Peace group rethinking invite to Assad pal who threatened to unleash suicide bombers

A key ally of embattled Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad who’d been invited to be a panelist at a Washington forum on peace in the Middle East may no longer be welcome now that video has surfaced of him threatening to unleash suicide bombers in the U.S. and around the world.

Ahmad Hassoun, Syria's grand mufti -- or highest-ranking religious official, was invited to take part in the Foundation for Middle East Peace’s (FMEP) June 28 event, dubbed “Coexistance and Dialogue in Syria.” But furious ex-pat groups immediately raised a fuss, accusing Hassoun of being an Assad apologist and directing event organizers to a YouTube video of him warning the West to mind their own business as Assad carries out a bloody crackdown on rebels that has so far left an estimated 20,000 dead.

“I say to all of Europe and to the U.S.: We will prepare martyrdom-seekers who are already among you, if you bomb Syria or Lebanon,” Hassoun says in the video. “From now on, it will be "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and he who dealt the first blow is more unjust," and you are the ones who have done us an injustice.”

FMEP President Philip Wilcox told he’s no longer sure Hassoun plans to attend, and added that the invitation might be rescinded.

“I was not aware of the deplorable statement [Hassoun made] about suicide bombing,” Wilcox said. “We often have people who are controversial and provocative, and this mufti has in the past made what appear to be very positive comments about the relationships between Jews, Muslims and Christians.

“But I can’t discount what he said in his speech about suicide bombing in the U.S. and Europe,” Wilcox said. “We are still considering the invitation, so stay tuned.”

Wilcox’s group’s website says it is “dedicated to promoting, through various activities, a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that brings peace and security to both peoples.”

Bringing Hassoun in to lecture on peace is the wrong way to go, according to Syrian-American groups. They are outraged at the very idea that an Assad crony could even step foot in the U.S. as the Syrian strongman continues to ignore international condemnation in his bloody bid to avoid becoming the next casualty of the Arab Spring.

“We believe that to have Hassoun speak at such an event in the U.S. capital is a slap in the face to the principles of freedom, democracy and tolerance,” wrote Sawsan Jabri, of the Syrian Expatriate Organization, in a letter to the foundation.


Syrian Expatriate board member Oubab Khalil accused Hassoun of using his religion “to justify the atrocities carried out by the Assad regime.” He called on the FMEP to cancel the invitation and said the State Department shouldn’t allow him on American soil.

In a related story, Rep. Peter King, (R-N.Y.) demanded an explanation from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano of why a man he said is a known member of a group the State Department has designated as a foreign terrorist organization, Gama’a al-Islamiyya, was allowed into the U.S. Eldin last week met with senior Department of State and National Security staffers to request the transfer of the jailed leader of his terrorist group, Omar Abdel Rahman, to Egyptian custody,” according to King. Rahman was the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Matthew Chandler told the department is looking into King's concern.

"At this time, it appears that the individual, who is also an Egyptian Member of Parliament, did not pose a threat based on background checks conducted as part of his visa application," Chandler said.