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Armed Forces Directed to Radical Muslim Web Site By: Susan Schmidt
Washington Post | Thursday, July 03, 2003

Some Defense Department chaplain services have been directing military personnel to a Web site that promotes material from radical Muslim jihadists, including two Saudis who have been identified as Osama bin Laden's spiritual advisers.

The chaplains' service Web sites for the Navy and the Air Force refer sailors and airmen interested in learning more about Islam to Islamworld.net, a Web site that provides links to the lectures of fundamentalist clerics, some of whom advocate jihad against the United States and Israel.

Islamworld.net includes links to lectures that denigrate Christianity and Judaism as "forms of disbelief," and to material that praises the imprisoned blind Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel Rahman, contending that "he was framed for the [1993] World Trade Center bombing and sentenced by a Jewish judge for life in solitary confinement."

The chaplains' Web sites describe Islamworld.net as "rich in information about the Islamic faith," including "an introduction for non-Muslims" and "basics for new Muslims."

Although the number of Muslim chaplains in the military is small, some officials are concerned that only Sunni Muslims have been appointed and that they are selected by two Muslim organizations that tolerate hard-line views. The situation is similar to complaints from some segments of the Muslim community that chaplains who espouse a strict brand of Islam have come to dominate the ranks of prison chaplains. That situation has gained the attention of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies concerned that prisons are a breeding ground for extremists.

"When the American people learn that some of the fonts of the sentiments that led to 9/11 are in our prisons and in the armed forces, they are going to be amazed," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has received numerous complaints about the influence of military chaplains who follow the austere brand of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. Founded in the 1700s, Wahhabism stresses literal belief in the Koran and seeks the creation of Muslim states based on Islamic law.

Although the number of Muslims serving in the military is growing, 12 of 2,784 chaplains are Muslim. All are Sunnis. Chaplains serve military personnel of all faiths, agreeing "to support the free exercise of religion in the pluralistic military environment," according to Defense Department regulations.

Pentagon officials said they could not explain why Defense Department chaplain services decided to promote a Web site that features Wahhabism as one of three Islamic sites recommended to service members. Another site lists the times of daily prayers, and another offers news articles about Islam. The chief of the Armed Forces Chaplains Board declined to be interviewed, as did the chief chaplains of the Navy and Air Force.

Within hours of being queried about Islamworld.net last week, the Air Force removed the site from its Web page "pending review by the Chaplain Service," according to spokeswoman Jennifer Stephens, who said, "The Air Force does not tolerate hatred toward any denomination or religious group."

The Navy has left up the link to the site but posted a disclaimer saying it has no control over material published on independent Web sites.

Chaplain Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad, hired in 1993 as the military's first Muslim chaplain, said he did not know how the chaplain service came to recommend the site. "Obviously, some people were not doing their homework," he said.

Islamworld.net promotes the writings of Saudi Sheik Salman Audeh who issued a fatwa on June 19, 2001, that federal prosecutors have argued in a court case justified and advocated suicide bombings. German prosecutors have said phone calls were made to Audeh and other radical sheiks from the apartment in Hamburg used by Mohamed Atta and some of the other terrorists who staged the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Islamworld.net also promotes the writings of Sheik Safar Hawali, a radical Saudi cleric imprisoned in Saudi Arabia along with Audeh for five years during the 1990s. A key government witness in the East Africa embassy bombings trial identified Audeh and Hawali as bin Laden's spiritual advisers.

"The beginning of the new era will be with the announcement of jihad, and it is our hope that this intifadha will be that beginning," wrote Hawali of the Palestinian uprising that began in October 2000. In a treatise titled "The Day of Wrath," Hawali rails against Jews, who he said were "transformed into apes and pigs," as well as Israel, which he calls "the twisted serpent," and her "criminal ally . . . the dragon or the great reptile of the sea, which is America, since it is her fleets whose aircraft and weapons are used to terrorize Muslims."

"What is the war cry that the army of Allah will sing after the total destruction of the abomination of desolation, and the great damage inflicted on America? It is a wonderful war cry told by Isaiah," Hawali wrote.

Ibrahim Shafi, a 30-year-old Silver Spring resident who is the webmaster of Islamworld.net, said his Web site contains a "broad spectrum" of views, but no writings that reflect the Shiite or Sufi branches of Islam. He said he will post material "as long as it's authentic, based on the Koran, the Sunna, teachings of the prophet Muhammad.

"This is a Sunni Web site," he said, and Shiite and Sufi material are not considered "authentic" Islamic teaching.

Shafi said he created the site himself several years ago. Libraries, universities and prisons link to his site, he said, but he was unaware that the military did.

In March, Schumer wrote to the inspectors general at the Pentagon and the Bureau of Prisons to express concern that they were relying for the selection of Muslim clerics on two organizations that "appear to have disturbing connections to terrorism": the Leesburg-based Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences (GSISS) and the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veteran Affairs Council.

The latter group's parent organization, the American Muslim Foundation, and the GSISS were raided last year and are under investigation by the FBI and the Customs Service for suspected financial ties to terrorist organizations. Both groups have denied any involvement in financing terrorism, and no criminal charges have been filed.

Schumer complained that the two groups are "heavily funded by Saudi Arabia and consequently hew closely to the religious tenets of the radical Wahhabi/Salafi sect of Islam . . . widely acknowledged to be exclusionary and extreme, denigrating not only other religions, but also other forms of Islamic belief held by Shi'a and moderate Sunni Muslims."

He said in an interview that while GSISS is not directed by hard line fundamentalists, it has "known extremists" on its board.

The GSISS statement of vision says the school is devoted to establishing an environment where "residual prejudices, tensions, and grievances between religions and cultures can be resolved by dialogue, where an ethos of mutual encounter and cooperation can overcome the conflictual mindset that feeds into such dangerous myths and self-fulfilling prophecies as the imminence of a 'Clash of Civilizations.' "

The Pentagon's inspector general referred the issue to William Carr, director of military personnel policy. Carr declined to be interviewed about whether efforts have been made to ensure that the chaplain corps is not hiring clerics with radical views.

The Pentagon said in a statement that, "the interest and responsibility of the Department runs to educational qualifications. DoD is not equipped to evaluate educational content of academic curricula, or to prohibit service by those who might have been exposed to certain coursework or teachings."

Chaplains, like other military officers, must undergo security screening for illegal activity.

Muhammad, who is stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, said he does not know of any Wahhabi or Salafi chaplains. "I've had no contact with folks who come from that view," he said, adding that GSISS offers a broad-based curriculum.

"If they were from a Salafi background, it would be very difficult for them to be a chaplain in the U.S. armed services. They have a narrow view of Islam -- a real sort of closed way of looking at humanity," Muhammad said. "Pluralism is not necessarily where they are coming from."

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