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GOP reps raise alarm bells over Iran’s influence in ‘American religious institutions’

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FIRST ON FOX: Republicans in Congress have issued a tough letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines warning about the influence of Iran’s terror ideology in at least four U.S.-based mosques and centers.

The GOP letter, exclusively obtained by Fox News Digital, is a highly detailed three-page document that outlines a kind of bill of particulars against alleged Iranian regime-linked mosques and centers in Maryland, Texas, Michigan and Virginia.

According to the letter, the Islamic Education Center (IEC) in Potomac, Maryland, secured funding from what it says is the Iranian regime-controlled Alavi Foundation and Bahram Abolfazi Nahidian, an IEC member… was “acknowledged by all as the most prominent supporter in this country of Khomeini.” The Alavi Foundation did not respond to numerous Fox News Digital press queries.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, and the firebrand cleric was instrumental in taking 52 American diplomats as hostages for 444 days.

The letter noted, “Disturbingly, the Maryland legislature has even provided public funds to the IEC!.” Fox News Digital sent numerous press queries to the IEC and Brian Feldman, the Democrat state representative sponsor of the funding for the IEC.

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Iran mural supreme leader

A huge mural of Iran’s supreme leader includes a smaller one of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on March 8, 2020, in Tehran. (Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images)

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., who spearheaded the letter, told Fox News Digital, “The Iranian regime’s attempts to spread malign influence in the United States in multiple Shi’a mosques and cultural centers across the country has been happening for years. These state-sponsored mosques preach hatred toward anyone who disagrees with the Iranian regime and go as far as to praise the ayatollah’s repressive reign through songs and shrines. It is imperative that the U.S. government understand and respond to the threat posed by state-sponsored terrorism wherever it appears, whether in the Middle East or at home.”

The letter stressed that the glorification of the world’s worst state-sponsor of terrorism is not limited to the IEC in Maryland.

READ THE LETTER

“Another institution with the same name, the Islamic Education Center (IEC) in Houston, had dozens of young children perform an anthem titled ‘Salam Farmande’ (‘Hello Commander’), a new propaganda song that has been widely promoted by the Iranian regime inside Iran to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death,” noted the letter.

The letter to Garland and Haines added that the song sung by children also “praises Qassem Soleimani, the terrorist responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and thousands of Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and others.”

The Trump administration used a drone to assassinate the U.S. and EU-designated terrorist Soleimani in 2020.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini waves to a crowd of supporters. Rep. Doug Lamborn said children at Houston’s Islamic Education Center were made to perform song commemorating the death of the ayatollah. (Michel Setboun/Corbis via Getty Images)

The congressional letter said, “But there are more reasons to suspect that both IEC Houston is serving the Iranian regime directly. Perhaps most obviously is the fact that Maulana Ghulam Hurr Shabbiri was the lead Imam of IEC for 10 years, from 2005-2015. According to the website of Maulana Shabbiri’s current employer, he was ‘directly appointed by the office of the Supreme Leader’ to his post at IEC.”

The Islamic Education Center (IEC) in Houston did not respond to multiple Fox News Digital press queries.

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Rep. Gus  Bilirakis R-Fla., told Fox News Digital, “Iran’s efforts to sow its malign influence in American religious and cultural institutions is something that should alarm every American. It’s about time that the U.S. government takes this activity seriously.” He added, “The American people deserve to know how the Department of Justice and the Intelligence Community are combating this growing threat to the nation.”

A third example of alleged Iranian regime influence in American religious life is, according to the letter, the Islamic House of Wisdom (IHW)  in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. The congressional representatives wrote the “Iranian-led Shi’ite mosque… shows similar signs of being under the direction of the Iranian regime. The Imam of IHW, Mohammad Ali Elahi, served as the head of ‘political ideology’ for the Iranian Navy in the 1980s, according to a publicly available CIA report.”

Iran Al Quds Day

Iranian demonstrators burn a representation of the Israeli flag in support of the Palestinians, in Tehran on April 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The letter continued that In March 2017, Ali Elahi met “with former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who he called a friend of ‘almost 30 years.’ According to investigative journalists, IHW has been a significant purveyor of extremist propaganda, in line with the Iranian regime’s views.” The IHW did not respond to numerous Fox News Digital press queries.

The fourth example of alleged influence carried out by the theocratic Iranian state in the U.S. is the Manassas Mosque in Manassas, Virginia, according to the letter.

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“A recent video of inside the Mosque showed that it is adorned with pictures of ‘martyrs’ of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a U.S. designated terrorist group, that were killed in Syria, a life-sized cutout of Khomeini, as well as Iranian flags and slogans,” wrote the congressional representatives.

Fox News Digital located on the blog section of the webpage of the Manassas Mosque a tribute to Soleimani, along with his picture.

Abolfazl Bahram Nahidian wrote the blog dedicated to Soleimani, who was responsible for the deaths of over 600 hundred American military personnel in the Middle East, according to the U.S. government.

The congressional letter noted that in 2019 the Manassas Mosque “openly celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.”

Department of Justice sign, Washington DC

The Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

The Middle East Media Research Institute’s (MEMRI) translated sermons of Nahidian, in which he lashed out at Israel and the CIA in conspiratorial terms. He said at an al-Quds Day rally that Israel “created September 11” and blew up the towers to “create hatred” for the Muslims and to justify the occupation of Muslim lands. 

Khomeini founded the al-Quds Day demonstration, which calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. 

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MEMRI wrote, “In two Friday sermons, delivered in the Manassas Mosque on December 16, 2016 and January 20, 2017 and posted on the mosque’s official YouTube channel, Imam Nahidian said that the CIA was ‘working continuously to create separation between the people’ because ‘if they are divided, it is much easier to defeat them one by one’ and that the Sunni-Shiite divide was a plot of the infidels against the Muslims.”

Nahidian provided no evidence for his assertions.

Manassas Mosque did not respond to numerous Fox News Digital press queries.

rally during al-Quds Day

April 14, 2023, Srinagar, India: Muslims join a rally during al-Quds Day on April 14, 2023, in Srinager, India. Bahram Abolfazi Nahidian, who is connected with a mosque in Virginia, reportedly said at an al-Quds Day rally that Israel “created September 11” and blew up the towers to “create hatred” for Muslims. (Eyepix Group/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

The congressional representatives asked in their letter if the Justice Department and U.S. intelligence community “have a strategy, along with other U.S. government departments and agencies, to counter malign influence by Iran’s regime in the United States, especially such influence exercised through cultural or religious institutions?”

Lisa Daftari, editor-in-chief of The Foreign Desk, told Fox News Digital, “It’s been public knowledge for quite a while now that Iran’s regime has sought access to American private and public institutions. We know that they’ve used every tool at their disposal to circumvent sanctions and deal directly with Iran’s regime both for financial and ideological gains here in the United States. They’ve also had the fortune of evading the law because Biden’s administration has from the onset been after normalization and another nuclear deal with Iran’s regime, stopping short from punishing any apparatuses of the regime.”

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Daftari, a leading expert on Iran’s regime, added, “The fact that these very specific, detailed and dangerous instances are being outlined in a letter to the Department of Justice is a great wake-up call and test of integrity to see if our administration will move to rid our neighborhoods of these influences.”

In June, Fox News Digital reported that Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich., sent a letter to Garland pressing him to investigate ongoing efforts of an anti-American website that is allegedly promoted by Iran’s regime and incites assassination attacks against U.S. law enforcement personnel and American Jews.

Fox News Digital sent requests for comment to the Department of Justice, DNI, the Iranian foreign ministry and its mission to the United Nations.

Fox News’ Peter Petroff contributed to this article.

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