U.S. Muslim advocacy group fires Ohio chapter director for alleged spying

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Activist groups including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, MoveOn.org, Oxfam, and the ACLU hold a rally in front of the White House to mark the anniversary of the first Trump administration travel and refugee ban in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2018. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan/File Photo

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Dec 15 (Reuters) - The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest U.S. Muslim advocacy organization, has fired the head of its Ohio chapter after alleging that he shared confidential information with an anti-Muslim organization.

A news release from CAIR on Tuesday said its Ohio director, Romin Iqbal, had admitted to working with the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), a self-described "data center on radical Islamist terrorist groups," when confronted with the evidence of his misconduct.

"This betrayal and violation of trust was planned and purposeful, taking place over a period of years," CAIR's leaders said in a separate news release on Wednesday.

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Iqbal directed a request for comment from Reuters to his lawyer, who declined to comment.

The founder of the IPT, Steven Emerson, has "a history of promoting falsified information and conspiracy theories about Islam and Muslims," according to a Georgetown University research project on Islamophobia. Emerson is considered an anti-Muslim activist by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In an emailed statement, the IPT alleged that CAIR has ties to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and said it would "not hesitate to uncover and publicly expose radical Islamist activity on American soil by groups like CAIR, which threaten our national security."

CAIR denies that it has ties to Hamas.

CAIR's national office hired an outside forensic specialist to investigate evidence it received last year that the IPT had tried to infiltrate Muslim-American organizations such as CAIR using "moles."

In November, the specialist reported to CAIR that Iqbal had been sharing information, "including surreptitiously recorded conversations, strategic plans and private emails," with the IPT, according to the Tuesday press release.

The evidence CAIR received last year also showed that IPT was "communicating with and providing assistance to Israeli intelligence with the office of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," the news release said.

After Iqbal's termination, the CAIR-Ohio office in Columbus also discovered recent "suspicious purchases" from ammunition and gun retailers made on a credit card that was administered by Iqbal, according to Whitney Siddiqi, community affairs director for CAIR Ohio.

Siddiqi said CAIR could not confirm Iqbal made the purchases, but said the group was considering taking legal action against Iqbal for his alleged breaches of duty.

On Tuesday, the office also received a package containing parts to an AR-15 rifle. Siddiqi said a local law enforcement agency was looking in to the weapon acquisitions, and that the FBI had also been notified.

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Reporting by Julia Harte in New York Editing by Matthew Lewis

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