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Egyptian lawmaker met U.S. officials despite affiliation with terrorist group

By Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd, CNN
June 23, 2012 -- Updated 0614 GMT (1414 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The State Department is reviewing its approval of Hani Nour el-Din's visa
  • He visited Washington this week as part of a delegation of Egyptian lawmakers
  • El-Din is a member of the group Gamaa Islamiya, a designated terrorist organization

(CNN) -- The State Department is reviewing its approval of a visa for a visiting Egyptian lawmaker after questions surfaced about whether he was invited to meet with administration officials despite belonging to a group accused of ties to terrorism.

Hani Nour el-Din visited Washington this week as part of a delegation of Egyptian members of parliament. But el-Din is a member of the group Gamaa Islamiya, which was blamed for a spate of violence in the 1990s, and which the State Department has designated a terrorist organization.

Under American law, a member of any group on the list would expect to be denied a visa.

"For somebody who represents a terrorist organization to be given a visa to come here and to meet with officials -- I think that's dubious diplomacy at best," said Clifford May, with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "This is a terrorist organization, without any ambiguity about it whatsoever."

It was not clear whether U.S. officials were aware of el-Din's associations when he was allowed to visit.

Efforts by CNN to reach el-Din Friday were not successful. But in an interview with The Daily Beast, which first reported the story, el-Din confirmed that he is a member of Gamaa Islamiya, but nevertheless got a visa and attended a meeting with White House Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough.

A spokesman for the National Security Council declined to comment. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed that the Egyptian delegation met with two top officials there -- Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, and Under Secretary Robert Hormats.

She said the State Department meetings covered such topics as Egypt's transition to civilian rule, and the protection of human rights.

 "We are reviewing the case of the visa issuance," Nuland said. "Anyone who is issued a visa goes through a full set of screenings. Those screenings do depend, however, on the integrity of the information that's available to us at the time that we do screen, and this particular case is one that we are now looking into."

According to Egyptian researcher Samuel Tadros of the Hudson Institute in Washington, researching el-Din's affiliation would be as simple as an Arabic-language Google search.

"Once you enter on his Facebook page, you can very easily see Mr. Nour el-Din himself, and a short bio about him, where he very clearly says he is a member of Gamaa Islamiya, and that he was arrested in Egypt, and spent 11 years of his life in prison," Tadros said.

El-Din told The Daily Beast that he is no terrorist, has never been involved in violence, and that his incarceration was politically motivated.

But according to Tarek Al Zumor, a party spokesman and founding member of Gamaa Islamiya, el-Din pressed American officials for a transfer into Egyptian custody of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric serving a life sentence in the United States for a conspiracy conviction in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The request mirrors the demands of Gamaa Islamiya members in Cairo who have protested in Tahrir Square, seeking the sheikh's release.

El-Din's request, Zumor said, was denied.

CNN's Jamie Crawford and journalist Mohamed Fadel Fahmy contributed to this report.

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