On Friday, the New York Times today became the latest tool in an aggressive lobbying campaign aimed at sabotaging a continuing terror investigation in northern Virginia.
The campaign to free Sami Al-Arian started in earnest last year, led by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim American Society (MAS), and other American Islamist groups after the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operative was held in contempt of court for refusing to comply with grand jury subpoenas. He is now defying his third subpoena to testify in a terror-finance investigation involving a Virginia-based network that provided Al-Arian’s organizations with tens of thousands of dollars in the 1990s.
In 2006, Al-Arian was sentenced to 57 months in prison, with credit for time served, after pleading guilty to conspiracy to provide support to the PIJ. Though his sentence is over, Al-Arian could face criminal contempt of court charges, as the New York Times reported Friday. But, like Al-Arian’s advocates, the Times story grossly mischaracterizes the case, distorts what Al-Arian has admitted, and incorrectly states why he remains in legal trouble:
The Justice Department and some independent terrorism investigators have long accused Mr. Al-Arian of being the main North America organizer for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for some of the more deadly suicide bombings against Israeli targets and which the United States has designated a terrorist organization.
Mr. Al-Arian’s supporters, though, say that he is nothing more sinister than an outspoken Palestinian activist, and that the Justice Department has tried to exploit the post-Sept. 11 mood in the United States to punish him for that, using legal maneuvering to keep him behind bars.”
If this were a secret tribunal, Times reporter Neil MacFarquhar might be excused for blindly accepting the representations of Al-Arian’s attorneys and supporters. But there is an open record, one every reporter at the nation’s supposed paper of record should be able to locate: Al-Arian’s plea agreement.
Page 10 of the agreement reads: “During the period of the late 1980s, and early to mid-1990s, defendant Al-Arian was associated with several organizations, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” Two paragraphs later, it says “Defendant Al-Arian performed services for the PIJ in 1995 and thereafter.” That includes “hiding the identities of individuals associated with the PIJ.” In addition, “Defendant Al-Arian was aware that the PIJ achieved its objectives by, among other means, acts of violence.”
Evidence presented at Al-Arian’s trial showed he was on the PIJ Shura Council — its governing board. Al-Arian signed the plea agreement and initialed each page. There was no shortage of evidence.
Federal wiretaps recorded him arguing with the group’s founder, Fathi Shikaki, during the PIJ’s financial crisis in 1994.
Al-Arian ran “the active arm of the Islamic Jihad Movement “and hid behind a charity name for ‘security reasons.’ ” He called on supporters to “damn America” for launching the 1991 Gulf War to liberate Kuwait. He has proclaimed that Allah cursed the Jews by turning them into “monkeys and pigs.”
Al-Arian set up a think-tank run by Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who now commands the PIJ from Damascus (and who recently rebuffed an invitation to meet with former president Jimmy Carter). Though he secured Al-Arian’s work visa, and wiretaps show he intimately knew of Shallah’s role as a PIJ board member, Al-Arian lied to the press and to his employers at USF after Shallah took over the group in 1995. He had no idea Shallah had terrorist connections, he said, even claiming to have never known Shallah’s full name.
After a brutal double suicide bombing claimed 22 lives in Israel, Al-Arian wrote a letter soliciting “true support of the jihad effort in Palestine so that operations such as these can continue.” This letter was written after President Clinton signed an executive order designating PIJ as a terrorist group and prohibiting any transactions with it.
After hearing Al-Arian wax on about his love and respect for American justice at his 2006 sentencing, U.S. District Judge James Moody hammered him as a “master manipulator” who “looked your friends and neighbors in the eyes and said you had nothing to do with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. This trial exposed that as a lie.”
Yet the New York Times holds out the possibility Al-Arian is “nothing more sinister than an outspoken Palestinian activist” suffering the wrath of a vengeful Department of Justice.
Friday’s article comes just days after CAIR, MAS, and the American Muslim Alliance held a news conference in New York decrying Al-Arian’s plight. That CAIR and MAS have embarked on such an aggressive campaign to free Al Arian demonstrates the groups’ implicit support of terrorism.
Remember, CAIR is described by federal prosecutors as being “affiliated with Hamas” and is an unindicted co-conspirator in the Hamas-support case of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. Now CAIR has become a platform for falsely portraying Al-Arian as a victim. Its homepage features a picture of the jailed professor with a note urging “American Muslims and other people of conscience to write letters in support of Dr. Sami Al-Arian.” CAIR sponsors screenings of a propaganda piece masquerading as a documentary that shows only the perspective of Al-Arian’s family, while ignoring his efforts on behalf of the PIJ as well as his 15-year record of lying to anyone who asked about his PIJ activities.
In the past few weeks, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad has referred to Al-Arian as “a political prisoner.” MAS even compared Al-Arian – who has called for “Death to Israel”– to Martin Luther King Jr. Having seen the full weight of evidence of Al-Arian’s deep involvement in the PIJ, Judge Moody had this to say at his sentencing:
But when it came to blowing up women and children on buses, did you leap into action then? Did you offer to form a committee to protect the innocent? Did you call your fellow directors and enlist their aid in stopping the bombing or even stop the targeting of the innocent? No. You lifted not one finger, made not one phone call. To the contrary, you laughed when you heard about the bombings, what you euphemistically call ‘operations.” You even pleaded for donations to pay for more such operations.
Your only connection to widows and orphans is that you create them, even among Palestinians.
On April 16, CAIR Chairman Parvez Ahmed and Muslim American Alliance founder Agha Saeed published an oped piece claiming that “it has been clear that [Al-Arian] was being targeted not for his actions, but for his political views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His outspokenness about Israel’s brutal occupation policies became a political hot potato in the post-9/11 climate of extreme suspicion of Muslims and Arabs.” While Ahmed and Saeed claim that “Since his arrest on Feb. 20, 2003, Al-Arian has proclaimed his innocence and until today maintains that the charges were purely political,” we’ve seen that that’s not even close to being true.
Now Al-Arian argues that his plea agreement gives him a right no American enjoys — the right to rebuff a federal grand jury subpoena without consequence. Al-Arian and his attorneys maintain that the plea deal ruled out further cooperation with law enforcement. But multiple courts have rejected this claim, noting that there is no reference to any such absolution in the agreement itself or at the hearing at which the plea was entered. The 11th Circuit became the second appellate court, after the 4th Circuit, to dismiss Al-Arian’s argument, stating it “is especially dubious where, as here, the plea agreement contains an integration clause stating that there are no other promises, agreements, or representations except those set forth in the agreement, and Al-Arian denied at his plea hearing that he pled guilty in reliance on any promises or inducements except for those found in the agreement.”
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take up his case, yet his attorneys press on, seeking any avenue of appeal, although the plea deal includes language stating that Al-Arian could not be charged with committing any other crime “known to the United States Attorney’s Office or the Counterterrorism Section [of the Department of Justice] at the time of the execution of this agreement, related to conduct giving rise to this plea agreement.”
Why is Al-Arian’s testimony so important? His organizations received money from the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), a northern Virginia organization tied to a labyrinth of companies reported to have been involved in money laundering and linked to terrorist groups. Al Arian, is sure to have pertinent information that would help prosecutors in their investigation of IIIT. Al Arian has earned his contempt citations by refusing to testify. Even if he reveals information that is self-incriminating, he is immune from further prosecution. What he is not immune from is his legal obligation to tell the truth to a grand jury. Why won’t Al-Arian testify? Probably because he has information about the alleged money-laundering and alleged terrorist ties of his fellow travelers at IIIT, as outlined in this affidavit of a federal law-enforcement official.
With their legal challenges all but used up, Al-Arian’s advocates have turned to the legislature. Amazingly, CAIR and MAS helped secure face-to-face meetings between the Al-Arian family and members of Congress, including House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, to lobby for pressure on the Department of Justice to release Al-Arian. At an event on Capitol Hill sponsored by Georgetown University April 3, attended by CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad, Congressman Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), one of only two Muslims in Congress, asserted that he would seek additional congressional support for Al-Arian, stating “the Al-Arian case is very serious, members of the Al-Arian family are in D.C. today, and I think they’re working on his case, trying to get some attention from members of Congress, I’m speaking with them and I hope others do as well.”
That members of Congress would agree to do the bidding of groups named as unindicted co-conspirators or directly affiliated with the radical Muslim Brotherhood, or Ikhwan, shows the extent to which radical Islamic groups have made inroads on Capitol Hill. To see congressmen, FBI officials, State Department representatives, and local law enforcement agree to meet with and embrace CAIR, MAS, and others working on behalf of a man linked to terrorism — and who has blocked efforts by prosecutors to unravel other terrorist plots — is simply scandalous.
Mahdi Bray, executive director the Muslim American Society’s Freedom Foundation, lamented the failure of congressional leaders to pick up the charge:
As it became increasingly clear that the seemingly endless, unjust incarceration of Dr. Al-Arian would not end with the promised release as outlined in his agreement with the U.S. government, on March 21, MAS Freedom launched a Judiciary Letter Writing Campaign in addition to sending representatives to meet with U.S. Congressmen — all to no avail.
If the judiciary committee will not exercise its oversight in this gross miscarriage of justice, then the American people must, together with religious leaders of all faiths, human rights and civil liberties advocates, and all people of conscience, in asking what our public officials and members of congress have refused to ask, “What About Sami”?
Having been frustrated in the courts and in Congress, Al-Arian’s defenders are turning to the court of public opinion to try to drum up support for the convicted terrorist. The Times and Neil MacFarquhar were only too willing to comply on Friday. All the evidence in the public record of Al-Arian’s guilt is ignored when the Times discusses the case, in favor of the misrepresentations of an admitted liar.
Every time an article mentions Samii Al-Arian, a Google alert sends it to Stephen Flatow. His in-box has been getting clogged lately, as the campaign by Muslim Brotherhood front organizations ratchets up.
In their news conference last Tuesday, CAIR and MAS urged the media to pay attention to the Al-Arian case. Tuesday had another meaning for Flatow. It was the anniversary of his daughter Alisa’s 1995 murder in a PIJ attack. The 20-year-old Brandeis student was studying in Israel when a suicide bomber blew up a bus she was riding in 1995. It was less than three months after Al-Arian wrote his letter praising the double suicide bombing and seeking support “so that operations such as these can continue.”
“I wish I could cut myself up into 22 constituent parts and make a sign that says ‘Sami Al-Arian is in bed with the PIJ, who killed my daughter,’ ” Flatow said in an interview Wednesday. “I’d have liked to go to that press conference in New York with it. I’d like to be at every press conference of every showing of the documentary USA vs. Al-Arian. I just can’t do it. I’m only one person.” Perhaps Flatow should bring his sign to the New York Times, which could use some re-education about the PIJ to counter its de facto collaboration in the effort to free Sami Al-Arian.
Editor’s Note: This article originally identified Representative Keith Ellison as a representative from Michigan. It has been amended to note that Representative Ellison is a representative from Minnesota.
— Steve Emerson is executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.