WASHINGTON - The Muslim Students Association, or MSA, is one of the largest Islamic organizations in America, with chapters on hundreds of college campuses. It's alumni include doctors, lawyers and engineers.
But the group has another track record that it doesn't advertise: several of its leaders have been convicted of terrorism, prompting some terror experts to call the MSA a recruiting tool for jihad.Although many Muslim and liberal groups complained about recent congressional hearings on homegrown Islamic radicalism, American-born Muslims are behind a growing number of terror plots -- a trend that Attorney General Eric Holder has said keeps him "up at night."
Many of these homegrown jihadists once belonged to the MSA, which has thousands of members on college campuses throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Student Network or Terror Factory?
The MSA bills itself as a resource and support group, a place where Muslim students can network and help grow the association.
Terrorism expert Patrick Poole, however, told CBN News his investigation of the organization shows it's being used for another purpose.
"The Muslim Students Association has been a virtual terror factory," said Poole. "Time after time after time again, we see these terrorists -- and not just fringe members: these are MSA leaders, MSA presidents, MSA national presidents -- who've been implicated, charged and convicted in terrorist plots."
The roll call includes Anwar al-Awlaki, the al Qaeda cleric linked to terror plots from Fort Hood to Times Square and beyond.
Awlaki, now a target for assasination by the U.S. government, was president of the MSA at Colorado State University in the mid-1990s.
Then there is Ramy Zamzam. Before his conviction in Pakistan last year for attempting to join the Taliban and kill American troops, Zamzam was president of the MSA's Washington, D.C., council.
Omar Hammami, a leader of the al-Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia, is another MSA alum. He was once president of the group's chapter at the University of South Alabama.
And the list goes on.
Abdurahman Alamoudi, who was national president of the MSA during the 1980s, was al Qaeda's top fundraiser in America and is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence.
Radical Islam Incubator
The MSA is a supposedly "mainstream" group that has long operated on college campuses from coast to coast. Yet a 2007 New York Police Department report identified the organization as an "incubator" for Islamic radicalism.
Former FBI Special Agent John Guandolo told CBN News that the problem can be traced back to the group's roots in the Muslim Brotherhood -- a jihadist movement that seeks to establish Islamic Sharia law worldwide.
"The MSA serves as a recruitment tool to bring Muslims into the Brotherhood," Guandolo said. "Which was its original purpose: to evaluate Muslims and to bring them into the Brotherhood and to recruit non-Muslims into Islam as a dawa entity, giving them the call to Islam."
Guandolo worked on several major terrorism cases for the FBI. He calls the MSA the "focal point" for the Muslim Brotherhood in America.
"Their goal, both from their senior leaders, presidents of MSA's around the country, national leadership, is to implement Islamic government here in the United States," he explained. "And they say that."
Founded in 1963 at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, the MSA quickly spread to other campuses in the Midwest.
"There were really three leaders, three Iraqi guys: Jamal Barzinji, Ahmed Totonji, and Hisam Altalib, who really set it up, who are known, identified Muslim Brotherhood leaders," said Poole. "And from there, MSA became the mother ship of all the Muslim Brotherhood front groups."
In 2004, the FBI uncovered an internal Muslim Brotherhood document in which a Brotherhood leader identified the MSA as one of "our organizations and the organizations of our friends."
Part of the MSA's on-campus strategy is to aggressively confront pro-Israel speakers.
The Muslim Students Union at the University of California-Irvine, an MSA affiliate, was suspended by the school after members repeatedly heckled Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren during a speech in 2010.
Another MSA member endorsed genocide against Jews in May 2010 during an exchange with conservative commentator David Horowitz at the University of California-Davis.
"I am a Jew," Horowitz said. "The head of Hezbollah has said that he hopes that we will gather in Israel so he doesn't have to hunt us down globally. For or against it?"
"For it," the MSA member answered firmly, in front of a stunned crowd.
The MSA's national body did not respond to CBN News's request for comment on this story and the organization has not officially addressed the pattern of terrorism arrests involving its former members.