Two hours after the Oklahoma blast, as it became clear that a bomb was responsible for the devastation, the FBI began focusing on groups suspected of being responsible.
Like any intelligence assessment, this one was based on the existing database and terrorist record in the United States: Based on a previous similar bombing -of the World Trade Center bombing - that had occurred in the United States; known capabilities of existing Islamic terrorist groups; threats of retaliation against the U.S. government for the prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman and the arrest of Ramzi Yousef; and recently acquired information about Hamas demolitions experts living in the Oklahoma area, the FBI almost immediately focused on militant Islamic fundamentalists as the primary suspected culprits.
As a result of that speculative assumption, the FBI sent out cables asking local police, airport, customs and immigration authorities to be on the lookout for anyone who might fall into a particular "demographic" profile. That is why a Jordanian American citizen, flying from Oklahoma to Europe on the morning of the bombing, was apprehended and returned to the United States. Totally innocent and humiliated when his name was leaked to the media, this man was seized solely because he fit a "demographic" profile and had the misfortune of flying from Oklahoma that fateful morning carrying items deemed suspicious.
Thirty-six hours into the investigation, however, the FBI had acquired solid evidence that pointed in an entirely different direction -and one that surprised many FBI investigators: white militant militias. Although the full extent of the conspiracy behind the bombing is still unknown, it has become painfully clear that a homegrown white American version of the militant Islamic "jihad" (holy war) network now exists.
But in the aftermath of the investigative turn away from Muslim militants, various American Muslim groups, joined by several editorialists, are complaining bitterly that the media and terrorism experts - in particular, myself -wrongly and prematurely accused "all Muslims" of being behind the bombing. In turn, they claim, these charges led to a wave of harassment against Arabs and Muslims in the United State.
In the past few days, Dave McCurdy and I have been singled out for special attention by various Muslim and Arab groups and leaders. I have been called an "Arab and Muslim hater" and have been accused of being almost singlehandedly responsible for all of the speculation that Muslim fanatics were behind the bombing and for stereotyping "all Muslims" as terrorists.
It would be so flattering to think that my powers of influence are so great as to whip the entire country into a hysterical frenzy.
No, the reason why these groups have singled me out is that they are trying to deny the existence of an Islamic terrorist network in the United States. In reality, some of the groups leading the campaign - unbeknownst to the media - are actually tied to radical Islamic groups, such as Hamas.
I have earned the enduring antipathy of these groups because of my work for 2 years as an investigator and journalist in documenting the existence of terror and militant Islamic fundamentalist network in the United States. My film, "Jihad in America," aired on PBS last November; the documentary provided incontrovertible evidence - in the form of video largely taken by terrorists and militants themselves - of clandestine terrorist conferences where the top militant Islamic leaders throughout the world expanded their "jihad" network to exterminate Jews, Christians and moderate Muslims.
The documentary also exposed the secret activities of several "mainstream" Islamic religious groups that actually serve as fronts for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups classified by the State Department as terrorist. (Among more than a dozen cities cited as hosting Islamic radical conventions, the documentary showed clips from a 1988 conference in Oklahoma City. Four years later, Oklahoma City was the site of an even bigger radical conference featuring top leaders of Hamas.)
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, was that the film took great pains to point out repeatedly that the vast majority of American Muslims were not members of these radical groups, that the radicals only represented a violent fringe. In addition to former FBI and other law enforcement officials, two American Muslims talked on camera about the existence of this radical network in the United States. Whenever Islamic militants were referred to in the film, they were referred to as "Islamic radicals and militants." The film pointed out that mainstream Islam is totally different from radical Islam.
Three weeks ago, the acting CIA director testified before Congress that "the greatest terrorist threats to U.S. interests today come from extremist groups - however falsely - to act on behalf of a religion, especially Islam." Besides identifying Hamas and Hezbollah as fitting the "traditional terrorist mold," the CIA director also pointed to the "World Trade Center bombers [as] prime examples of this new breed of radical, transnational, Islamic terrorist."
Instead of acknowledging that a radical fringe existed, a number of groups portrayed the allegations as false and as part of a centuries-old "Crusade" against Islam. One of the leaders of the anti-film campaign - and also leading the effort today against me - is called the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
In its campaign against "Jihad in America," the group issued incendiary press releases throughout the U.S. Muslim community alleging, inaccurately, that broadcast of the film was connected to "anti-Muslim hate crimes."
CAIR has continued to launch attacks against me and others critical of Hamas and other terrorist groups. In December, following President Clinton's executive order freezing terrorist assets, Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR's communications director, called the act "McCarthyism," a term he and his boss, Nihad Awad, have used against me and every subsequent anti-terror initiative. For the past week, Mr. Awad has been in the forefront denouncing me again, claiming that I, and others in the media, have smeared all Muslims as guilty of terrorism. In point of fact, it is Mr. Awad that has done the smearing. He has deliberately interchanged the word "Islam" with "Islamic fundamentalists," thus purposefully obscuring the distinction between mainstream Islam and militant Islam. This intentional obfuscation is designed to legitimize the activities of militant groups by asserting that they are the same as the non-violent Islamic majority.
My initial analysis, in which I pointed out that no hard leads were available, was predicated on the FBI's working assumptions and on the fact that the modus operandi of the Oklahoma bombing was virtually the same as the World Trade Center, the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut and the Buenos Aires bombing of a Jewish community center. As I pointed out, no other terrorist group in the world has carried out or attempted to carry out this type of bombing with the same frequency and international scope as militant Islamic fundamentalists.
What explains CAIR's campaign against me?
CAIR, which cloaks itself as a muslim religious-civil rights group, according to federal law enforcement officials, is in fact a creation of the Hamas support group in Texas called the Islamic Association for Palestine. The latter group, as revealed in "Jihad in America," has published Hamas communiques taking credit for terrorist bombings and produced terrorist video training and recruitment films. Nihad Awad, now head of CAIR, served for the past several years as a senior official of the Islamic Association for Palestine, the defacto headquarters of Hamas in the U.S. (In one of the most bizarre ironies, Hamas, according to law enforcement sources, participated in the World Trade Center bombing conspiracy. Moreover, a press release issued by Mr. Awad containing the names of Muslim groups condemning the Oklahoma blast actually lists a group that is known to intelligence officials as a direct supporter of the worldwide anti-American terror network.)
In Washington, CAIR has actively promoted the views and politics of Hamas and it has hosted or sponsored visits of leading Islamic militants from Jordan and Sudan, whose officials were involved in the second set of attempted bombings connected to the World Trade Center conspiracy. Last year, CAIR followed the orders of the Egyptian-based Moslem Brotherhood directing the group to mount a campaign against the U.S. Cairo population conference. CAIR's funding has come, in part, from radical Islamic donors.
Tragically, other "mainstream" Muslim and Arab groups have also become tied in different ways to radical Islamic extremists. In 1994, for example, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee hosted a Virginia fundraising dinner for Mohammed Siyyam, a senior Hamas leader, together with a Texas-based Hamas support group, the Islamic Association for Palestine. The Washington-headquartered American Muslim Council, is funded through a militant Saudi-owned conglomerate and has promoted Hamas, lobbied on behalf of militant Islamic leaders, and hosted visiting radical Islamic leaders.
Still, after all is said, I am deeply troubled by the fact that innocent American Muslims have been harassed in the past week. In my work, I always painstakingly point out that it is only militant Islamic fundamentalists who pose a threat to the United States and to moderate Muslims as well.
Terrorism is terrorism, no matter if it is carried out by Hamas, or by right wing Jewish terrorists like Baruch Goldstein. That Muslim extremists were not involved in the Oklahoma bombing does not lessen in any way the threat they continue to pose to the United States.