Orange County Imam Stirs Controversy by Saying Israel Trained ISIS Officers

Orange County Imam Stirs Controversy by Saying Israel Trained ISIS Officers

An Islamic Orange County imam is being called out for a sermon in which he claimed ISIS in a product of Israeli intelligence.

That seems out of character for Iraqi-American Shi'ite Imam Moustafa al-Qazwini of the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County (IECOC) in Costa Mesa, where the Muslim leader has long been respected for his interfaith endeavors.

In December, al-Qazwini appeared with Jewish leaders on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall to rally against racism and hatred. On Twitter and Facebook, where al-Qazwini is quite active, he often posts photos of himself posing with influential religious and political leaders, including Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. On June 19, al-Qazwini and the IECOC hosted Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and other local law enforcement representatives for the nightly iftar program.

Four days later, on June 23, al-Qazwini delivered his sermon at IECOC titled "Islamic Shari'ah Means Tolerance and Goodness to Others." In it, he stated that most ISIS officers, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, were trained in Israel. Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Sunni Salafi militant jihadist organization the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), was believed to have just been killed at the time of the sermon, in which al-Qazwini said al-Baghdadi "went to hell, I think, two or three days ago."

Al-Qazwini claimed in the sermon that ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are "not the production of Islam. Islam is not responsible for ISIS. There are certain agencies and governments, who established... They put hand in hand to establish ISIS, to demolish Islam from within. This was the plan." He mentioned that three years ago, when ISIS occupied Mosul, he gave a speech in Iraq where he said, "ISIS is the production of the Israeli intelligence."

The social media savvy al-Qazwini's sermon was posted June 29 on the IECOC YouTube channel, as most of his others ones are. Here it is:

The sermon might have gone unnoticed were it not for the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that translates materials from Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Urdu-Pashtu into English for free.

MEMRI posted a video of its own with a provocative (and long) headline:

That caught the attention of The Algemeiner, which bills itself as, "The fastest growing Jewish newspaper in America." Reporter Ben Cohen solicited a statement from the IECOC that you can click here to read.

In case the key parts are too blurry to read in the version of the IECOC statement pictured at the end of this post, al-Qazwini says he based his information on what he had received from “government and military sources” during a 2014 visit to Iraq, adding that his comments should not be viewed as criticism of “adherents of the Jewish faith.”

"In fact, Imam al-Qazwini has continually maintained that the terrorist menace facing the world today is the direct result of extremist Wahhabi ideology as well as the product of logistical and financial support by political actors that seek to cause instability in the Middle East and other parts of the world."

The IECOC statement accuses MEMRI of posting but a short clip that essentially took the sermon out of context, noting that al-Qazwini "made clear that the destruction, violence, terrorism, and intolerance perpetrated and promoted by deviant terrorist groups such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, and others, does not reflect the true teachings and spirit of Islam, which call for living and interacting with others based on tolerance, mercy and understanding."

Thus comes a double-edged al-Qazwini apology "to anyone who may have felt offended by his comments, which were taken out of context and misconstrued as an attempt to cause division and intolerance."

It is pointed out that “Imam al-Qazwini has a long-standing record of over three decades of promoting genuine interfaith and civic respect and dialogue, especially with his Jewish, Christian, and other friends and neighbors. He firmly rejects anti-Semitism and all other forms of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination.”

That did not satisfy Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in LA, as Cohen of The Algemeiner found out.

“First, he exonerates Muslims for the Islamist horrors of Al Qaeda and ISIS,” Cooper reportedly said. “Then he then uses a canard that it was Israel—the Jewish state—that created and sustains murder and mayhem in Allah’s name. Then, when exposed, and only then, he blames ‘Iraqi intelligence?'”

Orange County Imam Stirs Controversy by Saying Israel Trained ISIS Officers


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