Published June 16, 2010
They're back. A radical Islamist group critics say has links to Al Qaeda is gearing up to host its second annual U.S. recruiting event.
The group, Hizb ut-Tahrir America, which is committed to establishing a caliphate, or international Islamic empire, kicked up controversy in Chicago last year with its first U.S. conference, “Fall of Capitalism & Rise of Islam.”
Speakers at the conference blamed capitalism for everything from two World Wars to Michael Jackson's decision "to shed his black skin." It drew more than 500 attendees, dozens of protesters and a heavy police presence.
Now the group is coming back to the Windy City with its second conference, “Emerging World Order: How the Khilafah Will Shape the World," scheduled to begin July 11 at the Chicago Marriott Oak Brook. According to a video promoting the event, the goal is to persuade attendees to “answer the call” to "join the campaign" for a Khilafah, or global Islamic empire.
Despite the charged message, the group insists that it advocates change only through nonviolent means.
Terrorism "is not in our dictionary," spokesman Mohammad Malkawi told reporters last year. "We condemn it by all means … From our perspective, our records are clean on this issue."
But some experts say the group's rhetoric masks its true role: preparing the infantry for groups like Al Qaeda by indoctrinating young jihadists.
“Hizb ut-Tahrir realized that U.S. laws, in this stage, allow them to work undetected as long as they use a narrative that fools the public and law enforcement,” Walid Phares, director of the Future of Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told FoxNews.com.
He said the group’s vision of a worldwide caliphate is "is identical to the Taliban regime but spanning on three continents, as a first stage."
Former Hizb ut-Tahrir member Ishtiaq Hussain agreed.
"They don’t believe Israel should exist, some of their leaders have denied the Holocaust, and they believe homosexuals should be thrown off the highest building," Hussain, now a trainer for the Quilliam Foundation, told FoxNews.com. "... It's actually a very dangerous group."
Phares said Hizb ut-Tahrir's list of alumni -- including confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Al Qaeda in Iraq's onetime leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- speaks for itself.
“The bottom line here," he said, "is that we are witnessing the emergence and the expansion of a jihadist recruitment factory in our midst, openly calling for jihad and for the establishment of a caliphate instead of many governments... and in its last stage to what they call jihadism against America and its allies, that is, technically speaking, terrorism and massacre."
Hizb ut-Tahrir America did not respond to requests for comment sent by e-mail. The group's website lists neither a phone number nor a mailing address.
At a recent conference in the United Kingdom, Hizb ut-Tahrir spoke directly against the U.S., mocking Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's warning of severe consequences if a Pakistani connection to the Times Square bomber was discovered, and contending that the U.S. was behind terror attacks in Pakistan.
Whether there will be similar rhetoric at next month's conference in Chicago is unclear. Unlike last year, the group has no itinerary laid out on its website for this year's conference.
The Chicago Marriott Oak Brook confirmed that it would be hosting the conference, but it would not comment on whether it had reviewed the group or was aware of its specific plans for the conference.
But news of the hotel chain's hospitality came as a surprise to the Florida Security Council, which said the Marriott of Delray Beach, Fla., backed out of hosting one of its events last year when it planned to honor an anti-jihadism advocate.
The group, which aims to raise awareness of security threats facing Florida and the U.S. by "radical, supremist, Muslims," and "Latin American totalitarianism," is now suing the Marriott for breach of contract.
“You let lunatics come into your hotel, and then you have people trying to defend the United States of America and you throw them out … the double standard is glaring and obvious and absurd,” Florida Security Council Director Tom Trento told FoxNews.com.
Marriott's Corporate Office did not respond to requests for comment on the Hizb ut-Tahrir conference or the Florida case.
But Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, President of American Islamic Forum for Democracy, said he thinks the decision of whether or not to host an event like this should be left to the hotel.
"It [Hizb ut-Tahrir] is a conveyor belt to terror, there’s no doubt about it, but the issue is if we’re going to change these hearts and minds and we’re going to prevent the future Nidal Hassans of the world, we’re not going to do it by making these types of things illegal,” Jasser told FoxNews.com.
Instead, Jasser said, the U.S. needs to “start to provide Muslim youth an alternative to where America is not demonized but where we change the narrative and start to promote groups that are reformist.”
“I’d like us to debate them publicly in order to prove how invalid their ideas are rather than shut them down and make them into victims,” he said. “…I think it’s the type of thing we need to expose.”
Hizb ut-Tahrir America, meanwhile, is seeking some exposure of its own.
A YouTube video advertising the conference has more 13,000 views, a Facebook page promoting the event has more than 2,400 fans, and countless supporters in the U.S. and abroad have "Tweeted" and "ReTweeted," news of the upcoming conference, extending Hizb ut-Tahrir America's reach far beyond its known followers.
With an 11,000-square-foot ballroom reserved at the Marriott, it apparently expects to acquire many more in Chicago next month.