"The Jews distort words from their meanings…they killed the prophets and worshipped idols…Allah says he who equips a warrior of Jihad is like the one who makes Jihad himself." In Arabic, Wagdi Ghuniem, a militant Islamic cleric from Egypt, mesmerized his audience, with his relentless tirade against the Jews, reminding them of the Jews' "infidelity," "stealth" and "deceit." Known for his folksy deliveries and exhortations to commit violence against the Jews, Ghuniem did not disappoint his crowd, several of whom had come just to hear him. The conflict with the Jews, he said, was not over land but one of religion. "The problem of Palestine is not a problem of belief… suppose the Jews said 'Palestine—you [Muslims] can take it.' Would it then be ok? What would we tell them? No!…the problem is belief, it is not a problem of land."
Ghuniem then led his rapt audience, which numbered as many as 500, in a special song, the audience responsively repeating each refrain:
No to the Jews
Descendants of the Apes
We Vow to Return
Despite the Obstacles
The administrators of Brooklyn College would probably have been surprised to learn that their campus was the site of an incendiary rally more similar to those held in Gaza than those held in the United States. On May 24, 1998, a special all-day program was held in the Walt Whitman Auditorium of Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, New York. Organized by the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), an American headquartered front group for Hamas, the program was entitled "Palestine: 50 Years of Occupation." Eleven Islamic organizations co-sponsored the event, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, and the Islamic Circle of North America. To the outside world, this conference probably seemed like one of the many seminars held on campus. Conducted almost entirely in Arabic, the conference featured Islamic speakers from the United States and abroad.
Clearly, one of the most popular guests was Sheik Ghuniem, the militant Egyptian cleric, who had flown in from Egypt to attend this conference in the United States and another one held in Paterson, New Jersey that same day marking the "50 Years of Occupation."
Outside the auditorium, Islamic vendors sold their merchandise and gave out their literature. Included were donation envelopes and brochures for the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a non-profit charitable organization directly linked to Hamas; literature for ad hoc committees on behalf of Dr. Abdellhaleem Ashqar and Ismail Elbarasse, two US based Hamas activists jailed for contempt for their refusal to testify before a grand jury investigating Hamas fundraising; pro Hamas videos ; an ultra-right wing "documentary" that "exposes" how the Jews control the United States; and several audio cassettes including one championing the Izzadin Al-Qassem death squads of Hamas.
Inside the auditorium, fundraising sessions were held for Palestine including one chaired by Sheik Abdullah Idris, former president of the Islamic Association for North America, the largest American Muslim umbrella group, which often champions the Muslim Brotherhood. Today, Idris himself serves on the board of various other Islamic groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Idris beseeched the crowd to give to the "cause of Palestine;" cardboard boxes were passed around in which men placed cash and women gave their jewelry.
Scheduled to appear at the event was Sheik Deib Anees, a militant Islamic leader from Jordan as well as Sheik Mohammed al-Hanooti, the head of Dar el Hijra, the popular Islamic mosque in northern Virginia (and profiled by the Associated Press as a center of moderation). Sheik al-Hanooti and Ghuniem had also appeared that same day—with a mix of other speakers-- about 90 minutes away in the Islamic Center of Patterson, New Jersey where vitriolic attacks on Jews and on the United States, were delivered.
The appearance at rallies like those held in Brooklyn and Paterson in the United States of Sheik Ghuniem and Sheik Anees is not unusual. In fact, Ghuniem travels to the US on a regular basis, giving lectures in large and small venues. In 1997 and 1998, Ghuniem appeared at the Muslim Arab Youth Association (MAYA) (an Islamic group that supports the positions of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas in the United States) and IAP conferences, as well as at smaller events in local mosques and Islamic centers across the United States and Canada. Part of his popularity may stem from the fact that he speaks in a local rural Egyptian dialect and peppers his talks with humorous anecdotes. His rhetoric espouses a deep hatred for Jews. He often praises terrorists and terrorist attacks.
Interestingly, Sheik Ghuniem was denied entry to Canada this past winter and detained as he tried to enter Windsor from Detroit. Ghuniem was on a whirlwind US-Canada lecture circuit, with scheduled stops in Los Angeles, New York, New Jersey, Detroit, San Diego, D.C., Toronto and Montreal. But the trip was rudely interrupted, if only temporarily, at the Canadian border. The reason he was barred? "Our (computerized information) system indicated he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas," said Gerald Belanger, a Canadian immigration official as he was quoted in the Ottawa Citizen. Leaders of the Muslim communities in Detroit, Toronto and Windsor bitterly protested Ghuniem's detention as evidence of an anti-Muslim bias, claiming that Ghuniem was a "man of peace." "He's a very reasonable man" declared Hussein El-Hennawy, a MAYA official in the Ottawa Citizen, "He teaches people to be peaceful." MAYA has established the "Scholars Defense Fund," to pursue legal action against the Canadian Government for its perceived "humiliation" of Ghuniem.
Canadian authorities soon released Ghuniem back to the United States and he returned to his lecture tour on behalf of militant Islamic groups in helping them recruit new members, raise funds, and coordinate strategies with other militant Islamic leaders crisscrossing the United States. US officials say they are virtually powerless to stop the influx of known militants into the United States for reasons ranging from lack of adequate intelligence to easy circumvention of the watch list to legal restrictions in stopping self-described religious clerics from entering the United States.
Still, the question raised by Ghuniem's numerous appearances in the United States is how do terrorists manage to enter the country? That very question was at the heart of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing held on February 24, 1998 chaired by Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California). Senator Feinstein requested information "on how terrorists come to this country, how they avoid our immigration authorities, and what devices they use."
Senator Feinstein had asked her question specifically in regard to Musa Abu Marzook, the Hamas leader who came to the United States on a student visa in the early 1980s, received his Ph.D. and established his residency on American soil. In 1997, he was deported to Jordan after having been arrested in July 1995 pursuant to having been placed on a terrorism watch-list earlier that year. The Senator's question was indicative of a heightened awareness of the potential danger posed by terrorists seeking to establish residency in the United States, those who deliberately overstay their student visas and others who are dispatched from terrorist-supporting regimes. Some of these "students" have acquired visas for the purpose of attaining cover for their illicit activities as activists for terrorist organizations. Others receive advanced degrees in the US and return to their countries where some might work in nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programs. Although there is no official compilation of the number of student visas granted to would-be terrorists and agents of terrorist supporting regimes, one study being prepared for the US government shows that there are at least 200 terrorists or agents of terrorist regimes and organizations who have received student visas in the past decade to pursue undergraduate or graduate training.
To deal with this issue, the INS established a pilot program called "The Coordinated Inter-Agency Partnership Regulating International Students" or CIPRIS. It received Congressional authorization in 1997. The CIPRIS program is comprised of a consortium including the INS, Department of State, USIA, Department of Education, 22 American schools and institutions, and a broad range of private sector consultants with expertise in data systems technology, telecommunications, academic advising, administration and records keeping. The goal of the pilot program is to examine the feasibility of monitoring foreign students in the United States—especially those from countries designated as State sponsors of terrorism. CIPRIS is presently undergoing evaluation to determine whether the program will continue at its current level of funding in Fiscal Year 1999. According to the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 1997, a joint report on CIPRIS will be issued by the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Education, no later than four years after the commencement of the pilot program.
Beyond the issue of how terrorists have been able to exploit student visas to stay in the United States for long periods of time, another major, even more frustrating, counter-terrorist problem is the ease in which terrorists and militants freely enter the US for shorter periods of time. The official purpose of such short visits is generally linked to invitations to appear at religious-based conferences and meetings at Islamic organizations in the United States attended primarily by American Muslims. The real purposes of these visits are to recruit new members of militant organizations; facilitate fundraising for militant activities, both in the U.S. and abroad; coordinate political and even military strategies with other militants leaders; indoctrinate new "foot soldiers;" and even participate in terrorist training sessions.
Every year, according to law enforcement officials and information obtained at Islamic conferences, dozens of militant Islamic clerics, officials, representatives and leaders of various terrorist organizations and movements come to the United States. These include Hamas, Islamic Jihad, al-Gama'at Islamiyya, Sudanese National Islamic Front, Jordan's Islamic Action Front, and Hizbollah. Visits by Islamic militants to the US are not a new phenomenon. Despite advanced computer systems employed by the INS, Islamists continue to encounter little or no difficulty in entering the United States.
Some get into the United States using false identification while others simply get in because they are not on any watch-list. During these conferences, it is not uncommon to hear Islamic militants praise terrorists and terrorist attacks, attack the United States and the West, or call for the death of Jews and the destruction of the United States. For the most part, these incendiary lectures, almost invariably in Arabic, are not illegal insofar as the content, unless a specific act of violence is advocated, and fall under protected speech. Federal law enforcement is largely prohibited from attending the conferences at which these militants appear because of the restrictions imposed by the Attorney General Guidelines against any surveillance of religious groups, unless there is ironclad evidence ahead of time that a crime or a conspiracy to commit a crime will take place. Of course, absent direct surveillance, it is almost impossible to obtain such evidence—which creates a Catch-22 conundrum. On the other hand, it must be remembered that the Attorney General Guidelines were issued in response to abuses by intelligence and law enforcement officials.
Even if the FBI were involved in greater surveillance, chances are that it would not witness the events going on behind the scenes—the most likely venue of any illegal activities—even though witnessing center stage activities would be considered shocking in and of itself. For example, the Islamic Association for Palestine held annual meetings in 1989 and 1990 in Kansas City where off stage, secret meetings were held with a pre-selected "class" of future Hamas terrorists who were taught car-bombings and other terrorist warfare. Meanwhile, at IAP's "plenary" sessions—held in the Kansas City Convention center-- several notorious militants and leaders of Hamas gave fiery speeches praising attacks by Hamas and other Islamic fundamentalist groups in language and rhetoric more familiar to Hamas rallies in the Middle East than to Kansas City. One of the most electrifying moments came when a keffiyeh-draped leader of the Izzadin Al-Qassem death squads—the military arm of Hamas—delivered a rousing account of the specific violent terrorist attacks carried out by Hamas.
In December 1989, the Islamic Committee for Palestine (ICP), headed by Sami Al- Arian (currently a Professor at the University of South Florida), sponsored a large conference in Chicago, Illinois, attended by a number of prominent terrorist leaders, including Rachid Ghanouchi, Bashir Nafi and Abdel Aziz Odeh. Ghanouchi has been tried and sentenced in absentia, for participating in a militant Islamic plot to assassinate the President of Tunisia; Bashir Nafi is recognized as a founding member of the Islamic Jihad and was deported from the United States in 1996 and; Abdel Aziz Odeh, who currently resides in the United Arab Emirates, is the spiritual leader of the Islamic Jihad.
On June 19-21, 1991, the Virginia-based United Association for Studies and Research (UASR) sponsored one of the largest gatherings of Islamic militants ever held in the United States. Prominent US-based attendees included Musa Abu Marzook (Hamas), Ramadan Abdullah (Islamic Jihad), and Abdurahman Alamoudi (American Muslim Council). The conference also featured Ishaaq al Farhan of Jordan and Kamal Hilbawi of Egypt. Farhan, a leader of the Islamic Action Front, a radical Islamic Parliamentary opposition group, is a proponent of Hamas. Hilbawi, a leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, has openly called for terrorist attacks against Jews and Americans.
In December 1992, Hilbawi appeared at the Annual Conference of the Muslim Arab Youth Association in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Hilbawi was joined at this conference by Khalid Mish'al, a Hamas leader. During his speech, Mish'al praised Hamas and its Jihad, or holy war, against Israel:
"Since the Muslim Nation of Palestine has decided to take matters into its own hands, it has decided to engage in jihad to reclaim their land of Palestine. This was evoked by Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who caused the earth to shake from under the feet of the [Israeli] occupiers. Since then, the Palestinian people have shown examples of sacrifice, courage and heroism. Among the proofs are the stones, the Molotovs and the knives."
The conferences mentioned above are but a few of the literally dozens of radical Islamic events held prior to the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993. Following the bombing and the subsequent investigations into the militant Islamic networks in the US and their ties to terrorist organizations abroad, it seemed likely that the US would seek to curtail the entrance of Islamic militants into the US. Yet conferences featuring prominent terrorist sympathizers and spokesmen for Islamic militancy have continued unabated.
One of the more popular speakers on the militant Islamic "lecture circuit" in the United States has been Yusuf Qaradawi, an Egyptian born militant cleric living in Qatar. Qaradawi is perhaps best known for his 1960 opus The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam. In his book, among other things, Qaradawi condones wife beating. If a wife is rebellious, Qaradawi states that "it is permissible for him [the husband] to beat her lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive areas." Qaradawi is considered a well-known Islamic scholar in the Middle East and in the West. He appears regularly on television in Qatar, and has a web-site that is continuously updated ( http: www.qaradawi.net).
Qaradawi's writings, religious rulings, speeches and sermons are prolific, and he appears to be extremely popular among Hamas supporters in the United States. In fact, some of his writings and fatwas (Islamic religious rulings) are posted on Hamas' official web-site at www.palestine-info.org. One of Qaradawi's Friday sermons from March 1996, entitled, "Human Bombs of Faith are Stronger than the Israeli Nuclear Arsenal: Hamas Jihad Operations and the Killing of Her Martyrs," is currently posted in Arabic on the Hamas web-site.
In this sermon, Qaradawi exhorts his followers to kill Israelis: "No one would say at that time that launching these operations [suicide bombings] are terrorism and that civilians were killed…the Israeli society is a military society—men and women, all of them soldiers in the Israeli army…hence they were not civilians and their killing is Islamically permissible…" Qaradawi's own web page contains a similar message. On March 7, 1998, a piece written by Qaradawi on his web page stated: "There is a struggle between us [the Muslims] and the Jews and it will continue and we will kill them and be victorious over them."
Notwithstanding these open exhortations to violence, Qaradawi has not had a problem getting into the United States. He has been a staple on the militant Islamic speaking circuit for several years. In 1995, Qaradawi appeared in Toledo, Ohio at the Annual Conference of the Muslim Arab Youth Association (MAYA. During this lecture, Qaradawi called on his followers to kill Jews. Citing the hadith of Abu Hurayrah (a saying of one of the Prophet Mohammed's companions), Qaradawi said:
"You shall continue to fight the Jews and they will fight you until the Muslims kill them. And the Jew will hide behind the stone and the tree, and the stone and the tree will say: 'Oh servant of Allah, Oh Muslim, this is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.' The resurrection will not come before this happens."
At the same lecture, Qaradawi praised the Sudan—a country listed as a sponsor of terrorism by the United States Department of State—as a model for the Muslim world. Qaradawi mused that Sudan "made a joke out of the Westerners, because the Westerners and the rest of them – the Arab and Muslim leaders, do not want a State of Islam being established."
In a fundraising session following his 1995 MAYA speech, Qaradawi lavished praise on Hamas and its Jihad (holy war) against Israel. He said: "Our brothers in Hamas, in Palestine, the Islamic resistance, the Islamic Jihad, after all the rest have given up and despaired, the movement of the Jihad brings us back to our faith."
During his appearance at the MAYA conference in Detroit in December 1997 prior to his detention in Windsor, Sheik Ghuniem (like Qaradawi) alluded to the hadith of Abu Hurayrah. He said:
"The hour will come when the Moslems will kill the Jews. The Jews will hide behind a tree…do you know how many trees the Jews planted in Palestine? So far, they have planted two million trees—so that they will be able to hide behind them. But, with Allah's help, the day will come when we will cut down the trees and we will find all of the Jews and we will kill them."
Later in this speech, Ghuniem discussed the value of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israel. "Nothing," Ghuniem said, "will liberate Palestine except Jihad for the sake of Allah." He continued:
"The Jews go crazy when you say Jihad. Why? They don't want to die. Four martyrdom operations in Tel Aviv forced them [Israel] to convene the whole world in Sharm el-Sheikh. These operations are not 'suicide operations,' they are 'martyrdom operations.' Those who commit suicide don't want their lives, but those who 'martyr' themselves do want life. These people are Mujahideen [holy warriors], and there is no other way!"
Wagdi Ghuniem and Yusuf Qaradawi are only two of the numerous prominent Islamic militants who appear regularly before large Muslim audiences in the United States. They espouse a radical ideology, replete with crude anti-Semitic slurs and exhortations advocating violent terrorist attacks. Ghuniem and Qaradawi have large followings, and their comments are indicative of what transpires at some of these events. But significantly, neither Ghuniem nor Qaradawi are the most radical nor the most incendiary on "the circuit."
During the annual convention of the Islamic Association for Palestine in Chicago in December 1997, Ahmed Al Kufahi, a former representative of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), a militant parliamentary opposition party to King Hussein in Jordan, openly called for Jihad against Jews and other enemies. In his discussion of Israel and Jerusalem, Al Kufahi stated that "Jihad becomes a must and a religious obligation on all Muslims to go and fight the enemy…" At the same lecture, Kufahi made jokes about suicide bombers—which were greeted by the audience with laughter and roars of "Allahu Akbar" (Allah is Greatest).
Three years earlier, Bassam al-Amoush, a leader of the Jordanian IAF, appeared before the 1994 MAYA conference in Chicago. During his talk, al-Amoush told the following story:
"Once in a mosque, a guy asked me 'if I see a Jew on the street in Amman, should I kill him?' I said, 'Don't ask me. After you kill him, come and tell me. Why do you ask? What do you want—a fatwa [a religious edict]? A good deed does not require one."
Al-Amoush's Chicago comment, in which he urged the killing of Jews, was not an isolated incident. What is surprising though, is that al-Amoush, who has spent a significant amount of time in the United States, has achieved mainstream status here. During one of his visits to the United States in 1994, al-Amoush had meetings arranged for him on Capitol Hill and at the State Department, courtesy of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). As with other Islamic radicals, al-Amoush has been legitimized, over time, through his meetings, his associations with American Muslim "mainstream" organizations and through multiple visits to the States.
The Islamic militants on the US "lecture circuit" are sponsored by major American Muslim organizations and travel throughout the United States, lecturing at mosques and Islamic centers filled to capacity. The level of popularity these militants have achieved would seem to indicate an ideological acceptance by the members of their audience. Counter-terrorism officials say this phenomenon has serious consequences in the legitimization and proliferation of the culture of violence among the growing number of militant supporters of Islamic radicalism.
Freedom of speech is unquestionably a hallmark of American democracy. However, by permitting militant Islamists with ties to terrorist organizations abroad to enter the United States at will, the US Government is actually undermining its own counter-terrorist policy. The militant Islamic "lecture circuit" is contributing to a radicalization of segments of the American Muslim community, whose vast majority remain opposed to violence. Regular visits by foreign-based radicals may also facilitate the indoctrination and recruitment of new foot soldiers into the international support network for Middle Eastern based terrorist organizations such as Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and Hizbollah. The visits also provide a forum for fundraising, a key component of the terrorist infrastructure. The effectiveness of US counter-terrorism policy might be enhanced if authorities paid more attention to the threat posed by the militants on the "lecture circuit."