Last updated: 26 June, 2012

US group drops invite to Syria mufti

A US group promoting peace in the Middle East said Tuesday it had rescinded an invitation to Syria’s top Muslim cleric after learning that he threatened suicide bombings in the West.

The Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace said that it had not properly researched the background of Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, whom it invited for an event this week on bridging differences in Syria.

“We were informed that he was going to come here and give us his thoughts on dialogue and coexistence,” said Phil Wilcox, the president of the Foundation.

“Obviously, having associated himself with terrorist suicide bombings, we wanted no part of him and canceled the program,” he told AFP.

Hassoun is considered close to President Bashar al-Assad, who is putting down the biggest threat to his family’s four-decade rule. Hassoun’s son was killed in October in political violence.

In a video that appeared on YouTube shortly after his son’s death, Hassoun warned Europe, the United States and Israel of suicide bombings if they intervened in his violence-torn country.

“From the first round fired, the sons of Syria and Lebanon will become fighters who will carry out suicide attacks on the land of Europe and Palestine,” the mufti said.

Wilcox said the mufti had not yet left for the United States and that it was unclear whether he was issued a visa. The US embassy in Damascus suspended operations in February due to the violence.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that she was aware of the invitation to the mufti but could not discuss a potential visa due to confidentiality rules.

The Foundation for Middle East Peace promotes a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and publishes reports about Israel’s settlements on occupied land.

The US-based Syrian Expatriate Organization praised the Foundation for dropping the invitation, saying in a statement that the move “represents a serious blow to Assad’s propaganda machine.”

More than 15,000 people have died in Syria’s 16 months of violence, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.