US Sen. Boxer rescinds award to Muslim leader

Civil rights group head accused on conservative Web sites of supporting terrorism.

barbara boxer 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
barbara boxer 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Sen. Barbara Boxer rescinded a certificate honoring a local leader of a Muslim American civil rights group after the organization was accused on conservative Web sites of supporting terrorism. Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, had received a certificate from Boxer's office in November "in recognition of (his) outstanding service." "We made a bad mistake not researching the organization," the California Democrat said. "My organization created this problem. I caused people grief, and I feel terrible. Yet I need to set the record straight, and I'm setting the record straight." Boxer said the award was made by her staff without her knowledge. After the certificate was presented, she said she saw an online account accusing CAIR of pro-terrorist activities and asked her staff to research the group. Boxer's communication's director, Natalie Ravitz, said CAIR had refused to label Hamas and Hizbullah as terrorist organizations and noted two former members of the council had been sentenced to prison. One of its Texas chapter members, Ghassan Elashi, was sentenced in October to 80 months in prison for engaging in financial transactions with Hamas leader Musa abu Marzook. Another member, Ismail Royer, a former CAIR communications specialist, was indicted in 2003 on charges of being part of a conspiracy to support terrorist activities overseas and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. A letter withdrawing the certificate was sent to Elkarra on Dec. 21, Ravitz said. A leader of the group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the organization did not support terrorism and was being misrepresented because of the actions of a couple of former officials. "Anyone who doubts where we stand on the issue of terrorism does not understand Islam, the Muslim community or CAIR," said Nihad Awad, the group's national executive director. Awad said CAIR strongly condemned bin Laden by name after the Sept. 11 attacks. He said Elashi and Royer were not involved with CAIR when they committed their crimes. "This is true guilt-by-association," he told The Sacramento Bee. "We have tens of thousands of members nationwide, and it will be very unfair to hold the organization responsible for the actions of an individual." Asked about criticism that the council had failed to condemn Hamas or Hizbullah, he said, "We have condemned attacking civilians regardless of whether they are Israelis or Palestinians."