels of a deadly mass shooting by two Muslim individuals in San Bernardino, California, a group of Democratic lawmakers said they would attend Friday prayer services at the Dar al-Hijrah Mosque in Virginia, which has been linked to the financing of terrorists and where al-Awlaki served as the spiritual leader.
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The Democrats set to attend include Reps. Don Beyer (D., Va.), Joseph Crowley (D., N.Y.), Betty McCollum (D., Minn.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D., D.C.), and several Virginia state lawmakers, according to the New York Times.
Beyer told the Times that the visit could help diffuse tensions with the Muslim community in the wake of the San Bernardino attack and the recent terrorist massacre in Paris.
"After Paris and after the House resolution a few weeks ago, we just thought it was really important to continue to reiterate to the many, many peace-loving Muslim Americans that they were still a welcome part of our community," Bayer said.
The accused attackers in San Bernardino reportedly pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State before carrying out the rampage.
Al-Awlaki, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011, began service as Dar al-Hijrah’s imam in January 2001. He is accused of acting as a key recruiter for al Qaeda and as serving as a spiritual adviser for those aligned with the terror group.
Treasury Department records have indicated that, in the past, Dar al-Hijrah acted "as a front for Hamas operatives in U.S.," and was at one point "associated with Islamic extremists," according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Dar al-Hijrah has come "under numerous investigations for financing and providing aid and comfort" to extremist groups, according to these records compiled by the Investigative Project.
The FBI indicted a former board member at the mosque, Abdulhaleem al-Ashqar, in 2004 for his alleged participation in a financing scheme meant to provide money to Hamas.
While al-Ashqar was acquitted on these charges, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for contempt and obstruction of the investigation.
A founding member of Dar al-Hijrah, Ismail Elbarasse, also has been accused of working for Hamas’s top leadership. The FBI accused Elbarasse of wiring $735,000 to a Hamas operative in 2004, according to the Investigative Project.
Past preachers at the mosque have been accused of disseminating extremist rhetoric that encourages violence.
Imam Shakir El-Sayed in 2009 condoned Palestinian violence during a speech at the mosque.
"Islam does not accept peace when its communities are humiliated, when it is exploited, when it is manipulated, when our rights are taken away, when our communities are being killed or attached, the blood is being shed, then this is not time to talk about peace. It will only be time to fight back," the imam said, according to the Investigative Project.
The mosque has additionally hosted Sami Al-Arian, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to assisting the terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Patrick Poole, a terrorism analyst and national security reporter who has covered the mosque, told the Washington Free Beacon that Dar al-Hijrah has been a "premier" spot for "terrorist recruitment" and questioned why Democrats would choose this as a site to promote tolerance.
"That Democrats in the name of tolerance and diversity are mainstreaming extremists like this is inherently damaging to the Muslim community," Poole said. "These same folks just yesterday wanted to take away the Second Amendment rights of those on the terror watch list, and now they want to embrace a mosque that we know from FOIAs was on the terror watch list. Unbelievable."