Daily Herald: Banned by Illinois State Police, Muslim cleric melds with FBI

If they have a “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” contest at the Bridgeview Mosque, Kifah Mustapha will probably win.

Sheikh Mustapha, the Imam in charge, was in summer school.

At the FBI.

By one measure, Mustapha was a perfect fit for the FBI’s Citizens’ Academy. The 10-session regimen is intended for business, civic and religious leaders in Chicago and the 55 other FBI field offices where it is offered.

Mustapha is the well-known leader at one of the nation’s most popular mosques and is a national figure in American Islam.

So considering his civic stature, it isn’t surprising Imam Mustapha was invited by FBI officials in Chicago to attend this summer’s Citizens’ Academy with about 25 other local notables.

It is another measure that makes this news: At the same time Kifah Mustapha was starting FBI summer school, he was being banished from service as a chaplain by the Illinois State Police following a re-examination of his background.

In other words, he flunked the state police background check.

The story began last December when Sheikh Kifah Mustapha became the first Muslim chaplain ever in the ranks of the Illinois State Police.

Mustapha, to the delight of followers at his immensely popular suburban Bridgeview Mosque, had successfully completed several days of state police chaplain training in Springfield with clergymen from other faiths. He was given his official ISP ID card, clothing, bulletproof vest, etc.

Even though it was a volunteer post aimed at providing spiritual counseling for troopers, Mustapha was proud of such a mainstream appointment and the milestone was heralded on the Bridgeview Mosque’s website.

An Imam-as-police chaplain was previously taboo.

Well, before 9/11, the Bridgeview Mosque was subject of an investigation by a federal grand jury looking into terrorist funding. The U.S. prosecutor who led the investigation once called the mosque a “gold mine” of information.

After 2001, several Islamic charities headquartered near the mosque were deemed by the feds to be terror funding machines and shut down – including the Holy Land Foundation, where Mustapha was a top official at the time.

According to Justice Department documents, Mustapha was once a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee, an organization that federal prosecutors say raises money for the terrorist group Hamas and is “committed to the globalization of Islam and violent jihad.”

Such membership resulted in federal prosecutors including Mustapha’s name on a long list of unindicted co-conspirators in their case against the Holy Land Foundation, considered the largest terrorism financing prosecution in American history.

Even though he was never charged with a crime, Mustapha’s inclusion on the list of unindicted co-conspirators prompted the director of one private counterterrorism organization to press for Mustapha’s removal as state police chaplain, saying that the Imam from Bridgeview was committed to violent jihad.

After an ABC 7 I-Team report about Mustapha’s background, Illinois State Police put out this statement: “In early January, the ISP became aware that Mr. Mustapha was potentially identified as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestine Committee. An immediate review of our background process began.”

In June, state police officials revoked his chaplaincy, saying only that a further review of Mustapha’s background resulted in his dismissal.

Last month, on Mustapha’s behalf, the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Illinois State Police accusing the department of “relying upon false allegations and unfounded suspicions of illegal activity” and “tarnishing the plaintiff’s professional reputation.”

Nevertheless, Mustapha passed FBI muster.

“Because classified techniques used in criminal and national security cases are discussed, nominees must undergo a background check and get an interim security clearance” states one of the rules for participants.

So let me get this right.

Sheikh Imam Kifah Mustafa couldn’t pass the Illinois police background check to be a Muslim chaplain but he passed a federal background check to learn all about FBI tactics in Chicago?

There is “no comparison to our Citizens’ Academy class and being a chaplain for the Illinois State Police,” said FBI Agent Ross Rice, a spokesman for the Bureau’s Chicago field office. Special Agent Rice cited two ABC 7 colleagues of mine who have taken part in the program. I have not been a participant.

At the FBI Citizens’ Academy, attendees learn about evidence collection, current fingerprinting and forensic technology, communications and drug enforcement as well as policies, issues and “future criminal trends,” according to the FBI website.

You cap it off with an afternoon at the FBI’s suburban Chicago firing range.

So the FBI’s Ross Rice is correct. There is no comparison in being a chaplain and being invited to the inner sanctum of the FBI in Chicago for numerous briefings on investigations, policies and procedures from top bureau officials. Including sessions on terrorism.

A state police chaplain just tends to the spiritual needs of officers who have witnessed horrific crimes and accidents.

With the lawsuit and all, Imam Kifah Mustapha isn’t doing interviews to explain such a dichotomy of decisions. So maybe his next sermon ought to be entitled “You’re Not Going to Believe What I Did on My Summer Vacation.”

• Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by e-mail at chuckgoudie@gmail.com and followed at twitter.com/ChuckGoudie</p>