Feb. 27, 2003
Sami Al-Arian and seven other people were arrested in Tampa last week on charges of financing, organizing, and materially abetting Palestinian Islamic Jihad, one of the world's deadliest terror groups. Islamic Jihad is responsible for more than 100 murders, many of them by suicide bombing, and prosecutors laid out in some detail the role played by Al-Arian, a professor at the University of South Florida, as the terrorists' chief US operative.
As the Washington Post summarized it the other day, the indictment contends that Al-Arian "managed [the organization's] money, held the wills of would-be suicide bombers, disseminated statements claiming responsibility for attacks, helped formulate policy on behalf of the organization, and was in regular covert contact with its general secretary, spiritual leader, and other operatives." That was in addition to raising funds, recruiting new followers, and using his university position to provide cover for foreign jihadis.
Some of the details were new, but to anyone who had been following the activities of radical Muslim militants in the United States, Al-Arian's name should have been familiar. As far back as 1994, terrorism expert Steven Emerson had publicly identified Al-Arian and his Islamic Committee for Palestine as a fundraiser for Islamic Jihad. Michael Fechter further exposed Al-Arian's ties to terrorism in the Tampa Tribune a few months later. And then there was the speech Al-Arian made in 1991 to a group of fellow radicals in Chicago:
"Let us damn America," he exhorted the audience. "Let us damn Israel. Let us damn their allies until death!" He reviled Jews as "monkeys and pigs" and proclaimed: "Jihad is our path. Victory to Islam! Death to Israel! Revolution, revolution until victory!"
A résumé like that should have made Al-Arian radioactive -- the kind of person anyone with political ambitions or decent instincts would shun. So why in the world would he be treated as a friend and ally by -- of all people -- George W. Bush?
Why, for example, did Bush make a point of posing for pictures with Al-Arian and his family during a 2000 campaign stop in Tampa? Why was Al-Arian not only invited to a White House briefing given by Bush aide Karl Rove in June 2001 -- against the advice of the Secret Service -- but honored with a front-row seat? Why was his son Abdullah invited to yet another White House meeting a few days later? And when the Secret Service properly pronounced Abdullah a security risk and removed him from the building, why did Bush bend over backward to apologize and order his security staff and spokesman to issue apologies as well?
The answer, it seems, is that Bush and his advisors have been so intent on attracting American Muslims to the Republican Party that they have closed their eyes to the fact that many of those they have embraced are Islamists -- extremists who support terrorism and are linked to Saudi Arabia's fanatic Wahhabi religious establishment.
Al-Arian is not the only Islamist zealot who has gained access to Bush and his inner circle.
Consider, for example, Abdurahman Alamoudi, the founder of the American Muslim Council, an extremist group with a record of defending terrorism and denouncing the United States. A year before the Rove briefing brought scores of AMC members to the White House, Alamoudi was one of several Muslims invited to meet with candidate Bush in Austin, Texas. Alamoudi is certainly influential -- but he is also an open backer of terrorism. In October 2000, he was cheered at a pro-Palestinian rally in Washington, DC, when he declared: "We are all supporters of Hamas. . . . I am also a supporter of Hezbollah." Three months later he was in Beirut for a terrorist summit, along with leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda.
Is Alamoudi really the sort of Muslim with whom the administration should be involved?
Or consider Khaled Saffuri, co-founder and executive director of the Islamic Institute, a pressure group launched with seed money from Alamoudi and Saudi Arabia. When Bush, in a gesture of tolerance, visited a Washington mosque on Sept. 17, 2001, Saffuri stood at his right shoulder. Yet "under Saffuri's leadership," the Center for Security Policy notes, "the Islamic Institute has attacked the Bush administration's investigations of radical Muslim groups and closures of organizations suspected of funding terrorists. The institute has been funded by groups raided in . . . terrorist-financing investigations."
There are 2.8 million Muslims in the United States, and the great majority of them are peaceful, law-abiding, and no supporters of terror. The president deserves high marks for reaching out to American Muslims, and for taking pains to defend and reassure them after 9/11. But men like Al-Arian, Alamoudi, and Saffuri -- backed by Saudi money, fired with Wahhabi fanaticism -- are no moderates. They do not speak for mainstream American Muslims. And they are the last people Bush should be cloaking in presidential prestige.