The war on terrorism is being waged abroad, and for North Carolinians even some of its biggest news strikes surprisingly and unsettlingly close to home. Several arrests involve terror suspects who attended college in N.C., including two of the most important ones recently in the war on terror: the head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the United States and al Qaeda’s No. 3 operative, considered “The Brain.”
In February, WorldNetDaily speculated that the “confluence of Islamic radicals” on one N.C. campus “suggests the Sept. 11 conspiracy traces its roots to North Carolina, not Florida, and goes all the way back to the 1980s” (emphasis added).
The campus WND referred to is North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University of Greensboro, which “continues to be a magnet for Islamic terrorist suspects who enroll on student visas,” reporter Paul Sperry writes in a Feb. 27 article.
Of course, while there is “speculation that Greensboro was a terrorist seedbed,” as Tim Whitmire of the Associate Press wrote Mar. 9, no one is suggesting that NC A&T or Greensboro ever encouraged such activity. Whitmire points out that A&T’s 40,000 alumni include civil-rights sit-in activists, astronaut Ronald McNair, and other prominent community members and contributors to society. Complicity by the N.C. schools or cities is not the issue, just the unsettling proximity of budding terrorists to Tarheel soil.
Actively targeting the U.S.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, terrorist mastermind and al Qaeda’s third-highest-ranking official, studied engineering at Chowan College and NC A&T in the 1980s. After a stint in Afghanistan taking part in the jihad againsts the Soviets, Mohammed and his nephew, Ramzi Yousef, organized the first bombing of the World Trade Center, in 1993 (Yousef is now serving a life sentence for that attack). They also were conspiring in the Philippines to coordinate the destruction of 11 American airliners over the Pacific until an associate blew himself up in his Manila apartment.
Federal officials tie Mohammed to several al Qaeda operations, including the U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, Richard Reid’s thwarted “shoe-bombing” attempt on an airliner in 2001; the April attack on the El Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, and the October nightclub bombing in Bali. He is believed not only to have been involved in planning the Sept. 11 attacks, but also to have been at Osama bin Laden’s side on Sept. 11, 2001.
Newsweek magazine has reported that a Feb. 26 intelligence report warned that Mohammed “is actively involved in al Qaeda attack planning in CONUS [continental United States]. He has directed operatives to target bridges, gas stations, and power plants in a number of locations, including New York City.”
Mohammed’s capture has given U.S. intelligence vital clues to al Qaeda hideouts, including the whereabouts of bin Laden. Among the evidence found were handwritten letters believed to have been from bin Laden, bank ledgers and related evidence of al Qaeda money transfers that took place in the U.S. after Sept. 11, names matching those under investigation in the U.S., and other items.
‘Jihad is our path’
University of South Florida Prof. Sami al-Arian, indicted by the Justice Dept. as the secret head of the terror network Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the United States and secretary of its worldwide coordinating council, received his undergraduate and master’s degrees from N.C. State University in the 1980s. The 50-count indictment against al-Arian and seven other defendents on racketeering charges calls the Palestinian Islamic Jihad “a criminal organizations whose members engaged in acts of violence including murder, extortion, money laundering, fraud, and the misuse of visas.”
Among the evidence cited in the indictment are records of phone conversations al-Arian had with other defendents discussing in detail terrorist attacks carried out by PIJ, videotapes of al-Arian declaring “Jihad is our path” and “Death to Israel,” a manifesto by PIJ opposing “any peaceful solution to the Palestinian cause” and declaring “the Jihad solution and the martyrdom style [is] the only choice for liberation,” faxes, and proof of wire transfers purported to finance terrorist activities. It also said al-Arian was working to strengthen PIJ’s ties with other terrorist groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah.
While at USF al-Arian co-founded the World and Islamic Studies Enterprise (WISE), which was raided by the FBI in 1995, and also served as president of the Islamic Committee for Palestine (ICP) in Tampa, Fla., whose former manager, Tarik Hamdi, was linked to al Qaeda.
Al-Arian’s childhood friend and brother-in-law, Mazen al-Najjar, also attended N.C. A&T in the early 1980s. He may have even taught engineering there; N.C. A&T faculty records during that time period are incomplete. In 1986 Najjar moved to Tampa to attend USF and later worked for WISE.
Al-Najjar was arrested in 1997 by the INS on an expired visa, and he was detained on the basis of secret government evidence linking him with Middle East terrorists. He was released in 2000, but in 2001 he was arrested and this time deported.
As the WND’s Sperry pointed out, al-Najjar attended NC A&T at the same time Mohammed was there and while Al-Arian was at N.C. State. “The overlap raises questions about the extent of al-Arian’s ties to terrorist groups,” Sperry wrote.
Other N.C. connections to Islamic terror include:
• In 2002, N.C. A&T student of engineering Mekki Hamed Mekki was arrested and later deported for immigration-fraud charges. Mekki is a pilot-trained Sudanese immigrant linked by federal authorities to al Qaeda and suspected of planning to attack a U.S. target with an airplane, reminiscent of the Sept. 11 attacks. He had attended classes at Guilford Technical Community College before enrolling at NC A&T.
• According to a June 10, 2002, U.S. News & World Report article, Jibreel al-Amreekee became a jihadist in 1997 while attending N.C. Central University. He died in Kashmir while fighting Indian troops on behalf of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (the Righteous Army), an affiliate of al Qaeda blamed for the December 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament.
• In Charlotte, Mohamad Youssef Hammoud of Lebanon was indicted along with 17 others this past summer in connection with an elaborate scheme to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon. The scheme involved phony marriages to skirt immigration laws and smuggling cigarettes from N.C., which has a low tax rate on cigarettes, to high-tax Michigan. The AP reported on July 24 that the Lebanese men were “drawn to North Carolina about a decade ago because of the education opportunites.”
• A different and sadder link is that of Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill graduate Dina Carter. Working at the Jewish National and University Library on the Edmond J. Safra Campus at Givat Ram, Carter was one of seven people killed by a terrorist’s bomb in July 2002 at Hebrew University.