Stretching the principle of free speech to its limits, a Muslim cleric in Maryland, Suleiman Anwar Bengharsa has openly endorsed the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) terror group, and funded at least one convert to Islam who was arrested for buying illegal explosives, but has not been charged or arrested. This is because, according to authorities, he has not broken any laws. Bengharsa has served for more than a decade as a Muslim cleric in Maryland and as an imam at mosques in Annapolis and Baltimore. Also, he once gave a two-week course Muslim marriage at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, where President Barack Obama made a much-publicized visit this year.
 
On Facebook, Bengharsa has openly endorsed the Islamic State, posted depicting the beheading and burning of the enemies of ISIS, while also praising jihadi attacks overseas. In addition, the “Islamic Jurisprudence Center” website he founded has mosques in the United States as un-Islamic and said that homosexual acts should be punished by death.
 
Sebastian Gregerson
 
According to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court, the 59-year-old Bengharsa gave $1,300 in June 2015 to Sebastian Gregerson, 29, (aka: Abdurrahaman Bin Mikaayl) who was arrested this year on explosives charges. FBI agents suspected the two men were plotting terrorism. “Based on the totality of the aforementioned information and evidence,” said the affidavit, “there is reason to believe that Bengharsa and Gregerson are engaged in discussions and preparations for some violent act on behalf of” the Islamic State. 
 
The above is a screenshot of a video that was scrubbed from YouTube on September 30
 
However, Bengharsa has not been arrested or charged because authorities do not have clear evidence that he has broken the law. His objectionable speech remains protected by the First Amendment, and the FBI apparently lack proof that he knew Gregerson planned to buy illegal explosives. Next to the notation for the $1,300 check, Bengharsa wrote in his checkbook: “zakat,” or charity, the documents show.
 
The criticisms laid forth by Bengharsa and similar Muslim clerics, resonate with themes that are familiar also among revolutionary leftists. For example on his Facebook page, which has since been taken down, he wrote: "America, you are splitting apart!! It is from what your hands have brought forth!! You have commited too many injustices! It's payback time!!! And, how beautiful it is that you can't even see it!! We keep praying that Alloah grant you and your allies what you deserve! We wish to get closer to Allah by standing against you!!"
 
In the wake of the mass murder at a nightclub in Florida by a Muslim man, as well as subsequent attacks associated with Muslim extremists, the FBI has been sharply criticized for not doing something sooner and thus potentially putting the public safety at risk. In testimony to Congress last week, FBI Director James B. Comey said agents are challenged to determine when a line has been crossed. “It’s even protected speech to say I’m a fan of the Islamic State so-called,” Comey said.
 
Bengharsa reportedly has enough money to be generous, for whatever purpose. According to court records, he received $902,710 in wire transfers in 2014 and 2015. Regarding Gregerson, he told The Detroit News “If that individual turns around and wants to use that money for something else that’s illegal, the person who gave the money cannot be held responsible.” Bengharsa said furthermore, “It’s pathetic if they are making those connections. If that’s what this country has become, I’d rather be in jail.”
 
FBI documents filed in court contend that he transferred money three times to an unnamed person in Yemen. The agency is also investigating contacts between Bengharsa and others suspected of extremism. Among them is Yusuf Wehelie of Virginia, 25, who was arrested this year on weapons charges. He has a previous felony conviction for burglary. Wehelie and his brother, Yahya Wehelie, were temporarily detained in Cairo and prevented by the FBI from flying home to the US. The delay prompted an outcry from the ACLU and the Council on American Islamic Relations. Authorities eventually relented and the Wehelies came back to the US. At a hearing in July, it was revealed that Wehelie had told undercover agents of his support of ISIS and of his vow that if he were prevented from joining in combat overseas, he would attack a military recruiting center in the US with explosives. 
 
There are concerns among officials in the US that Bengharsa is spreading the ISIS message of justifying violence against the enemies of Islam. Currently, the FBI is investigating him for  conspiring and providing material support to the Islamic State. In an interview with The Detroit News in August 2016, Bengharson said the federal government is engaged in “McCarthyism” against him and that the accusations were “ridiculous.” As to whether he supports the Islamic State’s cause, he said, “It might appear that way. I am an advocate of the United States and the West getting the hell out of the Middle East and the Muslim world.” He added, “If this was the case, why haven’t they come to arrest me?”
 
Bengharsa has expressed extremist views that are in-line with the teachings of the Sharia, or Islamic law. He once said in a lecture on relationships between Muslims and “kufar” (non-Muslims) that Muslims should not give them any “love” or “loyalty.” In 2011, he gave lectures advising Muslims that they must be loyal to the Sharia, regardless of where they live. “It doesn’t help if you say ‘I’m now living in America’ or ‘I’m now living in England,’ or ‘My culture says such and such.’ ” he said.
 
According to a biography he posted online, Bengharsa was born in Libya and emigrated to the US at the age of ten. He professes to have a degree from the Al Azhar University of Egypt, and has degrees in economics and Islamic studies. He later lived in Texas and then moved to Maryland where he served as a chaplain to Muslims in prisons there from 2009 to 2010. He later operated out of a small storefront mosque near Baltimore and at the Islamic Society of Maryland. He then founded the Islamic Jurisprudence Center, which has a street address that is actually a mailbox at a UPS store near his home in Clarksburg MD. 

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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