‘Every conspiracy against Islam and scheming against Islam and the Muslims — its source is America.”
“Jihad is Jihad. There is no such thing as commerce, industry, and science in jihad. This is calling things other than by its [sic] own name. If Allah says, ‘Do jihad,’ it means do jihad with the sword, with the cannon, with the grenades, and with the missile. This is Jihad. Jihad against Allah’s enemies for Allah’s cause and his word.”
“Why do we fear the word ‘terrorist’? If the terrorist is the person who defends his right, so we are terrorists. . . . The Koran mentions the words ‘to strike terror,’ therefore we don’t fear to be described with ‘terrorism.’ . . . We are ordered to prepare whatever we can of power to terrorize the enemies of Islam.”
This rhetoric was not at all unusual. It was the sort of thing you’d hear on any given Friday at mosques in Brooklyn or Jersey City. Nor is there anything ostensibly criminal about it, at least according to the hash the Supreme Court has made of the First Amendment.
That wasn’t the case in the speaker’s native Egypt. There, Omar Abdel Rahman had been notorious for such fiery Friday sermons. There, the imam known as “the Blind Sheikh,” a renowned scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, had been jailed several times for inciting Muslims — urging that they kill regime officials for allying with America and for failing to implement sharia, Islam’s legal system.
But not here, not in the land of free expression: In the United States, the authorities regarded Abdel Rahman as a respected community leader. The federal government put out its welcome mat despite his appearance on its terrorist watch lists. Federal authorities never consulted the police force responsible for protecting the New Yorkers he would attack; they just issued him a green card to work as a “religious teacher” and sent him on his way.
It was Ray Kelly, one of the great police commissioners in American history, who finally arranged to place the blind sheikh in handcuffs. This was during the summer of 1993, when Kelly was in his first go-round as NYPD commissioner.
The sheikh was holed up in a favorite New York City mosque, surrounded by his followers — at least those of them who were not already in prison or on the lam for multiple bombing plots. As I recounted in Willful Blindness, when Attorney General Janet Reno green-lighted the arrest that we prosecutors had been seeking for weeks, it was Kelly and his savvy city cops who defused the potentially explosive situation. The NYPD spoke to people in the community, the sheikh was coaxed out of the mosque, and federal immigration agents took him into custody without incident. This was no small thing: In the two decades since, dozens of innocent people have been killed by zealots demanding his release.
What I most remember about that day is Kelly’s quiet confidence, instilling calm in a room full of NYPD cops, FBI agents, and immigration officers — not to mention a thirtysomething government lawyer who happened to be on hand. A panicky supervisor from INS (called ICE now) groused that the sheikh’s arrest — initially on immigration charges — would have to wait until he could get clearance from his office. I was speechless. After all, the attorney general had already made her decision — why would we now have to wait on a midlevel bureaucrat? Because, it turned out, INS had sent the wrong bureaucrat to the meeting, the New York supervisor instead of the guy from across the river who was in charge of the INS end of the investigation. “You don’t understand,” the supervisor muttered as he reached for a phone, “the case belongs to New Jersey.”
“Yeah,” countered Commissioner Kelly, “but the streets belong to me.”
Kelly is now in his second tour of duty as commish, and New Yorkers are extraordinarily fortunate that their streets have belonged to him for most of the decade since September 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens were murdered. You mightn’t think so, however, if all you had to go on was the hatchet-job published by the Associated Press last week.
By the AP’s lights, Kelly is running a rogue domestic-spying operation. To the contrary, the commissioner has crafted an unparalleled counterterrorism strategy. Ever mindful of civil rights and respectful of Islamic culture — just as the police must be respectful of the variegated cultures in the Big Apple’s ethnic goulash — Kelly has kept the world’s No. 1 terrorist target safe from mass-casualty attacks. He has managed this despite 13 known attempts — and who knows how many others that cannot be spoken of without compromising intelligence sources.