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Muslim rights organization fires director for passing information to a hate group

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Ohio, a chapter of a leading Muslim civil rights group has fired its top leader, claiming he shared information about the organization with an anti-Muslim hate group. From member station WVXU in Cincinnati, Tana Weingartner reports.

TANA WEINGARTNER, BYLINE: In an astonishing announcement, the Columbus-Cincinnati board of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says it has proof its executive director, Romin Iqbal, has long been passing information about its national organization to an anti-Muslim hate group.

WHITNEY SIDDIQI: It is a complete act of betrayal.

WEINGARTNER: Whitney Siddiqi is CAIR-Ohio's community affairs director. She alleges that Iqbal secretly recorded meetings and shared them and emails with a group called The Investigative Project on Terrorism, founded by Steven Emerson.

SIDDIQI: He is known for spreading hate, vitriol and anti-Islamic rhetoric. Emerson and IPT have a history of promoting conspiracy theories about Muslims.

WEINGARTNER: CAIR-Ohio officials say the allegations follow an independent third-party investigation by its national headquarters. They say Iqbal admitted to leaking information to the other group. When contacted, Iqbal's attorney declined to comment for this story.

CAIR alleges that IPT has spent years using moles, trying to infiltrate and spy on prominent mosques and Muslim-American organizations, including the Columbus-Cincinnati chapter. CAIR Ohio also reportedly found $4,000 worth of suspicious purchases from weapons retailers on a work-issued credit card Iqbal administered. In another twist, officials say a package containing parts for an AR-15 rifle was mailed to its Columbus office earlier this week.

Hussein Rashid studies Muslims in American popular culture at The New School in New York. He finds the allegations troubling but not surprising.

HUSSEIN RASHID: Groups like The Investigative Project on Terrorism seem to be dedicated to tearing Americans apart, where you have one group of Americans paying another group of Americans to spy on their own communities. I think that's deeply troubling and deeply upsetting.

WEINGARTNER: CAIR-Ohio official Whitney Siddiqi calls the allegations heartbreaking, but says it won't stop them from continuing their efforts to protect and defend Muslims in the U.S.

For NPR news, I'm Tana Weingartner in Cincinnati.

(SOUNDBITE OF THRUPENCE'S "FOLDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.