The Other Fundamentalists
by Steven Emerson
The New Republic
June 12, 1995
We know, after the Oklahoma City bombing, that terrorism in the United States can take many forms, domestic and foreign, populist and insurrectionist, from those with bizarre domestic grudges to those with radical foreign agendas. The growing awareness of this threat is part of what motivated the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House last week. Until Oklahoma City, the consensus in the FBI was that, of the various extremist groups in the United States, it was radical Islamist groups that most gravely threaten American security. And for all the new evidence of domestic terrorism, that judgment remains the same. Over the past year alone, the FBI has created dozens of special units around the country--with hundreds of agents and analysts—whose tasks include tracking these radical Islamist groups.
A two-year investigation I recently concluded helps show why the government is so concerned. The investigation--which involved hundreds of interviews with moderate and militant Islamist officials and with law enforcement and intelligence officials, as well as the acquisition of more than 150,000 documents, publications and recordings produced by radical Islamist groups--revealed that these groups have established elaborate political, financial and, in some cases, operational infrastructures in the United States. Because of the scope of this movement (it ranges from New York to Oklahoma to California), its bellicose rhetoric (it calls for a holy war or "jihad" against the U.S. and other governments) and its advocacy of terror to achieve its ends (it trains recruits in the use of car bombs), it's no wonder the FBI has made this network a top priority.
Given the FBI's limitations, however, both in resources and in legal authority to investigate groups that define themselves as religious, it could be a while before the bureau gets the upper hand. "It took the bureau more than ten years before it could infiltrate the Mafia, learn the language, recruit Sicilians," says Don Lavey, a former FBI official who served as head of Interpol's counter-terrorism branch. "But this time, the threat is much greater and the bureau's resources incredibly more limited."
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the U.S., and the vast majority of Muslims in America are peaceful and law-abiding and do not condone violence. But in recent years an extremist fringe of militant Islamism has taken root here. To avoid raising suspicion and to take advantage of civil liberties protections, these militant groups often reconstitute themselves here as " research," "charitable" or "civil rights" institutions. Ahmed Said Nasr, an Egyptian journalist and former diplomat based in Washington, has studied militant Islamist groups in the United States. "During the past several years, there has been not only a proliferation of Islamic fundamentalist groups in the United States," says Nasr, "but they have carried out a major deception to the American public by masquerading as charities and religious or educational organizations. In the West, you think of schools or religious institutions as totally innocent because of your tradition of separation of church and state. But for the Islamic fundamentalist movement there is no separation of church and state."
Oliver B. Revell, a former senior FBI official in charge of counter- terrorist and counter-intelligence investigations, puts the objectives of these groups in no uncertain terms. "They are ultimately committed to waging holy war, both in the Middle East and the world at large against all of their opposition," he says. "And that means us." Seif Ashmawi, the Egyptian-born American-based publisher of a bilingual newspaper called The Voice of Peace, concurs. "The aim of these groups," Ashmawi says, "is the same as their aim in the Middle East: to build and expand their radical religious-political empire and eliminate or discredit all their enemies, particularly Muslims like myself who don't agree with radical fundamentalists' claim to represent Islam."
Although there is no evidence that these myriad Islamist groups are centrally coordinated, it does appear that they collaborate and cross- fertilize. Evidence collected by federal investigators in the cases related to the February 26, 1993, World Trade Center bombing, for example, shows that leaders or representatives of at least five different groups--including the Palestinian-based Islamic Jihad, Hamas, the Sudanese National Islamic Front, the Pakistan-based al-Fuqrah (a black Islamist group) and groups funded by Persian Gulf donors--were involved in the plot. Sudanese diplomats affiliated with the National Islamic Front aided conspirators with access and credentials. In addition, Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric accused of being the spiritual ringleader of the World Trade Center conspiracy, had been hosted or sponsored in the U.S. by at least half a dozen mosques and innocent-sounding Islamist "charitable" and "religious" organizations. Many of these groups are willing to work together in diaspora because they feel they are surrounded by a common enemy: Westerners and their values.
Perhaps the best places to observe what brings these groups together are the Islamist conventions, held annually, often in the bland hotels and convention centers Midwestern cities. Among the best-attended are those sponsored by the Muslim Arab Youth Association (maya). Founded in 1974 and headquartered in Plainfield, Indiana, Maya has evolved into an umbrella organization for militant Islamist groups around the world. Its influence can be seen in the impressive parade of top Islamist militants who have addressed past conventions. They include Rachid al-Ghannouchi, head of the militant Tunisian al-Nahda movement (who was sentenced to death in absentia for his role in deadly terrorist attacks in Tunisia but now lives under political asylum in Britain); Mustapha Mash'hur, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood deputy supreme guide; Musa Abu Marzuk, the head of Hamas's political committee, who lived in the U.S. from 1973 to 1993; Yusef al-Qaradhawi, an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood cleric based in Qatar; Ahmad al-Qattan, a Hamas leader based in Kuwait; Sheik Ahmad Nofal, a recruiter of Hamas terrorists in Jordan; and Ibrahim Gousheh, Hamas's spokesman in Jordan. Maya, like its parent organization, Muslim Brotherhood, embraces the belief that Western, particularly American society, is morally corrupt, intrinsically anti-Islamic and evil. "In the heart of America, in the depths of corruption and ruin and moral deprivation, an elite of Muslim youth is holding fast to the teachings of Allah," states the preface to maya's " Constitution," which is printed in Arabic and distributed at its conventions. A companion publication,"Guide for the Muslim Family in America," explains: " Western civilization is based upon the separation of religion from life.... Islamic civilization is based upon principles fundamentally opposed to those of Western civilization."
Maya's conferences serve several purposes. They help conservative Muslims fight the trend toward assimilation in the secular culture of the United States.They rally American Muslims in support of various militant Islamist causes. They showcase and promote Islamist charities that fund militant movements abroad. They offer a pretext for some of the world's most notorious militant Islamist leaders to come to the United States and get together under the same roof, where, according to law enforcement officials, in addition to addressing Muslim Americans, they divide monies raised through charities and coordinate operations behind closed doors. Finally, the conferences provide militant organizations with a cover to observe and recruit operatives in the U.S.for terrorist activities. A Chicago-based Palestinian-American who was convicted of abetting terrorist acts admitted to Israeli authorities, for example, that he had helped to train Hamas recruits at a maya convention.
At the most recent maya conference, held at a Hyatt hotel in Chicago in December, 5,000 people heard speech after speech asserting that Muslims around the globe were under bitter attack. The attendees were told that, as the vanguard of the Muslim Ummah (or "nation"), they were required to reclaim Islam's lost glory. In addition to a few non-political sermons, one could also hear vehement denunciations of Israel and the PLO-Israeli accords, describing them as modern-day equivalents of the anti-Muslim Crusades. Greeting the conventioneers was the headline of Maya's Arabic-language newspaper: Jihad in America: the crusades continue!"--a reference to a film I produced for PBS last year on militant Islamist groups in the U.S.
Men and women, most dressed in traditional scarves, were segregated in accordance with Islamic law, though in the halls and elevators, the sexes mixed. Perhaps half of the conference-goers were younger than 20. On a floor below the conference rooms was a bazaar, set up wall-to-wall with bookstalls, tables and stands selling delicacies, children's books, religious texts, baseball hats and t-shirts embroidered with slogans like "islam is the solution." At other stalls, relief organizations collected donations for the Muslim victims of "genocide," the "crusades" and other forms of repression in Palestine, Bosnia, the Philippines, Egypt, Algeria and elsewhere. The makeshift marketplace was also well-stocked with books on Jews, including several editions of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and titles such as Freemasons' and Christians' Conspiracy Against Islam, The Myth of Jesus Christ, The Jews Are Coming, Islam and Jewish Conspiracies and The Dangers of Jewish Existence to the Islamic Ummah. At the Islamic Association for Palestine table--one of the largest--books and videos lauding Hamas were in plentiful supply. One such book was dedicated to the martyrdom of Imad Aqel, a legendary Hamas terrorist who had personally killed Jews and fellow Palestinians deemed to be "collaborators" before being shot to death in a gun battle with Israeli soldiers in 1993.
Nearby, at a stand soliciting donations for the imprisoned Sheik Abdul Rahman, a young man handed out a brochure called "U.S. War on Islam and Its Scholars," which explained that the sheik's indictment was "a prelude for a U. S. government campaign against all Muslim activists" and "proof that Islam in America is targeted by the U.S. government."
Among this year's more popular lecturers was the bearded, avuncular-looking Bassam al-Amoush, a member of the Islamic coalition in the Jordanian parliament, who boasted of how his party boycotted President Bill Clinton's address to that body. "Somebody approached me at the mosque in Amman and asked me, If I see a Jew in the street, should I kill him?'" al-Amoush said, putting on a dumbfounded face. " Don't ask me,' I said to him. After you kill him, come and tell me.'" The crowd roared with laughter. "What do you want from me, a fatwa religious ruling? Really, a good deed does not require one."
Minutes later, a message was handed to the master of ceremonies, who read it aloud. A hush fell over the conference room as he announced: "We have very good news. There was an attack on a bus in Jerusalem, perpetrated by a Palestinian policeman. Nineteen were wounded and three were killed. Hamas has taken responsibility for the act." (This was on December 26, when a Hamas suicide bomber blew up a bus in downtown Jerusalem. It was later revealed that only the bomber died; twelve Israelis were wounded.) The crowd responded with shouts of "Allahu Akbar!"
For al-Amoush, like other militant Islamist leaders before him, the visit to the United States provided an opportunity to raise morale and support among American Muslims for the Islamist movement worldwide. Here, unlike in his native land, al-Amoush doesn't have to worry about the authorities clamping down on him. In Jordan, members of his Islamic coalition had come under sharp scrutiny after Jordanian police uncovered their involvement in an assassination plot against King Hussein and in efforts to supply weapons to Hamas for attacks on Israel. In the United States, he can speak without worry. Six months earlier, he addressed a smaller gathering of fundamentalists in Detroit, where he assured his listeners that it was "certainly possible to defeat America, as the Vietnamese demonstrated." He declared America "the number one enemy and ... the Great Satan."
Despite this anti-American rhetoric, al-Amoush was, on another occasion last fall, received by staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as by State Department officials. This series of meetings was arranged by the Committee on American Islamic Relations, a fledgling organization that promotes the interests of militant Islam in the U.S. In meeting with al- Amoush, the American officials were not seeking to legitimize him or his coalition; rather, they were conforming to a policy of establishing low-level diplomatic contacts with groups all along the Islamist spectrum, in order to round out America's assessment of the Middle East. However reasonable the motives, though, such contacts have proved problematic: two years ago, for example, similar meetings held in Egypt with Muslim Brotherhood representatives and in Jordan with Hamas officials were stopped after protests by the respective governments.
Many times, the incendiary speech heard at Islamist conventions remains simply an outlet for frustration and a reminder of long-standing grievances. But over the past few years, it has at times, in the eyes of a few zealots, become a call for waging a kind of holy war in the U.S. One of the first indications that a militant fringe was preparing for jihad on U.S. soil was an incident that took place on August 29, 1989. That day, according to FBI documents, a Connecticut state trooper stopped a vehicle carrying six "Middle Eastern persons" near the High Rock Shooting Range in Naugatuck, Connecticut. The trooper found a small arsenal of semi-automatic weapons and several out- of-state license plates in the trunk. The guns belonged to the driver, a local gun dealer and former Waterbury policeman of Albanian origin, who said he was training volunteers to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Since the weapons were legally licensed, no arrests were made. A computer check found, however, that the extra license plates were registered to El-Sayyid Nosair, who later was arrested for the shooting on November 5, 1990, of militant Jewish leader Rabbi Meir Kahane.
After that shooting, the police found in Nosair's possession a gun license registered in the name of the same former Waterbury cop who was driving the car in August 1989.
Weapons training was apparently not an uncommon practice among Nosair's colleagues, who, according to FBI reports, used at least six different shooting ranges. At the range in Connecticut, a 1990 FBI report says, they would "shoot 1,000 rounds a day at silhouette-shaped targets." Religious leaders apparently attended such sessions as well, including Sheik Tamimi al- Adnani, one of the two top commanders of the volunteer movement to support the jihad in Afghanistan.
More than two years year earlier, FBI informants had reported seeing weapons in the al-Farouq Mosque in Brooklyn. But an application for a wiretap on the mosque was denied by the Justice Department. Since any escalation of the probe could be seen as violating federal guidelines that require advance evidence of criminal conspiracy, surveillance was first restricted and ultimately curtailed. Yet, unknown to authorities at the time, the al-Farouq Mosque had also become a center for counterfeiting tens of thousands of dollars, shipping bomb components to Hamas in Israel, reconfiguring passports to enable Muslim volunteers to visit the U.S. and enlisting new recruits for the worldwide jihad.
In those days before the World Trade Center bombing, the FBI was sometimes caught off guard by the Islamist threat. On November 6, 1990, hours after Nosair was arrested for the murder of Kahane, police raided his New Jersey apartment and carted away forty-seven boxes of personal papers. But because much of it was in Arabic and deemed "irrelevant, religious" material, the contents were shelved until days after the World Trade Center bombing. When leads in the investigation of the bombing indicated Islamist involvement, investigators returned to Nosair's cache and discovered what they had missed: a road map to an international terrorist network headquartered in the U.S., including plans he detailed in one notebook to "demoralize the enemies of Allah ... by means of destroying and blowing up the pillars of their civilization and blowing up the tourist attractions they are so proud of and the high buildings they are so proud of."
Also ignored until after the bombing were cassette tapes Nosair had made of telephone conversations between the U.S.-based holy warriors and their Pakistan-based and Palestinian counterparts and leaders. In one conversation, Abdul Rahman (apparently speaking from Peshawar, Pakistan) asks his followers in New Jersey about "camps" in the United States. On the tape, a male voice responds, "It was a success. It started Friday evening and ended Monday. It lasted three days, and we expect positive results."
The World Trade Center conspiracy and subsequent trials have provided a rich source of materials on the extensive terrorist infrastructure in the New York and New Jersey areas. "But," says Revell, "it is only a small part of the picture. There is an extensive subterranean network in the United States of radical militants whose activities are not illegal. What we need to focus on is what these people are saying--that's the key to understanding what they will do."
Of all the Islamist militant groups active in America, Hamas has developedthe most sophisticated infrastructure, complete with charitable, political, social and even military wings. The story of how a young man named Nasser Issa Jalal Hidmi was recruited and trained by Hamas shows how elaborate and sophisticated the Hamas military network in the U.S. has become. Hidmi's story was reconstructed by studying documents retrieved by Israeli investigators and confessions to Israeli courts by various Hamas operatives.
As a student in a Jerusalem preparatory college, Hidmi joined an Islamic religious group that served as a greenhouse for future military operatives. Motivated by a strong antipathy to Israeli occupation, Hidmi soon found his way to a cleric who went by the nom de guerre of Abu 'Ubada and supervised a unit of Hamas terror squads. In a short time, Hidmi showed promise and was selected to participate in armed training in the United States, a place he had always wanted, but could never afford, to visit.
In June 1990, a few months after arriving in the U.S. and settling in Manhattan, Kansas, Hidmi received a phone call from Mohammed Salah, a Chicago- based used-car salesman who served as commander of the military wing of Hamas in the United States. (Salah has since confessed to abetting terrorist acts and is serving a five-year sentence in an Israeli prison.)
Following Salah's instructions, Hidmi flew to Chicago for a weekend of military-style training at a campground on the outskirts of the city. In this "basic training" course, Hidmi and twenty-five other young Palestinians received religious instruction. According to Hidmi's later confession, they also were taught how to plant car bombs. A Libyan-American man identifying himself as a former Marine explained to the group, using charts and diagrams, where to place a bomb in a car's engine and how to ensure its detonation at the point of ignition. Following this instruction, the recruits returned home.
Later that year, Hidmi and the other Hamas inductees were told to attend an Islamist convention in Kansas City. Over the next three days, they listened as top Hamas officials spoke of their pride in the organization and in the international Islamist movement, and railed against the Zionist conspiracy. Musa Abu Marzuk, the international political chief of Hamas, who was living in Louisiana at the time, called upon all Muslims to destroy the "outpost of Western influence" that was created with the "purpose of being a spearhead in the heart of the Muslim world."
During the conference, Mohammed Salah--the Chicago-based Hamas commander--organized a series of smaller workshops for Hidmi and other recruits at a nearby Ramada Inn. At the front of the room, a burly man introduced himself as Ibrahim Mahmoud Muzayyin, director of an organization now called the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (at the time called the Occupied Land Fund), which officially raises money for charity in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the information retrieved by Israeli investigators, Muzayyin told the group: "You have been assembled here because you are all residents of the occupied territories. And you have been chosen to carry out operations to escalate the intifadah on behalf of the Hamas movement." After a series of pep talks, the group broke into smaller clusters. The instructor explained that everyone would undergo instruction in handling improvised explosives and hand grenades and in building car bombs. They would also receive training in subjects such as interrogation and execution of collaborators, surveillance and political organizing.
Six months later, the group met again in Kansas City. This time, Mohammed Salah introduced Najib al-Ghosh, now the editor of maya's flagship magazine. Al-Ghosh lectured on the interrogation methods used by Israeli intelligence, as well as on different kinds of hand grenades and bombs. According to Israeli information, Salah interjected, "The purpose of all this is so that everyone will go home and plant explosives in the area where he lives."
Upon his return to Israel, Hidmi was arrested. In early 1993, Salah, too, was arrested by Israeli authorities and indicted in the Ramallah Military Court. When news of his detainment was first reported in the U.S., along with Israeli complaints that Hamas had established a terror network here, the FBI initially dismissed the allegations. "We were wrong," says former FBI official Revell. "We didn't know what was going on in our own backyard." During Salah's interrogation, conducted in Arabic, he confessed--albeit by signing a Hebrew document--to making several surreptitious trips to Israel, where he directed Hamas operations and transferred $230,000 for the purchase of weapons out of a total of $790,000 he intended to bring later. He revealed that in Chicago he kept a map of where two kidnapped executed Israeli soldiers were buried by Hamas death squads. And he told of how, following the deportation of the Hamas leadership to Lebanon, he helped rebuild the group's command structure. Other information obtained by Israeli authorities confirmed that, since 1987, Salah had recruited hundreds of Hamas operatives, arranged for their training in car bombs and other explosive devices (including chemical weapons) and even built fourteen timers for explosives himself.
Hamas has been the most successful of the militant Islamic organizations both in sending its officials to work in U.S.-based organizations and in raising funds here. Today, law enforcement and intelligence officials say, the most senior-ranking Hamas official living in the United States is Sheik Jamal Said of the Bridgeview Mosque in Chicago. Although Said has denied any links to Hamas, Salah and other Hamas operatives have told Israeli intelligence that they received instructions from him. U.S. officials also maintain that Said has worked closely with and on behalf of two other groups with ties to Hamas: the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) and the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. Both groups are headquartered in Richardson, Texas, less than a mile apart, in nondescript strip shopping malls. "There's no doubt," says Revell, "that these two groups are Hamas fronts."
What are these organizations? The Holy Land Foundation is Hamas's overt fund-raising arm in the United States. According to its English brochures, it openly solicits tax-deductible donations for such charitable causes as "needy Palestinian children, health clinics and schools." While some of its money is spent accordingly, most of its funds are routed though local Zakat (or mandatory Islamic charity tax) organizations run by Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza. These organizations not only serve to indoctrinate Muslim youths into radical Islamist ideology, but also provide covert cash conduits to Hamas military squads.
The IAP, while claiming that it conducts no fund-raising for activities outside the United States, does operate an extensive propaganda network, according to a review of internal materials, videos and documents. Indeed, with offices and affiliates in more than a dozen cities, IAP is a veritable public relations machine. It publishes newspapers, produces terrorist training and recruitment videos (some showing terrorists who boast of their " kills" and interrogations of "collaborators" just before their executions), disseminates videos, organizes conferences and even sponsors a traveling Hamas musical troupe. (One of the troupe's songs includes the refrain: "We buy Paradise with the blood of the Jews.")
The IAP also publishes the largest Arabic-language newspaper in the United States, al-Zaitonah, as well as the English-language Muslim World Monitor. Both papers frequently celebrate successful Hamas terrorist attacks. An October 1994 headline in al-Zaitonah, for example, proclaimed, "in its greatest operation, Hamas takes credit for the bombing of an israeli bus in the center of Tel Aviv." Other articles warn of anti-Muslim conspiracies, such as an alleged joint plot by the Mossad and the FBI to bomb the World Trade Center and throw the blame on Muslims. Despite such incendiary content, however, AT&T, MCI and other companies, as well as the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (which is in search of Muslim chaplains) have advertised in IAP publications.
Although IAP officials assure American reporters that their organization is not hostile to the United States, its conferences and publications tell a different story. In August 1990, for example, it organized an emergency conference of leading Hamas figures (recorded by IAP itself on both video and audio tape) in response to the U.S. troop buildup in Saudi Arabia. The participants issued a resolution condemning "the American crusades." Some, like Khalil al-Qawka, a Hamas leader from Palestine, wanted to go further, as he said in an address to the group: "Today, America is right here at your doorstep, in everybody's house. Ba'al, the idol, is back and stands erect in the Arabian peninsula. Is there a Muhammad to slay the Ba'al of our times?... The Marines, dear brothers, are stealing the doors of your houses, and the doors of your mosques, in obstinate and open provocation. They are at our doors. Their plan is to penetrate the flesh of our girls. And our honor, and our values, in order to turn our society into a perverted nation." Later, a choir of 8- and 9-year-old children sang revolutionary Islamist songs praising the Intifadah and Hamas.
On a narrow, dead-end street in Tampa, Florida, a sign is affixed to the last house on the block. "Izz al-Din al-Qassam ... declared Jihad against the British and Zionist invasion of Palestine," it reads. "He was martyred on November 19, 1935, in Ya'bad, Palestine. Al-Qassam has become a symbol of heroism, resistance, occupation and invasion of steadfast Palestine." Indeed, for militant Palestinians, al-Qassam may be the most exalted figure in recent history. As noted by the Palestinian scholar Ziad Abu-Amr, al-Qassam is "the main source of inspiration for the Islamic Jihad movement.... He is viewed ... as the true father of the armed Islamic Revolution."
In Gaza, there is another mosque with the same name. It's a hangout for the Palestine Islamic Jihad, a group known for decapitating and dismembering Jews and Palestinian "collaborators" and for its suicide bombings in Israel. The Jihad sees Israel's existence as part of a larger, American-directed plot against Islam, which explains why it might find it useful to maintain offshoots of some kind in the United States. According to Ziad Abu-Amr, "The Islamic Jihad movement sees Israel and America as two faces of the same coin."
Operating out of the al-Qassam Mosque on 130th Street is a group officially called the Islamic Committee for Palestine, a subsidiary, in turn, of the Islamic Concern Project. The latter defines itself as a "charitable, cultural, social, educational and religious group in which the concept of brotherhood, freedom, justice, unity, piety, righteousness and peace shall be propagated." It also functions as a support group to the Islamic Jihad in the U.S.
The Islamic Committee is headed by the soft-spoken Sami al-Arian, a professor of engineering at the University of South Florida. In an interview, al-Arian denied any connection to Islamic Jihad and claimed that his organization was not "political" but rather a "charitable, social and cultural-type group." When I asked him who al-Qassam was, he shrugged, "Oh, he was just a scholar." Al-Arian's claims notwithstanding, the bank account used by the Islamic Committee, according to knowledgeable sources, has been used to transfer money to and from Islamic Jihad "charities." Islamic Jihad's international Arabic newsletter (published until 1991 under the name Islam and Palestine) and an occasional venue for Islamic Jihad communiques taking credit for terrorist attacks, listed the main address on its masthead as the Islamic Committee's post office box in Tampa.
When I asked al-Arian whether Islam and Palestine had any connection to the Islamic Jihad, he said, "I've seen most of the issues. I never saw the word Jihad on it." But a review of past issues shows that the journal has often glorified Jihad. An editorial in the December 1991 issue stated, for example, "We support with full force the call of the honorable Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the Ummah for Jihad to banish the Great Satan."
One of the Islamic Committee's accessory institutions is the World and Islam Studies Enterprise (wise), also in Tampa, which functions ostensibly as an Islamist academic outreach center, inviting out-of-town Middle East scholars and analysts to deliver lectures. Two years ago, it sponsored the visit of Hassan al-Turabi, the de facto leader of the Sudan, a terrorism- sponsoring country whose diplomats were involved in the second set of attempted bombings in the World Trade Center conspiracy. (While in Tampa, al- Turabi stayed in Sami al-Arian's home.) Last year, wise invited Rachid al- Ghannouchi, head of the militant Tunisian fundamentalist group, to speak, but the State Department refused to grant him a visa after evidence was submitted demonstrating his support for terrorism. WISE has since established a formal affiliation with the University of South Florida.
One of the more unusual visitors to Tampa over the past several years has been Sheik Abdul Aziz Odeh, the spiritual leader of the Palestine Islamic Jihad. Following his deportation from Gaza in 1988, Odeh quickly set up offices and branches in Beirut, Amman and Damascus. Odeh later entered the U. S., slipping past INS officials unaware of his role political identity and later gravitating to two cities in particular: Brooklyn, where he had become a hero to El-Sayyid Nosair and other militants; and Tampa. In Brooklyn, Odeh became so actively involved with the World Trade Center conspiracy defendants that he was named as the only unindicted co-conspirator in the Trade Center bombing.
Although al-Arian and the Islamic Committee have assumed a relatively low profile in Tampa, the Islamic Committee's annual conferences have been instrumental in bridging traditional divisions between radical Shiites and Sunnis. Held in St. Louis and Chicago from 1989 through 1992, the Islamic Committee's annual conferences have consistently featured incendiary calls by radical Islamists--including Abdul Rahman and Rachid al-Ghannouchi--to attack Jewish and Western targets. One year, al-Arian himself opened up the conference with this preamble: "We assemble today to stand up and pay our respects to the march of the martyrs, which increases and does not decrease, and to the river of blood that gushes forth and does not extinguish. From butchery to butchery and from martyrdom to martyrdom, from Jihad to Jihad."
Asked about Abdul Rahman's presence at the conference, al-Arian became defensive, insisting that the sheik "was not invited," that he "just dropped in" and was only allowed to address the "youth and children." The Islamic Committee's own publication, however, says that the sheik shared the podium with Palestine Islamic Jihad's head Abdul Azziz Odeh in a panel discussion titled "Insights into the Islamic March in Resistance and Victory."
In the past eighteen months, some of Abdul Rahman's apparatus has decamped from the East Coast and moved to new headquarters in San Diego, California. The San Diego-based American Islamic Group, for example, a self-described " humanitarian Islamic organization," maintains contact with and raises money for Algeria's Armed Islamic Group, the Philippines's Abu Sayyaf terrorist splinter organization, the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad and, above all, Sheik Umar's own al-Gama'a al-Islamiyah of Egypt. Its bilingual newsletter, the Islam Report, calls on Muslims to support these militant causes. A typical piece in one issue, dealing with the "execution" of an Egyptian officer by al-Gama'a guerrillas, asserts: "The Mujahideen have carried out the judgment of Allah." A report on an American Air Force accident, in which sixteen Americans were killed, has the headline: "o allah, lock their throats in their own traps!"
Kifah al-Jayousi, the director of the American Islamic Group, is one of Sheik Umar's many Palestinian followers. Among other achievements, he has pioneered Islamist activity on the Internet, transmitting militant messages and requests for funds (despite Internet regulations that forbid fund-raising). "My network is vast, and I have branches all over the United States," al- Jayousi told a caller posing as a potential donor over the phone. "I keep closely in touch with Mujahideen in most Muslim countries, too."
Within the American Muslim population of 5 to 6 million, radical groups and their adherents represent only an extremist fringe. Their militant interpretation of Islam does not reflect mainstream Islam, which eschews violence and thoroughly repudiates terrorism. But Muslim organizations are increasingly succumbing to the influence of militant Islam. "Islamic fundamentalists now control many of the Muslim organizations in the United States," says journalist Ahmed Said Nasr. As a result, Nasr says, "there is more genuine intellectual freedom of expression for Muslims living in Cairo than in the United States." Even groups that represent themselves as mainstream, such as the Washington-based Council on American Islamic Relations (which is partly funded, according to a confidential source with knowledge of CAIR's finances, by radical Persian Gulf donors) attempt to legitimize militant Islam by attacking all criticism of it as racist. Giving the council "a platform to claim they are protecting Muslim civil rights," says Ashmawi, "is like giving David Duke a platform to claim he is a civil libertarian." While the council presents itself as a group concerned with fair treatment for Muslims, its media campaigns intentionally obscure the distinction between the overwhelming majority of peaceful, law-abiding Muslims and the radical militant minority.
The cruel irony for the vast majority of Muslim immigrants who came to the U.S. to escape Islamist turmoil in their homelands is that the proliferation of radical Islamist groups on American soil throws them back into the old vortex of polarized politics many had sought to escape. The danger is another matter. Militant Islam remains a fringe element in Western Muslim communities. But, as the World Trade Center bombing shows, it does not take a big group to make a big catastrophe.
Steven Emerson, executive producer of the PBS documentary Jihad in America, is completing a book on radical Islamist networks.