CAIR-Ohio fires executive director for allegedly spying for an anti-Muslim hate group

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The Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says it has fired its executive and legal director citing what it says is evidence he’d been spying on the organization for years.

The Columbus-Cincinnati Board of Directors for CAIR-Ohio says it terminated Executive and Legal Director Romin Iqbal after being contacted by the national headquarters of CAIR. CAIR-Ohio says in a statement that a forensic investigation by an independent, third-party expert found “conclusive evidence that Iqbal had spent years secretly recording CAIR network meetings and passing confidential information regarding CAIR’s national advocacy work to a known anti-Muslim hate group.”

CAIR-Ohio says Iqbal admitted to working with the hate group when confronted with the investigation’s findings. WVXU could not reach Iqbal to verify that statement.

CAIR-Ohio did not name the group. However, CAIR’s national headquarters says Iqbal was passing information to a group called the Investigative Project on Terrorism, founded by Steven Emerson. The Islamophobia Network and the Southern Poverty Law Center both say the group promotes anti-Islamic rhetoric. The SPLC further names Emerson as a “key misinformation expert” with ties to multiple extremest groups.

CAIR (national) says Iqbal was passing information to Emerson’s group, and that the group “had spent years trying to infiltrate and spy upon prominent mosques and Muslim American organizations using ‘moles’ among their staff and volunteers.” CAIR says the Columbus chapter was one of the targets. It also alleges its investigation discovered the IPT “was communicating with and providing assistance to Israeli intelligence with the office of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” The release does not provide other details or evidence of that allegation.

CAIR-Ohio organization says the expert’s investigation concluded Iqbal was not aided by anyone else in CAIR.

Iqbal has been with CAIR-Ohio for decades. He was hired in 2006 as an attorney and became legal director in 2014. He was elevated to the top position of executive director in 2018.

After firing Iqbal, the Columbus-Cincinnati board reports it discovered suspicious purchases from weapons retailers on his company-issued credit card. Additionally the organization says a package containing parts for an AR-15 was mailed to CAIR-Ohio’s Columbus office. The organization says law enforcement is investigating.

A spokesperson tells WVXU the Columbus-Cincinnati board is contemplating legal action.

More information is expected at a news conference Wednesday morning.

Nabeel Raazi, Columbus-Cincinnati board chair for CAIR-Ohio says in a statement, “We were shocked and saddened to learn about this betrayal and incredible violation of trust. Our first priority is the safety and security of our community. We are now even more committed to defending and protecting Ohio Muslims from the anti-Muslim extremists who will clearly stop at nothing to try to harm us.”

CAIR’s Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland chapters are incorporated under the umbrella of CAIR-Ohio, however, the Cleveland chapter operates independently under its own board. The Cincinnati and Columbus chapters merged in 2020 and have one board that oversees Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus.

Amina Barhumi has been appointed as acting executive director and Lina Abbaoui as acting legal director for the region.

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