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Siljander (Associated Press/Photo by Orlin Wagner)

Sentenced

Politics | Former Rep. Mark Siljander will spend a year in prison for lobbying for a group with terrorist ties

A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced former Rep. Mark Siljander, R-Mich., to a year and a day in prison without parole. Siljander pled guilty in 2010 to lying to the FBI and acting as an unregistered lobbyist for a sponsor of terrorism. He had faced a sentence of up to 15 years in prison without parole and a fine of up to $500,000. Siljander served in Congress from 1981 to 1987 and served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1987 to 1988.

The Sudan-based Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA) hired Siljander in 2004 to lobby for the nonprofit organization's removal from the U.S. Senate Finance Committee's list of sponsors of international terrorism. Siljander did not register as a lobbyist, as required by law, and lied to the FBI about the $75,000 in lobbying payments he received from the IARA. He said the money was a payment to help him finish a book on bridging the divide between Islam and Christianity. The book, A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman's Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide, was published in 2008 and details some of his visits with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Siljander has been active in the insider movement, which seeks to find common ground between Islam and Christianity and eschews efforts to "convert." He founded a "bridge-building" group called Trac5, which in 2010 merged with Common Path Alliance, a group, according to its website, "focused on the centrality of the life and work of Jesus (Isa) as evidenced in both the Bible and the Qur'an."

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The former congressman had been actively teaching with Trac5 at least as recently as November 2011. Trac5 has board members who are involved in the Fellowship, a secretive organization in Washington that Siljander has been closely connected to for years, the same group that hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Back in 1997, Siljander traveled with the head of the Fellowship, Doug Coe, to Khartoum, Sudan, to meet with Bashir.

Siljander funneled at least $25,000 of his lobbying payments through the Fellowship. The Fellowship's board member who oversaw the transactions, Eric Fellman, told me after Siljander pled guilty that the FBI had interviewed individuals at the Fellowship and found no hint wrongdoing because Siljander had told the Fellowship that the payments were for his book.

"There was no smoke let alone fire in what had happened between us and the IARA," Fellman said.

Soon after Siljander received the payments, the U.S. Treasury added the IARA to its list of sponsors of international terrorism, saying the group had sent $130,000 to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the onetime Afghan foreign minister allied with Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban.

On Wednesday, the federal judge at the U.S. District Court in Kansas City sentenced four other defendants connected to the case. The executive director of the now-shuttered IARA, Sudan-born U.S. citizen Mubarak Hamed, received the toughest sentence after pleading guilty to wiring money to Iraq in violation of U.S. sanctions: four years and 10 months without parole. According to prosecutors, Hamed used the IARA to take in between $1 million and $3 million annually from 1991 to 2003, money he transferred to Iraq.

IARA fundraiser Abdel Azim el-Siddig received two years of probation-he pled guilty to hiring Siljander and concealing the congressman's role. Siljander met Siddig at Wheaton College in 2001 at a discussion about Christian-Muslim relations, and the two traveled together to Khartoum in 2006. The IARA was officially based in Columbia, Mo., but its parent organization was the Islamic Relief Agency based in Khartoum.

IARA board member Ali Mohamed Bagegni and IARA fundraiser Ahmad Mustafa each received six months probation, a lessened sentence for their "substantial assistance" in the investigation, according to federal prosecutors.

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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