What do the Clinton State Department, Republican activist Grover Norquist, Bush FBI director William Mueller, Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Washington Post, and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops have in common?
They all fell, in one way or another, for Abdurahman Alamoudi, a Muslim-American leader who turns out, according to a federal indictment, to have been in league with the terrorists. Call him the fifth-columnist who duped the Beltway establishment.
Alamoudi was an invited guest at a 1998 State Department religious freedom event. He gave $10,000 in 1999 to an Islamic free-market institute on whose board Norquist sat. Mueller spoke last year at a conference of the Muslim group Alamoudi founded. Sen. Lieberman hosted an Islamic holiday celebration for Alamoudi on Capitol Hill in 1996. The Washington Post has quoted Alamoudi defending the civil rights of Muslim Americans against attack from Congress. And when Alamoudi's American Muslim Council came under attack for its public expressions of sympathy for terrorists, the Catholic bishops rushed to Alamoudi's defense, signing a statement praising what it described as the American Muslim Council's "consistent opposition to the use of terrorism" and denouncing criticism of the group as "Muslim bashing." The statement from the bishops called Alamoudi's AMC "the premier, mainstream Muslim group in Washington."
All of this looks more than a little embarrassing in light of the 29-page government affidavit in support of a criminal complaint filed September 30 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in the case of United States of America v. Abdurahman Muhammad Alamoudi. In the affidavit, a special agent of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Brett Gentrup, tells of British customs officials stopping Alamoudi at Heathrow airport in London, where they discovered $340,000 in cash -- sequentially numbered $100 bills.
Gentrup says told Scotland Yard he'd received the money from what the affidavit describes as a "jihad fund" set up by the Libyan dictator, Muammar Qaddafi. Alamoudi repeatedly traveled to Libya on a Yemeni passport and made phone calls to officials at the Libyan U.N. mission in New York, the affidavit says. A letter on Alamoudi's computer to an official at the Libyan U.N. Mission asked for $7,000 in reimbursements for trips Alamoudi made to meet with Libyan officials in Tripoli and London. Bank records and IRS records show the Libyan government gave an additional $7,000 to another Muslim group controlled by Alamoudi, the American Muslim Foundation, in violation of the American economic sanctions on Libya imposed because of its support for terrorism.
As if the financial ties to the Libyans don't sound bad enough for Alamoudi, Gentrup testified in court about a wiretapped conversation in which Alamoudi praised the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in which 86 people were killed. "The Jewish Community Center. It is a worthy operation," Alamoudi told an unidentified man, according to the English translation of a conversation, which was read by Gentrup. "I think that the attacks that are being executed by [Osama] Bin Laden and other Islamic groups are wrong, especially hitting the civilian targets," he allegedly said, referring to the bombing of the American embassy in Kenya. "Many African Muslims have died and not a single American died. I prefer to hit a Zionist target in America or Europe."
He then held up the 1994 attack as a standard. "I prefer honestly like what happened in Argentina," Alamoudi said, according to the wiretap.
Stunning stuff. But it's gone widely unnoticed. With the exception of the New York Sun, American newspapers have tended to bury the story of Abdurahman Alamoudi. And some of the characters you might expect to be red-facedly apologizing in light of the recent disclosures aren't exactly rushing to acknowledge they were duped.
The usually press-accessible Mr. Norquist, for instance, didn't return a phone call seeking comment. Likewise, the president of the Arab American Institute, James Zogby, who back in 1999 defended Alamoudi as the victim of "a shameful hysteria campaign of McCarthyism," now doesn't have time to discuss the Alamoudi case, a spokeswoman said. As for the Catholic bishops, one of its interfaith-dialogue officials who in 1996 circulated a memo defending Alamoudi, Eugene Fisher, now says, "I don't know anything about it. I can't really comment." He referred calls to a colleague, John Borelli, who wrote in a 1996 memo about his "friendship" and "regular contact" with Alamoudi. That friendship resulted in William Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore accepting from Alamoudi the "Mahmoud Abu-Saud Award for Excellence" at a banquet hosted by the American Muslim Council in December 1995. Borelli didn't return a call for comment.
At least that's better than several hard-core Muslim groups that are still making excuses for Alamoudi. The Muslim Public Affairs Council, for instance, issued a statement saying it was "disturbed by the arrest," leaving unclear whether it was disturbed by what Alamoudi had done or by the fact that the government had acted against him. The statement also claimed arrest "was not connected to charges of terrorism," seeming to ignore the fact that the crime Alamoudi was accused of is traveling to and taking money from a state that is under American sanctions because of its support for terrorism.
Were any of Alamoudi's old cronies brave enough to come to the phone, they could make several arguments. The first is that Alamoudi has not yet been proven guilty in court, which, in all fairness, is absolutely correct -- but which fact rarely prevents the same groups from issuing scathing denunciations of, say, Israelis involved in "massacres" of Palestinian Arabs.
The Alamoudi cronies could also claim that they could not have known about Alamoudi's Libya ties and feelings about the 1994 Argentina bombing at the time they were working with him. Here they are on thinner ground. After all, there was a small but vocal chorus of those who warned against Alamoudi all along -- not because they knew of his financial dealings with Libya, but because they knew of his public statements defending terrorists groups like Hamas and terrorist states like Sudan. The counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson made the case in a March 1996 op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. The Hudson Institute's Michael Horowitz embarked on an indefatigable letter-writing campaign with officials of the State Department and with Alamoudi's friends in the Roman Catholic church. The Zionist Organization of America issued press releases denouncing American officials who met with Alamoudi for lending him legitimacy. Other think-tank denizens -- Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum and Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy -- made their anti-Alamoudi sentiments clear. In response, they've been denounced as anti-Muslim bigots.
Even Hillary Clinton had the good sense to return a contribution by Alamoudi to her Senate campaign after it came to light in the press.
Perhaps the best defense of Alamoudi's dupes outside of government was that the FBI and the State Department, even the White House, were meeting with the Muslim leader. Should the Catholic bishops have been expected to be holier than the pope when it came to American counterterrorism? Here, perhaps the message is starting to sink in. The FBI recently canceled plans to bestow an "Exceptional Public Service Award" on October 9 to Imad Hamad, the Midwest regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, another group that, like Alamoudi's American Muslim Council, has been a public apologist for the terrorists. It's hard to expect Catholic bishops or Republican activists to take a hard line against American terrorist-sympathizers if the American government is busy meeting with them or giving them awards.