A Muslim scholar chosen to speak at President-elect Barack Obama's inaugural prayer service Wednesday is the leader of a group that federal prosecutors say has ties to terrorists.
Mattson has been the guest of honor at State Department dinners and has met with senior Pentagon officials during the Bush administration. She also spoke at a prayer service at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Mattson, who was elected president of the society in 2006, is a professor of Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Conn.
But in 2007 and as recently as last July, federal prosecutors in Dallas filed court documents linking the Plainfield, Ind.-based Islamic society to the group Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.
Neither Mattson nor her organization have been charged. But prosecutors wrote in July that they had "a wide array of testimonial and documentary evidence expressly linking" the group to Hamas and other radical groups.
Linda Douglass, a spokeswoman for Obama's inaugural committee, would not discuss the case or say whether the committee knew about it.
"She has a stellar reputation in the faith community," Douglass said Saturday night.
The existence of the court documents was first reported by Politico.
The Islamic Society of North America, which describes itself as "the nation's largest mainstream Muslim community-based organization," is fighting its inclusion on a list of coconspirators in the Dallas terrorism case against the Holy Land Foundation. In court documents, Mattson's group says it does not condone terrorism.
The court documents represent a complicated picture of the group.
Law enforcement agencies have used the organization's annual convention as part of its outreach to the Muslim community. The group has provided religious training to the FBI, according to court documents. Karen Hughes, a former Bush confidant and under secretary of state, called Mattson "a wonderful leader and role model for many, many people."
All this was going on while officials in the law enforcement and intelligence community apparently had evidence that the Islamic Society of North America had ties to terrorists and to the Holy Land Foundation. That foundation and five of its former leaders were convicted at a retrial in November of funneling millions of dollars to Hamas.
Mark Pelavin, director of inter-religious affairs for the Union for Reform Judaism — another organization participating in the prayer service — called Mattson "a really important voice denouncing terrorism."
"Clearly, Dr. Mattson has been welcome throughout the government," he said. "I haven't found anyone anywhere who's found anything Dr. Mattson has said that's anything other than clearly denouncing terrorism in quite explicit Islamic terms."
Pelavin's group has a partnership with the Islamic Society to encourage members of mosques and synagogues to build ties nationwide.
Attorneys for Mattson's group wrote in court documents that it is not a subject or target of the Holy Land investigation. The group has worked with the Bush administration's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, according to court documents.
According to e-mails filed in the court case, one of the prosecutors seemed willing to ask the judge to remove the group from the list.
"I am sorry for the problems for your clients," Assistant U.S. Attorney James T. Jacks wrote in July 2007. "I hope to get something to you or file something with the court as soon as possible."
The Islamic Society helps certify Muslim chaplains for federal prisons. Mattson leads a program at the Hartford Seminary that trains Muslim chaplains for the U.S. military.
Mattson was one of about three dozen leaders, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and two former Republican congressmen, Vin Weber and Steve Bartlett, who developed a report released last fall on how the U.S. can fight extremism in the Muslim world.