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Bad connections

"Bad connections" Continued...

Issue: "Crossing the Rubiocon," Aug. 14, 2010

IARA also funneled $25,000 in payments to Siljander through the National Heritage Foundation, a group that oversees "donor advised funds" (but declared bankruptcy last year). The money was designated for "Ambassadors of Peace and Reconciliation." Siljander's consulting group, Global Strategies, Inc., received $24,350 from Ambassadors of Peace and Reconciliation in late 2004. No such 501(c)(3) appears in IRS records. The Fellowship once had an affiliate nonprofit called "Ambassadors of Reconciliation," but that group ceased operations in 2006, and Fellman denied that it had any connection to Ambassadors of Peace and Reconciliation. Siljander, in his book, lists one of the directors of Ambassadors of Reconciliation, William Aramony, as a "dear friend" and relates a trip they took together to Khartoum in 2006.

In January 2004, before the Fellowship accepted funds from IARA, the Senate Finance Committee added IARA to its list of sponsors of terror. In March, IARA hired Siljander to lobby and clear its name, but he was unsuccessful. The Treasury added the group to its official terror sponsors list a few months later, saying IARA had sent $130,000 to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the onetime Afghan foreign minister allied with Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. The FBI wiretapped IARA employees and raided its Missouri offices in 2004. The Treasury froze the group's funds and assets, effectively shutting it down. In 2008 the government issued an indictment charging the group with violating international sanctions and its top officers with money laundering, violation of terrorism sanctions, and theft of public funds.

While IARA is based in Columbia, Mo., it is affiliated with the Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA) based in Khartoum, Sudan, and Siddig (IARA's fundraiser who pleaded guilty) has ties to the Bashir government-his close friend, Ali Karti, is now the foreign minister there (see sidebar below). Siddig and Siljander have visited Khartoum together.

Siljander has strong convictions about reaching out to Muslims-a view the Fellowship shares. The Fellowship, which sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington each year, excited controversy when the breakfast included readings from the Quran (a decision Siljander himself originally opposed). The leaders of the Fellowship like Doug Coe eschew the term "Christian" and describe Muslims as fellow "followers of Jesus."
Email Emily Belz

Dinners with a dictator

By Mindy Belz

Karti: Amr Abdallah/REUTERS/Landov

In his 2008 book, A Deadly Misunderstanding, Mark Siljander wrote, "Omar al-Bashir was, in the eyes of the West, a bad man. In the eyes of God, as near as I could understand it, he was just another human being, with frailties and failings like the rest of us."

When Bashir seized power in a military coup in Sudan in 1989 and instituted Shariah law throughout the country, atrocities against Christians living in the South proliferated. Nearly 2 million have been killed in the course of religious cleansing in the South and 4 million southern Sudanese have been displaced (including over 27,000 young orphans who came to be known as the "Lost Boys of Sudan") by the time the parties to the conflict signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005.

In 1997, at a time when the United States had broken off relations with the Islamic government, Siljander made his first of many trips to Khartoum to meet with the Sudanese head of state, accompanied by the head of the Fellowship, Doug Coe. Terrorist leaders Carlos the Jackal, Osama bin Laden, and Abu Nidal all resided in Khartoum at one time or another in the mid-1990s, and in 1996 the Clinton administration designated the Sudanese government under Bashir a state sponsor of terror and broke diplomatic relations. In 1997 it imposed comprehensive sanctions against Sudan.

During Siljander's visit, he recounts in his book that he told Bashir: "Of course, you can make peace with the south or not, sign a treaty or not, you do whatever you're inclined to do. But just know that we're going to be praying with you and for you in this process, and believing in you and in the very essence of what you call the power of Islam-being surrendered to God and in peace."

His book recounts trips to meet with other heads of state-in Libya, Benin, the Balkans, Pakistan, Indonesia, and other countries. Many of these were then considered Marxist or Islamist terrorist rogues, particularly Libya's Moammar Qaddafi. Both Siljander and Coe flew to Benin, surrendered their passports, and took a middle-of-the-night flight aboard an unmarked Libyan jet in order to evade prevailing sanctions against travel to Libya. In the end Qaddafi denied them an audience.

Siljander met Abdel Azim el-Siddig during a trip to Chicago in 2001, where they met with faculty members at Wheaton College to discuss Christian-Muslim relations in the wake of 9/11. Siddig eventually hired Siljander as a lobbyist for the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA). Siddig is also a close friend of Ali Karti, a longstanding member of the Bashir government who earlier this year was named foreign minister. Siddig and Siljander traveled to Khartoum together in 2006. Siljander told me in November 2006 he made other frequent trips to Khartoum: "I've had dinner four times in the last four months with Bashir."

Ali Karti was increasingly a part of Siljander's circle in Khartoum. And Karti at the same time was fingered by the Bush administration as a key player in orchestrating attacks on villages in Darfur. In September of that year U.S. Homeland Security officers detained Karti for four hours on the tarmac of Dulles International airport outside Washington after his name appeared on a suspected terrorist watch list. The suspicions stemmed from his support for janjaweed militias then attacking African tribal villages in the western Sudan region of Darfur. Experts estimate that between September 2003 and December 2008 in the conflict 300,000 died and over 2 million were displaced as Arab militias backed by Khartoum overran African villages and African militias.

"Yes, we made mistakes with janjaweed," Siljander said during our interview. "Ali Karti and Bashir have said that to me. It doesn't remove the evil but privately indicates their desire to change. If they say they are willing to disarm janjaweed and protect [aid] workers, let's come to some agreement, remove sanctions, and then incentivize them."

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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