‘London professor’ in Trump case made many Russia trips

In this handout photo taken on April 19, 2016, released by Valdai Club foundation, shows Ivan Timofeev, right, and Joseph Mifsud, attend the Valdai Discussion Club Conference following the results of the closed-door Iran-Russia discussion in Moscow, Russia. (valdaiclub.com via AP)
Updated 02 November 2017
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‘London professor’ in Trump case made many Russia trips

MOSCOW: The little-known professor suspected of being a link between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign made repeated visits to Russia in recent years, including participating in conferences at a Russian think tank favored by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Joseph Mifsud, who has been identified as the unnamed London professor who offered to set up meetings with Russian officials who could provide “thousands of emails” with damaging information about Trump’s rival, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, is a vocal Putin backer with ties to several important institutions in Russia.
He has visited Russia at least once a year since 2014, most recently in September, online postings on Russian academic sites show, and has taken part in events at the Valdai Discussion Club favored by the Russian leader and lectured at Moscow State University.
In the US court document laying out the case against former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, Mifsud is not identified by name and is referred to only as a “London professor” who met repeatedly with Papadopoulos and offered to set up meetings with Russian officials who could provide dirt on Clinton. However, a comparison of court papers and Papadopoulos’ email correspondence obtained by The Associated Press confirm Mifsud is the professor.
Mifsud, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, did not respond to phone calls and emails from the AP seeking comment. But he told The Telegraph newspaper that he is indeed the “London professor” in the case and says his conscience is clear.
Papadopoulos, 30, has pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI. He is not contesting the facts laid out in the court documents, calling them “true and accurate,” and is now cooperating with the FBI — and has been doing so for several months, raising the prospect that he has agreed to surreptitiously record conversations with people involved with the Russian government and the Trump campaign.
While Mifsud appears to have extensive ties to several important institutions in Russia, the Maltese national’s academic credentials in Britain are far hazier.
He holds a professorial teaching position in the politics department at the University of Stirling in Scotland, according to officials there who said he took up the post in May. However, he is not named on the university’s list of experts and the university press office refused to say how often he is on campus, where a reporter on the student newspaper said he does not even maintain an office.
“There is no evidence Professor Mifsud has even been to the university since joining the staff in May,” said Craig Munro, a reporter at the campus newspaper, Brignews. “He doesn’t have an office here and is based in London. We haven’t been able to find a single student who has met with Professor Mifsud or attended any lectures by him at Stirling.”
Prominent British academics also say they have had little or no contact with Mifsud.
“I’ve never heard of him,” said Robin Niblett, the veteran director of Chatham House, the prominent London think tank.
Nor has Niblett heard of the now-defunct London Academy of Diplomacy, where Mifsud is said to have served as “honorary director” before it closed, according to his biography, or the London Center of International Law Practice, where Mifsud is listed as director of international strategic development.
“He seems to be a classic case of someone floating around on the fringes of the academic world and the think-tanky world without landing anywhere,” Niblett said. “It would strike me that most of these positions are not paid, which raises questions. No doubt Russia cultivates certain academics. There’s no reason to assume he was consciously part of a disinformation operation, but he may have been unwittingly used for that purpose.”
According to the US court documents, Mifsud introduced Papadopoulos to a woman referred to as a “female Russian national,” whom he falsely presented as Putin’s niece and who he said could serve as a potential link to the Russian government.
There is evidence of Mifsud’s ties to several key Russian institutions.
He took part in events at the Putin-linked Valdai think tank in April 2016 that dealt with “What Russian Can Do to Bridge Saudi-Iranian Differences” and “Main Trends and Scenarios of the Global Energy Development.”
In 2012, Mifsud was instrumental in establishing a partnership between the now defunct London Academy of Diplomacy and the Faculty of Global Processes at the Moscow State University, according to the faculty’s website.
On behalf of the academy, Mifsud signed a wide-ranging cooperation agreement with the Moscow State University faculty in 2014 calling for shared research, student and teacher exchanges, the establishment of joint advanced degree programs, and a commitment to hold conferences together and to publish joint research.
Mifsud has also lectured at the Moscow university and frequently moderated its panels. A report on Mifsud’s 2014 visit on the faculty’s website featured a picture of him trying on a T-shirt and a baseball cap with the faculty’s symbols.
The next year, Mifsud joined dozens of people along with several Russian officials and prominent academics in signing a note congratulating the faculty on its 10th anniversary.
His most recent visit to Russia appears to have been in late September when he moderated panels at the faculty’s two-day Global Studies Conference.
He is also credited with helping Moscow State University set up an educational center in conjunction with Link Campus University, a private university based in Italy.
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Katz reported from London. Associated Press writers Paul Kelbie in Stirling, Scotland, and Chad Day in Washington contributed to this report.


Tony Blair: UK Muslim activist groups promote ‘extremist world view’ 

Updated 1 min 51 sec ago
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Tony Blair: UK Muslim activist groups promote ‘extremist world view’ 

  • Organizations stir up resentment by portraying Muslims in Britain as victims and alienated, report finds
  • Divisive ideas about the place of Muslims in the West are "threatening social cohesion"

LONDON: Former British prime minister Tony Blair has accused some Muslim organizations in Britain of spreading views that often mirror those of extremists. 

While they are non-violent, such groups stir up resentment by portraying Muslims in Britain as victims, alienated from British society and in constant conflict with the non-Muslim world. 

Most disturbingly, they “promote a worldview that significantly overlaps with that of a proscribed Islamist extremist organisation, Al-Muhajiroun” - a banned group which does espouse violence.

The allegations appear in a report from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change - the think tank Blair founded after leaving office - and names four groups: CAGE, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK and Islamic Human Rights Commission.

The report identifies six “key themes” shared by all four groups: Victimization, opposition between “good” and “bad” Muslims, opposition between Islam and the West, a delegitimization of the government, making Islam central to national politics and justification of violence.

“There is a range of views on these six themes, with differing degrees of severity from mainstream to extreme,” the report says. Of the four, Hizb ut-Tahrir comes close to sharing Al-Muhajiroun’s stance on violence. 

Banned since 2000, Al-Muhajiroun notoriously dubbed those  behind the Sept. 11 attacks “the Magnificent 19” and several of the group’s adherents have perpetrated other atrocities. 

The report warns that such a “corrosive narrative” promoting divisiveness between Muslims and non-Muslims can only embolden the far right and calls on the UK government to establish “a working definition of extremism” by identifying the key ideas that would “flag up” potential danger.

“Divisive ideas about the place of Muslims in the West are threatening social cohesion in Britain today,” said the former prime minister, who went on to serve as a special Middle East envoy. 

Tony Blair said divisive ideas about the place of Muslims in the West are threatening social cohesion. (AFP)

“Countering and recognizing this is an essential part of fighting extremism because - let us be clear - there is nothing incompatible between being British and being Muslim. But too many people, Muslims and non-Muslims, actively push messages that suggest otherwise.”

 The result, he said, was a “skewed discourse” in which fringe views dominate because moderate voices are afraid to speak out. Blair also accused  UK politicians of giving up on the discussion.

“Many Muslims in the UK hear more from divisive groups about how there is a security state set up to oppress them than they hear from our national leaders about how communities and policymakers can work together to build a thriving, inclusive Britain,” he said.

“Often when people think of this challenge, they focus entirely on violent, jihadi groups. Yet, as this report shows, many of the central ideas that British Muslims are hearing today from some activist groups are worryingly similar to the ideology of violent extremist groups.”

The Home Office (interior ministry) of the UK government describes Hizb ut-Tahrir as a “radical, but to date non-violent Islamist group” that “holds anti-semitic, anti-western and homophobic views.” Almost all the articles on the Hizb ut-Tahrir website portray Muslims as oppressed and bullied. Some articles are clearly anti-Saudi in tone and content.

CAGE was founded as an advocacy service to raise awareness of the plight of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay during and after the War on Terror. Its outreach director, Moazzam Beg was himself held in Guantanamo Bay for two years before being released without charge. However critics have labelled CAGE “apologists for terrorism,” a “terrorism advocacy group,” propagators of a “myth of Muslim persecution” and “a front for Taliban enthusiasts and Al-Qaeda devotees that fraudulently presents itself as a human rights group.”

The British-born Daesh extremist Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed Jihadi John, who was filmed beheading hostages had been in contact with CAGE while in the UK, complaining that he was being harassed by British intelligence agencies.

Responding to the Blair Institute report, CAGE called it “an academically flawed attempt to remould Islamic belief and silence Muslim voices that challenge repressive state policies,” and dismissed the former prime minister as “commonly known for being funded by despots.”

CAGE research director Asim Qureshi said: “It’s unsurprising, considering Tony Blair’s penchant for misinformation that his organization would use seriously flawed methodology in order to draw false conclusions.”

Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has held consultative status with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs since 2007. However it has also been described as “a radical Islamist organisation that uses the language of human rights to promote an extremist agenda including the adoption of sharia law” and “neo-Khomeinist.” 

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK encourages tactical voting in elections to dislodge members of parliament who support policies which it considers not be in Muslims’ interest. In 2005, the MPACUK targeted Lorna Fitzsimmons, a Labour MP for Rochdale, a town in north-west England with a large Muslim population, printing leaflets that claimed she had done nothing to help the Palestinian cause because she was Jewish. She is not and the group later apologized.

Former home secretary Jack Straw, whose parliamentary seat in Blackburn also has a large Muslim population, called the group “egregious” after it campaigned for Muslims to oust him. 

Azmina Siddique, policy adviser at the Tony Blair Institute, said: “The groups studied in this report don’t represent what most British Muslims think…This isn’t about violent extremism but about sowing division. This ‘us versus them’ rhetoric is becomingly increasingly visible across our society, including from the far right. Policymakers and civil society must start to challenge rhetoric that falls into this grey space between activism and extremism so that we can tackle the increasingly toxic climate that is feeding into extremism.”

Arab News asked the three other UK groups to comment on the report but none of them responded.