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Suburban police cancel anti-terrorism trainings

Published: Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

CHICAGO – Illinois law enforcement officials aren't likely to see any anti-terrorism training sessions with a Florida-based instructor in the near future after suburban Chicago authorities canceled a class over objections from an advocacy group claiming the trainer and his teachings are anti-Muslim.

The instructor – Sam Kharoba of the Cape Coral, Fla.-based Counter Terrorism Operations Center – has faced similar scrutiny elsewhere and a scheduled Monday class in the suburb of Lombard had prompted renewed concerns from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Village officials then scrapped the class, called "Islamic Awareness as a Counter-Terrorist Strategy." The Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board later said Kharoba's teachings are under review.

On Sunday, Kharoba dismissed the criticism of his work and raised questions about CAIR's history.

The group's "statements are manufactured distractions designed to shift blame onto the law enforcement agencies that are protecting the American people," Kharoba said in an emailed statement.

The class was to be held through the North East Multi-Regional Training group, which trains area police and corrections employees.

However CAIR's Chicago chapter protested the training last week over comments Kharoba made about Islam in a 2011 Washington Monthly article and claims his teaching materials contain inaccuracies and stereotypes. In the article Kharoba was quoted as saying, "Anyone who says that Islam is a religion of peace is either ignorant or flat out lying," along with disparaging comments about the Prophet Muhammad.

"Counterterrorism is much too important to be confounded with anti-Islam dribble from a biased and unqualified trainer whose record of false and problematic anti-Islam generalizations has long been exposed," Ahmed Rehab, CAIR-Chicago's executive director, said in a statement.

Kharoba, who has held dozens of trainings for police in the past, faced the same criticism in Florida last year. Dozens of mosques and Islamic centers wrote the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to remove Kharoba from teaching courses to law enforcement.

In Illinois, Lombard Village President Keith Giagnorio and Police Chief Ray Byrne cited the controversy in scrapping Kharoba's session. Similar classes had been set last month for the Chicago suburbs of Highland Park and Elmhurst, which officials said were cancelled due to low enrollment.

Giagnorio told the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald there was "no way" Lombard was going to get involved. The suburb about 20 miles west of Chicago has a sizeable Muslim population with several mosques and an Islamic college preparatory school.

Kevin McClain, director of the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, said Kharoba's teachings would need to be investigated before he could teach in Illinois.

"I would rather err on the side of caution," he told Chicago's WBBM radio.

Kharoba's background is in engineering, including software development and he has run the CTOC out of his home.

According to his biography, he grew up in Jordan and has studied Arabic culture at the University of London.

Kharoba said he has taught tens of thousands of law enforcement officers, including Muslims, and received only positive feedback. He said CAIR was unqualified to determine who was an anti-terrorism expert and raised questions about its history.

The Washington-based organization was founded nearly two decades ago, but has raised its national profile since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the wake of more reports of anti-Muslim discrimination. In Illinois, like in other states, the group maintains close contact with area mosques, acts as a community liaison and tracks discrimination cases.

Over the years, though, it's also been at odds with law enforcement, including federal agencies.

The organization was one of hundreds of Muslim individuals and groups named in 2008 as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism-financing trial where a Texas charity was accused of helping fund Hamas.

CAIR has denied any ties to terrorism or links to any groups, saying the claims are perpetuated by a "small but vocal group of anti-Muslim bigots."

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen.

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Information from: Daily Herald, http://www.dailyherald.com

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