The Ohio branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has fired one of its top executives for spying on behalf of an "anti-Muslim hate group," the organization's national headquarters said in a statement Tuesday.
CAIR National executive director Nihad Awad said that CAIR Ohio's now-former executive and legal director Romin Iqbal "was secretly sharing confidential information about our civil rights work — including surreptitiously recorded conversations, strategic plans and private emails — with anti-Muslim extremists."
Awad identified the group with which Iqbal was working as the Investigative Project on Terrorism, IPT, a nonprofit whose mission statement is "to research and expose the activities of terrorist networks and supporters in the US and abroad and to educate the public about this threat." However, IPT has been criticized by watchdog groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-Muslim rhetoric. The group was founded by Steven Emerson, a right-wing activist "with a history of promoting falsified information and conspiracy theories about Islam and Muslims," according to a Georgetown University initiative that researches hostility toward Muslims.
CAIR's statement said that last year its national office received "extensive and unprecedented information" about IPT as part of the organization's work combatting anti-Muslim groups. In these documents, CAIR said, it found that IPT "had spent years trying to infiltrate and spy upon prominent mosques and Muslim American organizations using 'moles' among their staff and volunteers."
A lawyer for Iqbal declined to comment to the Columbus Dispatch and didn't immediately respond to BuzzFeed News.
IPT did not deny working with Iqbal or spying on CAIR in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "While the Investigative Project on Terrorism has never and will never monitor the wider American Muslim community, it will not hesitate to uncover and publicly expose radical Islamist activity on American soil by groups like CAIR, which threaten our national security," the statement read.
The group did not respond to CAIR's allegation that Emerson and IPT were "communicating with and providing assistance to Israeli intelligence" about American Muslim organizations while Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister of Israel.
When the national office saw that CAIR's Columbus, Ohio, chapter was one of IPT's targets, it hired an outside law firm and forensic investigator to determine whether the information was accurate and if Emerson's group had been able to infiltrate the organization. After months of investigation, the third-party team found evidence that Iqbal — and Iqbal alone — had been working with the group "for years."
In a separate statement, CAIR-Ohio described Iqbal's actions as a "betrayal and violation of trust [that] was planned and purposeful." Iqbal had worked at the organization since 2008; he was named the chapter's executive director in 2018. According to the statement, he confessed when presented with evidence and was formally fired on Tuesday. The organization said that it is currently investigating whether or not Iqbal used CAIR-Ohio's resources to purchase weapons and ammunition.
"In the wake of Iqbal’s termination, the Columbus office of CAIR-Ohio has discovered suspicious purchases from ammunition and gun retailers made in recent weeks using a CAIR-Ohio credit card that Iqbal administered," CAIR-Ohio said. In its statement, the chapter said that on Tuesday a package containing parts for an AR-15 rifle was delivered to the Columbus office. Ohio law enforcement is investigating.
CAIR-Ohio spokesperson Whitney Siddiqi said in a press briefing Wednesday that the group is contemplating legal action.