This week, the Justice Department accused 23-year-old Virginia native Ahmed Omar Abu Ali of plotting to assassinate President George W. Bush. Media coverage has predictably centered on Abu Ali’s claims of torture while he was held in a Saudi Arabian prison and on the fact that the accused was “his high school’s valedictorian.” Largely omitted from this coverage is the fact that his high school operates under the authority of the Saudi Arabian government, teaches an extremist form of Wahhabi Islam, and has direct ties to at least three other terrorists – two of them, like Abu Ali, former students. This private nexus of Saudi money, fundamentalist Islam, and terrorism has led many to question: Does this high school’s curriculum create an environment in which terrorism can thrive?
Media attention has focused on lurid claims of torture – the defendant has claimed he was whipped and handcuffed for hours. In court, he asked to show the judge his back, which he claimed would prove he had been whipped by the Saudis. However, U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty noted yesterday that when U.S. officials visited Abu Ali in July 2003, the inmate “used the words ‘excellent,’ ‘kind,’ and ‘humane’ to describe his treatment.” An American doctor, a British doctor, and two Saudi physicians examined Abu Ali before his transfer to the United States on Monday, concluding no abuse had taken place. Thus, the Justice Department has called Abu Ali’s claims of torture “utter fabrication.”
It would not be the first time Islamists attempted to manipulate public sentiment against the Justice Department by falsely claiming torture. The recently convicted terror lawyer Lynne Stewart told “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman it would be “safe” to claim the government was refusing him his diabetic medication in prison, because no one on the “outside” would know the truth: Rahman had quit taking his meds voluntarily.
(Although leftists habitually accuse Americans of sending terror suspects like Abu Ali to foreign countries to be tortured, officials actually allow foreign governments to interrogate these kinds of suspects because overseas they cannot refuse to answer questions on the Fifth Amendment grounds.)
A Saudi School for Terror?
Abu Ali was the 1999 valedictorian at the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA) of Alexandria, Virginia. (ISA also maintains a campus in nearby Fairfax.) The Saudi kingdom created the elite private school in the Washington, D.C., suburbs in 1984, primarily to instruct the children of Saudi diplomats in the religion of their homeland: Wahhabi Islam. The school’s director has diplomatic status, and ISA reports that it is “subject to the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” The school’s students learn the same curriculum as their counterparts within the kingdom. A class in U.S. civics is optional, and many students – including some born in the United States – opt instead to study theories of Saudi governance. ISA teaches 950 students from 28 countries, about half of whom are Saudi nationals and all of whom are sex-segregated into separate schools. The school has come under close scrutiny, including from fellow Muslims, for its extremist teaching and ties to accused terrorists. Although Abu Ali is the most recent example, he is far from alone. Some have concluded that Abu Ali learned the lessons his Wahhabi high school taught him all too well.
Abu Ali’s Alleged Terrorist Resume
After Abu Ali graduated from ISA, he decided to pursue religious studies at the Islamic University of Medina in Saudi Arabia. There, the Justice Department alleges, the increasingly anti-Western student offered his services to al-Qaeda. According to the government’s indictment, these terrorists gave him money to establish an al-Qaeda cell in the United States. Abu Ali is also accused of selling an AK-47 to a member of a ring of eleven northern Virginia jihadis, most of whom have pleaded guilty to supporting the Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-Taiba.
However, it was during his second trip to Saudi Arabia that Abu Ali allegedly plotted to assassinate President Bush. In 2002, federal official say Abu Ali told Saudi terrorists he wanted “to become a planner of terrorist operations like Muhammad Atta and Khalid Shaikh Muhammed.” While abroad, he received a “religious blessing” (presumably a fatwa) to kill Bush, either by getting close enough to shoot him or by detonating a car bomb. Saudis arrested Abu Ali on June 11, 2003, just a month after the May 12 al-Qaeda bombing of Riyadh. Newsweek reports federal agents raided his home in Falls Church, VA, on June 16 and found: “a two-page document praising Afghanistan’s Taliban leader Mullah Omar, a six-page document on how to avoid government surveillance, audiotapes in Arabic promoting violent jihad and the killing of Jews and a book written by Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in which the al-Qaeda leader describes democracy as a ‘new religion that must be destroyed.’”
He will be detained until trial, as the government has ruled he would pose a major flight risk; he holds Jordanian citizenship and has contacts all over the world. The Islamist faces 80 years in prison if convicted. Although Abu Ali is the highest profile case in ISA’s history, he appears to be following the lead of other would-be terrorists associated with ISA, both as students and staff.
Hamas’ Good Servant, But ISA’s First
The recent revelation of Abu Ali’s plot comes just months after the most recent arrest of another accused terrorist with ties to the Islamic Saudi Academy. The Baltimore Sun reported in August 2004 that authorities arrested Ismail Selim Elbarasse for managing Hamas’ books; for much of that time, Elbarasse doubled as the school’s accountant. ISA is accused of keeping a “high ranking” Hamas operative and financier on the payroll for 14 years.
Last summer’s arrest came after authorities spotted his wife videotaping Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge, allegedly conducting surveillance for a future terrorist attack. Police Chief Gary W. McLhinney of the Maryland Transportation Authority described the vacationing couple’s unusual behavior: “They didn't seem to be focusing on what people normally focus on there, the water, the skyline, the facilities on the shore. They were focused on the bridge itself.”
Upon arrest, the government held Elbarasse as a material witness in the case of Hamas political leader Musa Abu Marzook, currently on trial for providing material support to terrorists. Authorities say Elbarasse transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hamas terrorists through checking accounts he controlled. However, they released Elbarassee on August 31, 2004, after only 10 days in jail, when friends put up $1 million bond arranged by terrorist lawyer Ashraf W. Nubani. Elbarasse is expected to testify at Marzook’s trial in Chicago at a future date.
At the time of his most recent arrest, Elbarasse no longer worked for ISA. The school fired him after a wave of negative publicity resulting from a prior terror-related incarceration; in 1998, he refused to cooperate in an investigation of Hamas. However, that was hardly his first sortie on behalf of terror. FrontPage Magazine columnist Daniel Pipes detailed Elbarasse’s history of service with Hamas:
- “In 1993, the FBI says, he attended the famous Hamas founding meeting in Philadelphia.
- “He ‘controlled bank accounts at that time that received substantial transfers of Hamas money.’ …
- “In 1998, he was jailed for civil contempt for refusing to testify before a grand jury.
- “And the day of his arrest for the videotaping, Aug. 20, also happened to be when he was named as an ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ for using laundering money on behalf of Hamas.”
By this accounting, Elbarasse carried on his bloodstained activities for a minimum of five years from the comfort of ISA’s elegant campus.
Two for the Road, to Martyrdom
Elbarasse may not have been the only person at the Academy with a thirst for Jewish blood. On December 16, 2001, Israel denied entry to ISA graduates Mohammed Osman Idris and Mohammed El-Yacoubi, fearing the two were en route to carry out a terrorist attack. When found, they had little cash, no stated destination, and no lodging arrangements within Israel. U.S. officials immediately investigated the pair, focused attention on a “farewell letter” written to El-Yacoubi by his younger brother, Abdalmuhssin El-Yacoubi, also an ISA graduate. The letter clearly anticipated the elder brother’s death in a violent jihad attack. It read, in part:
When I heard what you are going to carry out, my heart was filled with the feeling of grief and joy because you are the closest human being to my heart...I have no right to prevent you from your migration to Allah and his holy messenger, but it is incumbent upon me to encourage you and help you, because Islam urges Jihad for the sake of Allah. Our period in this life is a short trip in our complete trip and we must do for our hereafter as if we were dying tomorrow and the best actions for Allah, to whom be ascribed all perfection and majesty, is Jihad for the sake of Allah.
The younger El-Yacoubi also wrote his elder brother that he prayed Allah would be “your hand with which you attack. I also ask Allah that your action be in compliance with Allah's order and sacrifice for His sake and propagation of Tawhid doctrine and in defense of Islam and the homelands and territories of Muslims…this is the Jihad for the sake of Allah.”
When first asked, El-Yacoubi denied all knowledge of the letter, saying a third party planted it in his luggage. However, he later claimed a team of expert investigators had simply mistranslated the letter and blown it out of proportion.
Ultimately, Idris accepted a plea bargain in August 2002, receiving a four month sentence for lying to a grand jury about the circumstances under which he lost his first passport and acquired a second. Investigators say Idris also fibbed about where he planned to go in Israel and about his radical Middle Eastern views. Moreover, they say he stonewalled their investigation at every turn. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg said Idris did not cooperate with the investigation, which kept him from charging El-Yacoubi with terrorist ties. “We believe he lied to us time and time again,” Kromberg said.
Kromberg still believes the two worked with Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad and intended to “martyr” themselves inside Israel. According to the Associated Press, the pair may have acquired their thirst for martyrdom during their education at the Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria. AP also revealed many on the ISA campus felt suicide bombings were justified “responses” to Zionist aggression.
Hatred by the Book
Many state that the growing association of accused terrorists and the Saudi-run academy is no coincidence: jihadism grows out of the ISA’s curriculum. As noted, ISA students read from the same textbooks used in Saudi Arabia. One such 11th grade textbook informs students that on the Day of Judgment, the trees will yell, “Oh Muslim, Oh servant of God, here is a Jew hiding behind me. Come here and kill him.”
Many are concerned the ISA uses textbooks written by Saudi Sheikh Saleh al-Fawzan, who equates non-Muslims with “enemies of God and humanity.” Al-Fawzan sits on the kingdom’s Senior Council of Clerics and teaches at a major Wahhabi school, Imam Mohammed Bin Saud Islamic University. He has said, “[W]e should require the Jews and Christians to become Muslims, otherwise they will be killed.” The Saudi Institute, a Virgina-based think tank run by a Muslim exponent of religious tolerance, summarizes the main points in al-Fawzan’s textbooks thus:
1. “Jews and Christians are polytheist and infidels.
2. “Waging Jihad (fight) against Jews and Christians until they become Muslims is a must.
3. “It is OK to kill Jews and Christians, confiscate their belongings, and enslave them, men and women.
4. “Anyone who does not believe in the above, will be considered kafir (infidel), and will be treated as Jews and Christians.”
Al-Fawzan has threatened to behead a Saudi writer and scholar, Sheik Hassan Al-Maliki, for his criticism of Wahhabism, according to the Saudi Institute. He also teaches that slavery is an integral part of Islamic jihad, which “true Muslims” may employ against back-slidden Mohammedans. As for those who believe slavery has no place in Islam? “Whoever says such things is an infidel.” And we know his prescription for infidels…so do ISA’s students. Coincidentally, one of al-Fawzan's textbooks is entitled at-Tawhid ("Monotheism"): the same thing Abdalmuhssin El-Yacoubi claimed inspired his brother to wage jihad in Israel.
Hatred in Class
ISA's terror problem is not confined to textbooks. A front-page Washington Post story from February 25, 2002, captured the violent classroom environment. The authors record that “several students of different ages…said that in Islamic studies, they are taught that it is better to shun and even to dislike Christians, Jews, and Shi’ite Muslims.” One teenager told the Post some teachers “‘teach students that whoever is kuffar [an “infidel” - BJ], it is okay for you’ to hurt or steal from that person.” The teen added these teachers “focus more on hatred.”
Susan L. Douglass taught social studies at ISA at the time of the Washington Post expose. She praised Pakistani madrassas as “proud symbols of learning” after 9/11. For six years, she wrote social studies books for the International Institute of Islamic Thought. IIIT was founded by Basheer Nafi, an associate of Sami al-Arian who, like al-Arian, “has also been indicted for involvement with” Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Federal agents raided IIIT’s Herndon, Virginia, offices as part of Operation Greenquest, an effort to smoke out those who fund terrorism. Authorities suspect IIIT funneled money to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. IIIT also publicly acknowledges its hope to establish Shari’a courts in the United States.
Douglass was also employed as a “principal researcher and writer” for the Council on Islamic Education. CIE has a robust history of anti-Americanism. CIE board member Ali Mazrui of SUNY wrote, “American children need to know that genocide was part of the birth of this nation. The Holocaust began at home.” CIE also produced the tome Across the Centuries, which presents the major events of Mohammed’s life as fact rather than theology. It notes, for instance, “Jerusalem is where Jesus was crucified and buried, and it was where Muhammad rose to heaven.” In a class exercise, students are informed, “You and your classmates will become Muslims” and are then told to recite the prayer, “Praise be to Allah, Lord of Creation.” CIE now claims to shun religious role-playing, although it has yet to address its history of crafting and advocating such classroom activities.
Muslims Against Extremism
The Academy’s extremism has drawn criticism from unexpected quarters. The Council for American-Islamic Relation (CAIR) publicly called for the removal a first grade textbook that calls all non-Muslim religions false. Given CAIR’s historic refusal to denounce terrorism itself, their opposition speaks volumes.
Kamal Nawash of the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism has been a persistent foe of ISA’s Wahhabist ways. Nawash has said of ISA administrators, “How much longer can they argue that all of these people related to terrorism are just falling through the cracks? There must be an environment there that is tolerant of the kind of extremism that leads to this kind of activity.”
Ali Al-Ahmed, who runs the Saudi Institute, has also been an outspoken critic of ISA’s curriculum, saying its denigration of Christianity and Judaism as false religions does not square with the teachings of the Koran.
Schools like the ISA represent the growing threat Saudi-funded Wahhabi Islam poses on American soil. Senator Jon Kyl, R-AZ, sponsored hearings on the topic in the summer of 2003. Islam expert Stephen Schwartz told the committee that Wahhabis control 80 percent of mosques in the United States. Schwarz also testified this includes:
control of property, buildings, appointment of imams, training of imams, content of preaching — including faxing of Friday sermons from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — and of literature distributed in mosques and mosque bookstores, notices on bulletin boards, and organizational solicitation. Similar influence extends to prison and military chaplaincies, Islamic elementary and secondary schools (academies), college campus activity, endowment of academic chairs and programs in Middle East studies, and most notoriously, charities ostensibly helping Muslims abroad, many of which have been linked to or designated as sponsors of terrorism.
The power wielded by the “Wahhabi Lobby” over America’s Muslim institutions – and backed by Saudi petrodollars – raises the specter of further acts of terror being conducted by those trained on American soil.
This begs the question: Was the alleged plot to assassinate George W. Bush simply the most recent dividend of Saudi-funded Wahhabi Islam, propagated at the Islamic Saudi Academy?