The website for Masjid Omar Ibn El Khattab, just a mile from the Ohio State University campus, proclaims itself “the Muslim Heart of Columbus.” And yet the mosque, described as one of the most ideologically hardline in the city, has grabbed the media spotlight once again: former attendees were recently reported as having joined the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.
As mosque officials struggle to distance themselves from yet another resident terror cell, the recent news raises questions about the extensive history of this Ohio mosque as a turnstile for terrorism.
Just a few weeks ago, I reported here at PJ Media that three individuals who lived just yards from Masjid Omar for two years joined ISIS in Syria in July 2014. Rasel Raihan was killed in Syria in a U.S. airstrike. His older sister Zakia Nasrin and her husband Jaffrey Khan are still in Raqqa, according to internal ISIS documents which NBC News obtained from an ISIS defector.
In that NBC News report, the mosque’s president, Basil Gohar, tried to distance the trio from the mosque. He said that Jaffrey, despite living so close to the mosque for two years, had only attended the mosque for a few weeks and had kept to himself.
When a local TV station caught up with him a few days later, Gohar again tried to distance the mosque from the ISIS recruits — as well as from the previous convicted terrorists who had attended the mosque:
We share the shock and horror of these actions, and we wish that we could have found out or stopped them … It’s quite unfortunate what these people went and did, but the fact they attended has no bearing on their actions. Anyone can come to our mosque. We have an open door policy. It’s not possible for us to screen someone’s ideology.
Gohar’s claims about these individuals — and particularly his claims about the prior al-Qaeda cell that was centered around the mosque — are flatly dishonest.
When one of the previous Columbus al-Qaeda cell members, Christopher Paul, pleaded guilty to conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction against Americans, Basil Gohar publicly rose to the defense of the longtime al-Qaeda operative and his associates. He defended their innocence and prayed that their imprisonment elevated their place in paradise.
When Paul was arrested in April 2007, the Justice Department noted — in press statements and in federal court filings — that the al-Qaeda operative was conducting training INSIDE THE MOSQUE:
Specifically, the indictment alleges that, in approximately 1990 and 1991, Paul traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan and received military-training at an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. In approximately mid-1991, Paul allegedly joined al Qaeda and stayed at a guest house exclusively for al Qaeda members. Afterwards, he returned to the U.S. and taught martial arts at a mosque in Columbus. Over the next several years, he allegedly provided money and equipment from the U.S. to individuals overseas as part of the conspiracy. He also allegedly provided training to individuals in the U.S. in order that these individuals might be ready to fight violent jihad overseas.
So Masjid Omar president Basil Gohar has serious credibility issues when it comes to being forthcoming about his mosque’s ties to terrorism. Now, here’s a rundown of the known terrorist activity tied to Masjid Omar:
Columbus al-Qaeda Cell
One of the largest known al-Qaeda cells since 9/11, the conspiracy was centered around the mosque. While only three members — Iyman Faris, Nuradin Abdi, and Christopher Paul — were charged, it is known that there were more than a dozen members of the cell.
All three lived immediately near the mosque. Another cell member, Mehmet Aydinbelge, was deported from the U.S. in 2003 on national security grounds. Faris had met with Osama bin Laden and Khalid Shiekh Mohammed in his travels to his native Pakistan.
Abdi had traveled to Ethiopia to train at a terror camp there. And Christopher Paul, who had direct connections to European al-Qaeda operatives involved in the 9/11 terror attacks, was one of the oldest known American al-Qaeda operatives. Both Faris and Paul are still in federal prison. Abdi served his prison sentence, was stripped of his U.S. citizenship, and was deported in 2012. Abdi had helped establish a sister mosque to Masjid Omar in the Columbus area, Masjid Ibn Taymiyah .
Anwar al-Awlaki Funding Cell
Indictments in November 2015 charged four men — who previously lived in Columbus and attended Masjid Omar — with conspiring to send thousands of dollars to al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki between 2007 and 2009. Two of the men were arrested and the other two left the country. The men were formerly Ohio State students. Awlaki, the former imam of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in the Washington D.C. area, was killed in a CIA drone strike in September 2011.
Little Rock Killer Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (Carlos Bledsoe)
Bledsoe was convicted in Arkansas state court for the June 2009 murder of Army Pvt. Andy Long as he and another U.S. Army recruiter stood outside a Little Rock recruiting station. Bledsoe had previously lived in Columbus, and as reported by ABC News at the time, he attended Masjid Omar during the 2006-2007 time frame.
Dr. Salah Soltan
Previously one of the top Islamic scholars in the U.S., Soltan is currently in prison under a death sentence on terrorism charges in Egypt. As I have reported extensively here at PJ Media and elsewhere, Soltan is a longtime figure in international terror circles.
From 2004 until his departure from the U.S. several years later, Soltan was a resident Islamic scholar for the Islamic Society of Greater Columbus (ISGC), the parent organization of Masjid Omar. For a time, Soltan maintained an office at the mosque. Here is video of Soltan in prison with his fellow Muslim Brotherhood officials in Egypt:
As Ohio State student Rachel Decker waited for a bus to take her to school on June 2, 2009 — the very day AFTER former Masjid Omar attendee Abdulhakim Muhammad killed Army Pvt. Andy Long in Little Rock — Decker was approached by Wael Kalash and stabbed in the stomach with a large knife.
As reported at the time, Kalash fled to Masjid Omar and was found by police at the mosque. Local media subsequently played up Kalash’s history of mental illness.
As stated above, in July 2014 Jaffrey Khan, his wife Zakia Nasrin, and her younger brother Rasel Raihan entered Syria and joined ISIS. Masjid Omar president Basil Gohar has claimed that only Khan attended the mosque, and only for a few weeks. And yet the trio lived just yards from the mosque for two years. Further, as I reported here at PJ Media, they lived in the apartment next door to the wife of convicted al-Qaeda operative Christopher Paul.
Nasrin and Raihan grew up in a Columbus suburb and attended an advanced high school program. Khan grew up in a $2 million Silicon Valley mansion in Palo Alto, California, and moved to Columbus when his wife enrolled at Ohio State. Raihan was killed in a U.S. airstrike, while Khan and Nasrin still live in Syria with their ten-month-old baby daughter.
Masjid Omar is either very unlucky, or these half-dozen terror cases represent a pattern of ideological indoctrination and recruitment centered on this one Columbus mosque.
In my next installment concerning the terror cases centered around this Columbus, Ohio mosque, I’ll present evidence from an ongoing local federal terrorism trial that Masjid Omar president Basil Gohar may be more directly tied to some of these terror cases then he or his recent media appearances have let on.