WASHINGTON, D.C. - A U.S. group promoting peace in the Middle East said Tuesday it had rescinded an invitation to Syria's top Muslim cleric after learning that he threatened suicide bombings in the West.
|Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun|
"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. The high ranking religious leader was expected to make visits to California, Washington, Chicago and metro Detroit during his visit to the U.S. along with Syrian Greek Orthodox Bishop Luka El Khoury.
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.
At the early stages of the Syrian crisis Hassoun participated in joint prayers with Christian leaders in Syria and called for forgiveness and dialogue.
Hassoun's visit to metro Detroit was scheduled for July 6. Dr. Nasser Ani, Chairman of the Syrian American Forum, was also expected to speak at the forum in Washington.
Khoury is the Greek Orthodox Patriarchal Assistant for Damascus and the priest of Sidnaya church, which was bombed early in the conflict. Bishop El Khoury initiated joint prayer ceremonies for all sects in Syria, the first of which was in Damascus at the Umayyad mosque where they prayed, and then walked to the Miriyamia church to hold the second prayer. He has served as priest in different gulf countries and in Iraq from 1991 through 1999.
Wilcox said the mufti had not yet left for the United States and that it was unclear whether he was issued a visa. The U.S. 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 U.S.-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.