Tampa Police Chief Wants 'Unity' with Convicted Member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad

Chief Mary O'Connor and local politicians take photo-ops with Hatem Fariz and fellow radicals.

Joe Kaufman is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and the Chairman of the Joe Kaufman Security Initiative. He was the 2014, 2016 and 2018 Republican Nominee for U.S. House of Representatives (Florida-CD23).

A number of city officials from Tampa, Florida were in attendance at the 23rd Annual Islamic Charity Festival, held in March, to show their support for the festival’s organizer, the Tampa Bay Muslim Alliance (TBMA), and those involved in the event. Representing one of the festival’s sponsors, the Islamic Community of Tampa (ICT), was Hatem Fariz, a convicted member of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). While Fariz’ participation should be seen as a ‘red line’ not to be crossed by those in government looking to connect with Muslims, other festival participants have backgrounds that are nearly as radical, and TBMA, itself, has ties to PIJ beyond Fariz.

TBMA was founded in 1996 and incorporated in 2000. One of the founding directors of the corporation was Sami al-Arian, a University of South Florida (USF) professor who created a PIJ terror network within the Temple Terrace section of Tampa. Al-Arian was “deleted” from TBMA’s corporation, after his arrest by the FBI in February 2003. Taken into custody along with al-Arian was Hatem Fariz. Both would plead “guilty” to providing material support to terrorists. Al-Arian would be deported to Turkey. Fariz would serve a 37-month prison sentence.

Following his release from jail, in 2010, Fariz became the Managing Director of ICT, also known as Masjid al-Qassam. Fariz still holds the position. The mosque had been founded by al-Arian, in 1985, and was named for Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, a Palestinian religious and jihadist icon and a main inspiration for PIJ. ICT has acted as a drop-off location for donations made towards TBMA’s annual festivals.

On March 27, 2022, TBMA held its annual Islamic Charity Festival. Sponsors of the event included: ICT; the American Youth Academy (AYA), a children’s school founded by Sami al-Arian that is associated with and located next to ICT; the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that has foundational and financial ties to Hamas; and ICNA Relief, the social services division of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), an organization with various links to South Asian terror.

Representing ICNA Relief at the festival was its Tampa Director, Khalid Ouanaim. Ouanaim has participated in several functions and has taken many photos with Fariz. Ouanaim also has pics with Hamas fundraiser/singer Monzer Taleb and ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing Siraj Wahhaj. In May 2021, Ouanaim wrote of a trip he was taking to an anti-Israel rally: “We just left the IR office in Tampa, on our way to the rally in Washington DC to support our Palestinian brothers and sisters and the liberation of masjid Al Aqsa inshaAllah!” IR or Islamic Relief has been banned by Israel, and Israel has labeled IR a front for Hamas.

One of the speakers at the festival was Jarvis Karim el-Amin, the Vice Chairman of Tampa’s Masjid an-Nasr and former TBMA Secretary. In November 2021, he posted on his Facebook page what appears to be an anti-Semitic cartoon labeling Masons (and Jews) “criminals.” The illustration was published by the former National Secretary of the American Nazi Party (ANP), James K. Warner, who regularly used cartoons targeting Jews and Masons for his anti-Semitic essays and newsletters.

Considering all of the above, it is bewildering that the Tampa Chief of Police Mary O’Connor and other city officials took part in the festival.

O’Connor told the crowd, “We need to be unified as one community unit. That includes all of you that are here today…” She said this at a gathering run by a radical Muslim organization linked to one of the world’s most brutal terrorist groups. O’Connor then proceeded to pose for photos, on stage, standing and smiling between Fariz and TBMA Vice President Ziad Taha, who is a past President of ICT and a personal friend of Sami al-Arian. After al-Arian’s arrest, Taha said, “If, God forbid, he is convicted, I will never believe in the American justice system again – go and bury it. It’s all lies by the government.” Other photos have O’Connor arm-in-arm with el-Amin.

Also posing for photos with Fariz and el-Amin was Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera. This was not the first occasion Viera had taken a photograph with Fariz.

Tampa Administrator of Neighborhood and Community Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer Ocea Wynn stood on stage along with el-Amin and others to read a proclamation issued by Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. Ocea read, as recorded on the official document, “I, Jane Castor, by virtue of authority vested in me, as Mayor of the City of Tampa, do hereby proclaim Sunday, March 27, 2022 as ‘Islamic Charity Festival Day.’”

Castor was no stranger to TBMA. She had attended the TBMA festival before, when she herself had served as Tampa Chief of Police, along with then-Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who, for years, presented himself as a good friend to the radical Muslim community.

These government and law enforcement representatives from the City of Tampa Bay, Florida, who have allowed themselves to participate in events organized by TBMA and sponsored by terror-related groups like ICT, CAIR and ICNA, have done a dangerous disservice to the local community in Tampa and our country’s national security. Any proclamations issued to this group should be rescinded, and any local official who attempts to legitimize these groups needs to be reprimanded. Terrorism in any form, whether it is via rockets and bombs or affairs masked as charity festivals, must never be celebrated.

Beila Rabinowitz, Director of Militant Islam Monitor, contributed to this report.

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