U.S. Group Cancels Talk by Syria's Grand Mufti
A U.S. group promoting peace in the Middle East said on Tuesday it had rescinded an invitation to Syria's top Muslim cleric, after learning that he threatened suicide bombings in the West.
The Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace said that it had not properly researched the background of Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, whom it invited for an event this week on bridging differences in Syria.
Phil Wilcox, the president of the Foundation, told AFP, “We were informed that he was going to come here and give us his thoughts on dialogue and coexistence. Obviously, having associated himself with terrorist suicide bombings, we wanted no part of him and canceled the program.”
Hassoun is considered close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who is continuing his ongoing crackdown against anti-regime protesters.
Hassoun's son was killed in October in political violence. AFP reported that in a video that appeared on YouTube shortly after his son's death, Hassoun warned Europe, the United States and Israel of suicide bombings if they intervened in his violence-torn country.
“From the first round fired, the sons of Syria and Lebanon will become fighters who will carry out suicide attacks on the land of Europe and Palestine,” the mufti said, according to the report.
Hassoun has in the past described the battle that is currently taking place in Syria as a “battle against our roots” and has claimed that the Arab Spring is nothing but a Western plot.
He said that “the West has authored the term ‘Arab Spring’ to contain the popular resistance [against Israel], in order to target the roots of the ummah and enslave us.”
“What is happening in Syria today is not a process to topple the regime, but rather an operation to push Syria towards religious, cultural and ethnic fragmentation that will create centuries of chaos in the Arab world,” Hasssoun claimed, adding, “This chaos will benefit the Zionist entity that has impudently announced the establishment of the first religious state in the entire region.”
Wilcox told AFP the mufti had not yet left for the United States and that it was unclear whether he was issued a visa. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that she was aware of the invitation to the mufti but could not discuss a potential visa due to confidentiality rules.
The US-based Syrian Expatriate Organization praised the Foundation for dropping the invitation, saying in a statement quoted by AFP that the move "represents a serious blow to Assad's propaganda machine."