RALEIGH — Individuals involved in domestic and international terrorism not only have infiltrated American society, but also have initiated some of their activities in North Carolina, a top federal law-enforcement official in Charlotte and experts on radical Islam say.
Other groups with Islamic connections work diligently through various means to expand their civic and political clout and ultimately to influence state and national policy, an investigation by Carolina Journal shows.
The Muslim American Society — which has a chapter in Raleigh — is one of those organizations. Its Web site describes MAS as “a charitable, religious, social, cultural, and educational, not-for-profit organization. It is a pioneering Islamic organization, an Islamic revival, and reform movement that uplifts the individual, family, and society.”
The site does not mention that MAS evolved from the notorious Muslim Brotherhood, which was founded in Egypt in the 1920s. The Brotherhood also spawned other fundamentalist Islamic organizations that have links to North Carolina.
MAS officials say their operations are peaceful. But in an interview with Carolina Journal, the president of the Raleigh chapter, Winston-Salem State University professor Hamdy Radwan, said he considers Hamas to be “freedom fighters, in other countries.” Many nations and international human-rights groups have labeled Hamas a terrorist organization.
Hamas, which controls the government of Palestine, recently was implicated in the Dec. 11 Gaza City drive-by shooting in which three children of a Palestinian intelligence officer were killed. The officer is thought to have been targeted for his role in a Palestinian Authority crackdown on Hamas.
On Nov. 8 the military wing of Hamas called on Muslims around the world to attack American targets. “America is offering political, financial and logistic cover for the Zionist occupation crimes…. Therefore, the people and the nation all over the globe are required to teach the American enemy tough lessons,” Hamas said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
At the Exploris Children’s Museum in Raleigh on Nov. 18, MAS sponsored a conference in which an Islamic leader who had associations with convicted terrorists, and who himself was interviewed by the FBI in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was invited as a speaker.
The Raleigh chapter of MAS also invited an imam known for delivering fiery anti-Semitic and revolutionary speeches at other conferences around the nation. Two of the hijackers of Sept. 11, 2001, also attended the mosque in Falls Church, Va., the largest in the nation, where Imam Johari Abdul-Malik was a spokesman, a story in the June 21, 2004, edition of U.S. News & World Reports said. The imam did not return the magazine reporters’ phone calls.
Most of the U.S. terrorists, rather than engaging in violence, raise money through various illegal activities to support their allies overseas, according to the FBI.
“While we typically think of terrorists as ‘bomb throwers,’ most of the terrorist activity in the United States is nonviolent, though illegal, such as terrorist fund-raising, procurement of equipment, and general criminal activity used to raise money to support terrorist operations worldwide,” said Michael D. Resnick, supervisor of the N.C. Joint Terrorism Task Force for the Charlotte Division of the FBI.
“This type of activity does exist in North Carolina and the FBI, through its partnership with other federal agencies and state and local law enforcement, is actively investigating those matters,” Resnick said. The N.C. Joint Terrorism Task Force is a multi-agency entity sponsored by the FBI, with the sole mission of conducting terrorism investigations.
It’s difficult to predict potential attacks in North Carolina, Resnick said. Such attacks are “not highly likely,” he said. Rather, New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles would be prime targets because they are major population, government, and financial centers.
However, terrorists could be attracted to high-profile assets in North Carolina, the FBI said. “Charlotte is the second-largest banking center in the U.S. and possesses significant critical infrastructure, educational institutions, and sports venues. Additionally, within North Carolina’s borders, there are significant military complexes,” Resnick said. The FBI reportedly has no information, however, that suggests terrorists are planning to attack any targets in the state.
One of the fund-raising groups that had connections to North Carolina was the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which formerly was based in Richardson, Texas. The Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets named the charity a specially designated terrorist organization and shut it down in 2001.
The foundation was a front organization for Hamas and sponsored offices and fund-raisers nationwide, including in Charlotte. The foundation was one of the largest Islamic charities in the United States, raising about $13 million annually.
“One key point is that many times, individuals giving to apparently respectable charities are unaware that a portion of the monies they donate really go to terrorist organizations,” Resnick said.
Some authors investigated and found terrorist cells operating in North Carolina.
In July 2000, the FBI charged 18 people with smuggling contraband cigarettes from North Carolina to Michigan and money laundering. According to authorities, author Steve Emerson says in his book American Jihad, what the smugglers were really doing was “providing currency, financial services, training, false documentation and identification, communications equipment, explosives, and other physical assets to Hezbollah, in order to facilitate its violent attacks.”
Violent Islamic groups such as Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operate underground in Charlotte and Raleigh, respectively, Emerson reported.
On the first page of his book, Holy War on the Home Front: The Secret Islamic Terror Network in the United States, author Harvey Kushner reported that the network in the United States didn’t begin in 2001 when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked. Nor did it originate with the 1993 attack on the Twin Towers. “It began in the mid-1980s when a tightly knit group of Islamic radicals attended the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro,” he said.
Twenty years later, Americans discovered the network built by Sami al-Arian, a professor in computer engineering; his brother-in-law, Mazen al-Najjar; and Khalid “Shaikh” Mohammed, Kushner wrote. Mohammed used the knowledge he gained in engineering at North Carolina A&T allegedly to mastermind the Sept. 11 attacks. He also is suspected of plotting other atrocities, such as the bombing of the USS Cole, the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl, and the 1993 World Trade Center attack with his nephew, Ramzi Yousef.
Al-Najjar was deported in 2002. Mohammed was arrested in 2003 in Pakistan. He remains in U.S. custody. Al-Arian, who later became a professor at South Florida University in Tampa, pleaded guilty in 2006, after an extended judicial process, to conspiracy to provide services to Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He was sentenced to 57 months in prison. He is to be deported after serving his prison term.
In the “Charter of the Center of Studies,” dated 1981 and found by FBI agents at Al-Arian’s house, Kushner wrote, was a militant Islamic organizational plan for terrorism. Investigators also found a separate sheet of paper with a hand-drawn map of the United States and Canada, “more proof,” according to Kushner, ”that Militant Islam has been building the secret terror network inside North America for decades. The map is divided into four sections.”
Among the cities on the map was Raleigh. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad continue to operate in the city, Kushner wrote. Other cities listed are Boston; New York; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Miami; New Orleans; Detroit; Indianapolis; Cincinnati; St. Louis; Houston; Denver; San Francisco; and Los Angeles.
Each of the FBI’s 56 field offices across the nation has a working Joint Terrorism Task Force, Resnick said. Local and state law-enforcement agencies, such as the SBI in North Carolina, are deputized and work with the FBI; Secret Service; the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms; the Department of Homeland Security; the Intelligence Community; and the Department of Defense. The IRS also assists the task forces.
Their terrorism-related investigations include a wide range of cases, from individuals operating in small groups or alone, to businesses. Resnick declined to comment on specific individuals or organizations that the task force is investigating.
FBI investigations have found terrorists working for Fortune 500 companies, small companies, and the government. Terrorists have attempted to gain employment with the U.S. intelligence, law-enforcement agencies, and the military, the FBI reports.
“Traditionally, terrorists find refuge in communities or organizations where they can blend in,” Resnick said. Such institutions could be places of worship, universities or schools, sporting events, or even grocery stores throughout the state.
Opportunities for refuge abound in North Carolina. According to the IslamiCity.com Web site, 26 mosques and Islamic centers have been founded in North Carolina. Most of the mosques are in the state’s largest cities. Others, however, are situated in smaller cities, such as Dudley, Greenville, Gastonia, Matthews, Newell, Morganton, and Conover.
Six Islamic schools and four chapters of the Muslim Student Association are listed on the Web site. Numerous other Islamic organizations — charitable, civic, and political, for example — have been established in North Carolina.
“A terrorist doesn’t need a formal ‘base of operation’ to be effective,” he said. “They can operate from a basement of a home. Bottom line, there is no common location where you can find terrorists.”
Resnick confirmed that Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah operate in the United States.
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in the early 1920s by Egyptian Hassan al Banna. The Brotherhood was driven by one of the most violent and aggressive of Islamic doctrines — Wahhabism. Adopted by the rulers of Saudi Arabia and fueled by their vast wealth, Wahhabism began to grow in the 1950s.
Winston S. Churchill III, in a speech to the John Locke Foundation on Feb. 10, 2006, in Raleigh told of his grandfather’s concerns about extremist Islam, particularly Wahhabism, and warned of its spread in Europe and the United States:
“Those who have declared jihad against the West, and Western values, such as freedom of speech, are doing all in their power to mobilize against us the large Muslim communities living in our midst,” Churchill said in his speech.
Author Bat Ye’or, in Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, detailed the gradual transformation of Europe over the last 30 years into an appendage of the Arab-Muslim world. “Eurabia is fundamentally anti-Christian, anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Semitic,” she wrote. Pro-Islamic politics in Europe reflects the depth of the revolution, and only a few European leaders have begun to awaken to its far-reaching consequences.
The radical Islamic movement now extends far beyond Europe and the United States, Churchill said:
“The consequence has been that the Wahhabis have been able to export their exceptionally intolerant brand of Islamic fundamentalism from Mauritania and Morocco on Africa’s Atlantic shores, through more than two dozen countries including Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East, to as far afield as the Philippines and East Timor in the Pacific. This is the stark challenge that today confronts the Western world and I fear it will be with us, not just for a matter of years, but perhaps even for generations.”
Author Walid Phares, in his book Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against America, wrote that Wahhabism has multiple strategies.
“The Wahhabi state logic was perhaps the most perfect one: Float with the world, release the teachings without violence, let the teachings plant the seeds, wait for their growth, irrigate them with money, and make sure to mollify any abrupt reaction from the other side. The rich oil state maximized its advantages to the highest: oil and religious proselytizing,” he wrote.
Phares wrote that the “Muslim Brothers,” as the Brotherhood was often called, created the model for modern-day jihadists, who aimed to spread at the grassroots level outside the control of government: “When weak, the network lies low and expands slowly. When strong, or when events favor it, the group accelerates its activity and pursues its goals mercilessly. … The ‘brothers’ are keen to inculcate deep ideological teaching before engaging in the political struggle — but when they do, they are ruthless. They are neither intimidated by oppression nor swayed by causes greater than theirs.”
Created in 1987 as an offshoot of the Brotherhood, Hamas is known for suicide bombings and other attacks directed against Israeli civilians, as well as military and security forces targets.
But Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have a different strategy for the United States, Phares wrote:
“These two groups were extremely careful not to engage U.S. targets worldwide or within the U.S. mainland. There are two reasons for this Palestinian-centered battlefield strategy. One was that both Hamas and Islamic Jihad had decided to build a network of fundraisers within the West in general and the United States in particular. It would have been difficult and counterproductive to attack American targets under a ‘Palestinian Jihad’ label while sitting comfortably on U.S. campuses and in American neighborhoods, collecting money almost openly for the war against Zionism and America. Many in the United States and the West could not understand why Hamas and PIJ would not conduct attacks or suicidal killings in American cities and towns. The main reason is that they have chosen to fight one infidel at a time and to concentrate their resources on America’s main ally in the region, Israel, hence ultimately weakening the United States.”
In 1993 after contentious debate, leaders of the Brotherhood in the United States changed the group’s name to the Muslim American Society. A Chicago Tribune series of articles in 2004 headlined “A Rare Look at Secretive Brotherhood in America” offers a glimpse into the organization’s transformation:
“Some of the leaders wanted the Brotherhood to remain underground, while others thought a more public face would make the group more influential. Members from across the country drove to the regional meeting sites to discuss the issue.”
Muslim American Society
MAS has 53 chapters nationwide, Radwan, the Raleigh chapter president, said. Nationally, the organization has about 10,000 members, while the Raleigh chapter reports an active membership of 40, about 100 associate members, and an undetermined number of adjunct members.
MAS national headquarters in Alexandria, Va., reported on its 2004 IRS tax return, the most recent report available, that the organization had assets of $3.44 million and total revenue of $2.21 million. MAS reported expenses of $2.25 million. The Raleigh chapter had an operating budget in 2006 of about $50,000, according to Radwan.
Dr. Souheil Ghannouchi, who spoke at the Raleigh chapter’s “The Missing Link” conference Nov. 18, was listed on the IRS return as executive director of the national chapter of MAS. Other members of the MAS board of directors were Dr. Imad Damaj, a trustee; Dr. Jihad Qaddour, trustee; and Dr. Esam Omeish, president. Omeish also was a speaker at the conference.
Shaker Elsayed, a top MAS official and imam at Dar al-Hijrah, said MAS “does not believe in creating an Islamic state in America but supports the establishment of Islamic governments in Muslim lands,” the Chicago Tribune reported. “The group’s goal in the United States, he says, ‘is to serve and develop the Muslim community and help Muslims to be the best citizens they can be of this country.’ That includes preserving the Muslim identity, particularly among youths.”
In a story by the Associated Press, Elsayed said, “Islam forbids you to give allegiance to those who kick you off your homeland, and to those who support those who kick you off your homeland,” he told worshippers. “We do have license to respond with all force necessary to answer our attackers.”
Elsayed explained after the sermon that opposition to U.S. policy in the Middle East is different from viewing the American people as the enemy.
Asked his views on militant groups such as Hamas, Elsayed compared Hamas to Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress — organizations that resorted to violent resistance only after decades of injustice, the AP reported.
“Everybody jumps on Hamas,” Elsayed said. “When did Hamas first emerge? 1990 or so? Look at how long Israel has occupied [Palestinian lands]. How long did it take to say enough is enough?”
Still, he said support for Hamas’ objectives does not mean he always supports the group’s tactics, which have included suicide bombings, the AP reported.
While MAS officials said their mission is like that of many other legitimate political activists, skeptics — including some in the Muslim community — question that claim.
Kamal Nawash, president of the moderate Free Muslims Coalition in Washington, D.C., told Carolina Journal that even though MAS claims to be nonviolent, its objective is to mix politics and religion to spread Islamic influence across America by the most effective means. MAS “controls” most mosques in the United States and a majority of Muslims, he said.
According to the Chicago Tribune series, by 1990, U.S. Brotherhood members had made headway on a strategy “that reflected a longstanding belief: First you change the person, then the family, then the community, then the nation.” The Brotherhood did that “by helping establish many mosques and Islamic organizations. Some of those efforts were backed financially by the ultraconservative Saudi Arabian government, which shared some of the Brotherhood’s fundamentalist goals,” the Tribune reported.
The Web site of Nawash’s organization says, “The Free Muslims’ efforts are unique; it is the only mainstream American-Muslim organization willing to attack extremism and terrorism unambiguously. Unfortunately most other Muslim leaders believe that in terrorist organizations, the end justifies the means.” Nawash has appeared on several news programs on network TV as an expert on Islamic issues.
The global War on Terror is an ideological struggle, not a military battle, Nawash said. “Political Islam’s goal is to pick up emotional issues and use them cleverly,” he said, and MAS is effective doing that. “If you want to know where they really stand, ask them [MAS] what they think of Hamas.”
Another speaker invited by the Raleigh chapter to its conference was Sheikh Muhammed Al-Hanooti, who has been the head of various Islamic centers in the United States since 1978.
Al-Hanooti, according to a Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) investigation, had “a complex history of association with convicted terrorists and organizations that U.S. authorities believe to be fund-raising fronts for terrorist groups. A 1995 memorandum filed in federal court by former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White named Al-Hanooti — along with scores of others, including Osama bin Laden — as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed six people and injured thousands.”
Although invited, Al-Hanooti did not attend the Raleigh conference because of illness, Radwan said.
Al-Hanooti said FBI agents came to his home in Jersey City twice to interview him about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Times Union reported. “No criminal charges have ever been filed against Al-Hanooti, and federal court records do not outline how he allegedly participated in any conspiracy or terrorist attacks,” the newspaper said.
Abdel-Malik, a frequent critic of America’s Mideast policy at Muslim events around the nation, also spoke at the Raleigh conference. Abdel-Malik formerly was the Muslim chaplain at Howard University. Currently, he is the director of community outreach for the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center — which two of the Pentagon attackers, Khalid Almihdar and Nawaf Alhaz-mi — attended in Falls Church, according to the U.S. News & World Reports. Abdel-Malik also is president of the Muslim Society of Washington, Inc.
At the time, the FBI was investigating Anwar al-Awlaki, the spiritual adviser of the hijackers at the Islamic Center, the magazine reported. Al-Awlaki left the country for Yemen in 2002, briefly returned, and then left again. He reportedly remains under FBI investigation.
At a rally at The University of California at Irvine, Abdel-Malik reportedly said he would fight for Islam in America and: “We ain’t gonna lose. We must implement Islam as a totality in which Allah controls every place — the home, the classroom, the science lab, the halls of Congress!” The university Muslim Students Union organized the UC-Irvine event.
In an anti-terrorism press conference July 25, 2005, Abdul-Malik said, “People who would go out and kill anyone, of any religion, from any country, of any age, for no reason other than the fact they are angry, isolated and upset is against God by whatever name you call [him],” according to the Web encyclopedia Wikipedia.
“When looking at what motivates a terrorist, many times it is ideology or religious beliefs,” Resnick said. “It is not uncommon to find individuals who share similar beliefs to terrorists. For instance, if one doesn’t approve of the government’s policies, they can sympathize with the terrorists’ message. However, there is a significant difference between beliefs, discussion, and criminal acts. Our Constitution doesn’t punish the first two, but our laws punish the criminal actors.”
As part of the MAS mission in Raleigh, Radwan proposed a “revolution of the status quo.” “I can mobilize the community and get voter registration,” he said. “Use the same laws that we can change here, yes, I can do that.”
“…But if you tie revolution with violence, that’s not my act. My act is revolution with the law of the land. To utilize it. To get to the proper situation that you need to be in,” Radwan said.
According to the U.S. State Department, Hamas is funded by Iran, Palestinian expatriates, and private benefactors in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. In a 2002 report, Human Rights Watch said that Hamas’ leaders “should be held accountable for the war crimes and crimes against humanity” that have been committed by its members.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad, based in Damascus, Syria, not only seeks the destruction of Israel but also opposes many other Arab governments, which the group considers moderately Islamic and pro-Western.
Hezbollah was founded in 1982 in Lebanon. Hezbollah’s manifesto calls for the destruction of Israel, the eradication of Western imperialism in Lebanon, and the transformation of Lebanon into a complete Islamic state. Human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch accused Hezbollah of committing war crimes against Israeli civilians.
Richard Wagner is editor of Carolina Journal.