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Context of '1998-September 2001: New Lobbying Group Connects Bush to Some Muslim Activists with Alleged Terrorist Sympathies'

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Alamoudi, center, with Vice President Gore, left, and President Clinton, right. This picture is from a 1997 American Muslim Council newsletter and was presumably taken around that time.Alamoudi, center, with Vice President Gore, left, and President Clinton, right. This picture is from a 1997 American Muslim Council newsletter and was presumably taken around that time. [Source: CAIR]Abdo Mohammed Haggag, speechwriter for the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, makes a deal and agrees to testify against Abdul-Rahman in an upcoming US trial. [New York Times, 6/26/1994] He soon reveals that bin Laden has been paying for Abdul-Rahman’s living expenses since Abdul-Rahman moved to the US in 1990 (see July 1990). This is one of the first things that causes US intelligence to become interested in bin Laden. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 147-148] Further, Haggag reveals that the money was funneled through Abdurahman Alamoudi and his organization, the American Muslim Council. “Investigators tried to prove Alamoudi was a terror middleman but could not find ‘smoking gun’ evidence. That allowed Alamoudi to became a politically connected Muslim activist and co-founder of the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veteran Affairs Council, which helps the US military select Muslim chaplains.” [New York Post, 10/1/2003] This same year, Alamoudi will be one of the founders of Ptech, a US computer company with suspected terrorism ties (see 1994). It will later be alleged that he was able to operate with impunity for years due to his close ties to Grover Norquist, a powerful Republican lobbyist (see March 20, 2002). In 2004, the US will sentence him to 23 years in prison for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, American Muslim Council, Abdo Mohammed Haggag, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Khaled Saffuri.Khaled Saffuri. [Source: Paul Sperry]Grover Norquist, one of the most politically-connected Republican lobbyists, founds a group to build Republican support among Muslim Americans. Norquist cofounds the Islamic Institute, sometimes called the Islamic Free Market Institute, with Khaled Saffuri. Saffuri is executive director and Norquist is chairman of the board. The institute operates out of the headquarters of Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist’s main lobbying group. [New Republic, 11/1/2001] The start-up money largely comes from Middle Eastern sources. Saffuri’s former boss at the American Muslim Council, Abdurahman Alamoudi, gives at least $35,000. Alamoudi has been suspected of ties to bin Laden and other Islamic radicals (see Shortly After March 1994) since at least 1994 and will later be sentenced to 23 years in prison (see October 15, 2004). The Safa Trust donates at least $35,000, and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) contributes $11,000. Both organizations are part of the SAAR group and are among the organizations raided in early 2002 (see March 20, 2002). [St. Petersburg Times, 3/11/2003] Norquist is very close to future President Bush. The Washington Post will later comment that “even before President Bush’s election, [Norquist] positioned himself as a gatekeeper for supplicants seeking access to Bush’s inner circle.” [Washington Post, 7/9/2006] The St. Petersburg Times will later note that after the founding of the Islamic Institute, “then-candidate Bush began popping up in photographs with various politically connected Muslims (see March 12, 2000). The only problem was, many of these same prominent Muslims were also under scrutiny by federal investigators for links to terrorism.” [St. Petersburg Times, 3/11/2003] The Islamic Institute becomes a key power center for Muslim activists currying favor with Bush and other Republicans, and these alliances lead to more Muslim American votes for Bush. Norquist will later claim, “George W. Bush was elected President of the United States of America because of the Muslim vote.” [New Republic, 11/1/2001] After Bush is elected president, Saffuri regularly appears at the White House with imams and heads of Islamic organizations to lobby for policy changes. Suhail Khan, who was a director of the Islamic Institute, is the point person arranging the Muslim groups’ access to Bush. Khan’s late father was imam at a mosque in Santa Clara, California, which once hosted a visit by Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two leader. Norquist apparently boasted that he got Khan his White House post. [New Republic, 11/1/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 3/11/2003] It will later be alleged that Norquist’s ties to people openly sympathetic to Islamist militant groups stifled investigations before 9/11 (see March 20, 2002). Shortly after 9/11, one recently retired intelligence official will claim that a number of counterterrorism agents at the FBI and CIA are “pissed as hell about the situation and pissed as hell about Grover [Norquist].” [New Republic, 11/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Khaled Saffuri, Islamic Institute, Grover Norquist, American Muslim Council, International Institute of Islamic Thought, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Safa Trust, Suhail Khan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Laura and George W. Bush on the left, Sami al-Arian on the right.Laura and George W. Bush on the left, Sami al-Arian on the right. [Source: Al-Arian family via Associated Press]Sami al-Arian poses for a picture with George W. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, while Bush is campaigning for president in Florida. Bush chit-chats with al-Arian’s family and gives his son Abdullah the nickname “Big Dude.” Al-Arian is a former Florida professor and Muslim political activist who has been under investigation for suspected ties to US-designated terrorist groups. [Washington Post, 2/22/2003] Al-Arian will later tell friends that he used the occasion to press Bush about overturning the Justice Department’s use of “secret evidence” to deport accused terrorists, which is an issue for many Muslim Americans during the presidential campaign. Newsweek will later comment, “In those pre-9-11 days, Bush was eagerly courting the growing Muslim vote—and more than willing to listen to seemingly sincere activists like al-Arian.” [Newsweek, 3/3/2003] At the time, al-Arian is vigorously campaigning for Bush at mosques and Islamic cultural centers in the pivotal state of Florida. In a reference to Bush’s tight margin for victory in Florida which wins Bush the presidential election, al-Arian will later say, “We certainly delivered him many more than 537 votes.” [Newsweek, 7/16/2001] Author Craig Unger will later comment, “Astonishingly enough, the fact that dangerous militant Islamists like al-Arian were campaigning for Bush went almost entirely unnoticed.” Bush’s speechwriter David Frum will later write, “Not only were the al-Arians not avoided by the Bush White House—they were actively courted.… The al-Arian case was not a solitary lapse… That outreach campaign opened relationships between the Bush campaign and some very disturbing persons in the Muslim-American community.… [We] Republicans are very lucky—we face political opponents too crippled by political correctness to make an issue of these kinds of security lapses.” [Salon, 3/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Sami Al-Arian, Laura Bush, David Frum, Abdullah al-Arian, George W. Bush, Craig Unger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bush, center, and some of the Muslim activists meeting with him in Austin, Texas. Alamoudi is standing over his left shoulder.Bush, center, and some of the Muslim activists meeting with him in Austin, Texas. Alamoudi is standing over his left shoulder. [Source: CAIR]Presidential candidate George W. Bush meets with Abdurahman Alamoudi and other suspected Islamic militant sympathizers. US intelligence has suspected Alamoudi of ties to bin Laden and other militant figures since 1994 (see Shortly After March 1994), but he has nonetheless grown in importance as a Muslim political activist. It will later be reported that Alamoudi “sought to secure the support first of the Clinton administration in seeking to repeal certain antiterrorist laws, but when Bill Clinton failed to deliver, Alamoudi defected to Bush, then governor of Texas.” [Insight, 10/23/2003] Alamoudi and other Muslim leaders meet with Bush in Austin, Texas, in July 2000, just one month before the Republican presidential convention. They offer their support to his presidential campaign in exchange for his commitment to repeal certain antiterrorist laws. A photo of the meeting shows Bush with Alamoudi, several open supporters of the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist groups, the former head of the Pakistani Communist Party, and other unknown individuals. One photo likely taken at this meeting shows Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove there as well (see June 22, 2001). Bush and Rove also met with Alamoudi in 1999 (see 1999). [Insight, 10/23/2003] Some of Alamoudi’s radical connections are publicly known at the time, and in October 2000 the Bush campaign will return a $1,000 contribution from Alamoudi shortly after Hillary Clinton returned an Alamoudi contribution to her senate race. [Insight, 10/29/2001] Muslim activists like Alamoudi are hinging their political support on the repeal of the use of secret evidence in terrorism cases. The Bush campaign had already been strongly pushing for support from Muslim American voters (see 1998-September 2001 and March 12, 2000) and such ties continue to grow. During the second presidential debate on October 11, 2000, Bush will come out strongly for repealing the use of secret evidence, saying, “Arab-Americans are racially profiled in what’s called secret evidence. People are stopped, and we got to do something about that.” [Salon, 3/15/2004] Later in 2000, Alamoudi will meet with two suspected associates of the 9/11 hijackers (see October-November 2000), and in early 2001 he will attend a public conference attempting to unite militant groups, including al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, to wage holy war against the US and Israel (see Late January 2001). Nonetheless, Bush will appear with Alamoudi several times even after 9/11(see September 14-26, 2001). Alamoudi will be sentenced to a long prison term in 2004 (see October 15, 2004).

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, Hamas, Hezbollah, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Hillary Clinton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

President Bush in front of the Islamic Center on September 17, 2001. Alamoudi is on the far right.President Bush in front of the Islamic Center on September 17, 2001. Alamoudi is on the far right. [Source: Martin H. Simon/ Corbis]In the weeks after 9/11, President Bush makes a number of public appearances with Muslim leaders in an attempt to reach out to what is perceived as the moderate Muslim community. However, some leaders invited to appear with Bush are actually radical Islamists with suspected terrorism ties. For instance, on September 14, 2001, Bush appears at a prayer service dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 attacks with Abdurahaman Alamoudi, the president of the American Muslim Council. US intelligence had suspected Alamoudi of ties with bin Laden and other terrorist leaders since 1994 (see Shortly After March 1994), and in late 2000 the Bush campaign returned a campaign contribution from Alamoudi because of his controversial ties (see July 2000). Alamoudi also proclaimed his support for Hamas and Hezbollah, both officially designated terrorist groups by the US, at a 2000 public rally in Washington. Another invited attendee at the prayer service is Muzzammil Siddiqi, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Society of Orange County. Siddiqi said of the US government a year earlier, “If you remain on the side of injustice the wrath of God will come.” [Fox News, 10/1/2001] In the early 1990s, the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, lectured about violent jihad at Siddiqi’s mosque while Siddiqi sat beside him to translate. Several members of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell, including Khalil Deek and Adam Gadahn, were regular attendees at his mosque. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007] “Former Secret Service officer Ron Williams says, “The intelligence community has known for sometime the association of Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi and Mr. Alamoudi and their association with terrorist organizations.” [Fox News, 10/1/2001] Agha Jafri, a Shia Muslim leader, calls Siddiqi part of a Saudi-backed “mafia” intent on crushing moderate Sufi and Shiite Muslims in the US and says, “They hate us.” [St. Petersburg Times, 3/11/2003] On September 17, 2001, Bush speaks before the Islamic Center, a Washington mosque. Alamoudi is again pictured with Bush. On September 26, Bush meets with 15 prominent Muslim leaders at the White House. Siddiqi sits next to Bush. Other Muslim leaders at these meetings have expressed support for Hamas and other officially designated terrorist groups. Influential Republican lobbyist Grover Norquist has been working to build a political alliance between the Republican Party and Muslim Americans since at least 1998 (see 1998-September 2001), and he is allegedly responsible for arranging these meetings and vouching for the attendees. [New Republic, 11/1/2001] Bush apparently does not make any more public appearances with Alamoudi or Siddiqi after a Fox News report in early October 2001 regarding their appearances with him. [Fox News, 10/1/2001] It will later come out that Alamoudi met with two of the 9/11 hijackers’ suspected associates in 2000 (see October-November 2000), and in 2004, Alamoudi will be sentenced to a long prison term for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004). Siddiqi remains an imam in Orange County and denies any terrorism links. An FBI official will say in 2007, “We have a very strong relationship with Dr. Siddiqi.” [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]

Entity Tags: Muzzammil Siddiqi, Omar Abdul-Rahman, George W. Bush, Grover Norquist, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Agha Jafri, American Muslim Council, Hamas, Hezbollah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

March 20, 2002: SAAR Network Is Raided

US Customs Agents carry out boxes of evidence from SAAR network businesses on March 20, 2002.US Customs Agents carry out boxes of evidence from SAAR network businesses on March 20, 2002. [Source: Mike Theiler/ Getty Images]Scores of federal agents raid 14 entities in a cluster of more than 100 homes, charities, think tanks, and businesses in Herndon, Virginia, a town just outside of Washington with a large Muslim population. No arrests are made and no organizations are shut down, but over 500 boxes of files and computer files are confiscated, filling seven trucks. This group of interlocking entities is widely known as the SAAR network (it is also sometimes called the Safa Group). SAAR stands for Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, a Saudi banker and billionaire who largely funded the group beginning in the early 1980s (see July 29, 1983). He is said to be close to the Saudi ruling family and is on the Golden Chain, a list of early al-Qaeda supporters (see 1988-1989). [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Farah, 2004, pp. 152; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004] The name and address of Salah al-Rajhi, Suleiman’s brother, was discovered in 1998 in the telephone book of Wadih El-Hage (see September 15, 1998). El-Hage was bin Laden’s personal secretary and was convicted of a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings. [New York Times, 3/25/2002] The raids are said to be primarily led by David Kane, a Customs agent working with a Customs investigation started just after 9/11 code-named Operation Greenquest. Many of the organizations are located at an office building at 555 Grove Street in Herndon. Kane writes in an affidavit for the raid that many organizations based there are “paper organizations” which “dissolve and are replaced by other organizations under the control of the same group of individuals.” [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004] Investigators appear to be primarily interested in the connections between the SAAR network and the Al Taqwa Bank, a Swiss bank closed after 9/11 on suspicions of funding al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups (see November 7, 2001). They are also interested in connections between both SAAR and Al Taqwa and the Muslim Brotherhood (see December 1982). According to author Douglas Farah, “US officials [later say] they had tracked about $20 million from [SAAR] entities flowing through Nada’s Bank al Taqwa, but said the total could be much higher. The ties between Nada and [SAAR] leaders were many and long-standing, as were their ties to other [Muslim] Brotherhood leaders.… For a time, Suleiman Abdel Aziz al-Rajhi, the SAAR Foundation founder, worked for Nada” at Al Taqwa’s Liechtenstein branch. [New York Times, 3/25/2002; Farah, 2004, pp. 154-155] Organizations and individuals targeted by the raid include:
bullet Yaqub Mirza. He is the director of virtually all of the organizations targeted in the raid. The Wall Street Journal claims, “US officials privately say Mr. Mirza and his associates also have connections to al-Qaeda and to other entities officially listed by the US as sponsors of terrorism.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002]
bullet The SAAR Foundation or the Safa Trust, an umbrella group for the SAAR network. The SAAR Foundation had recently disbanded and reformed as the Safa Trust. [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002; Washington Post, 10/7/2002]
bullet Hisham Al-Talib, who served as an officer of the SAAR Foundation and Safa Trust, had previously been an officer of firms run by Youssef Nada. Nada is one of the main owners of the Al Taqwa Bank. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002]
bullet Mar-Jac Poultry Inc., an Islamic chicken processor with operations in rural Georgia. [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
bullet Jamal Barzinji. An officer of Mar-Jac and other organizations targeted in the raid, he had previously been involved with Nada’s companies. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002]
bullet The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet The Muslim World League. It is considered to be a parent organization for the IIRO. [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIRT). The IIRT had been under investigation since at least 1998. [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet Tarik Hamdi, an employee at IIRT. His home is also raided. He carried a battery for a satellite phone to Afghanistan in early 1998, and the battery was used for Osama bin Laden’s phone (see May 28, 1998). [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet Abdurahman Alamoudi, a top Muslim lobbyist who formerly worked for one of the SAAR organizations. His nearby home is raided. The search yields a memo on large transactions involving Hamas, operations against the Israelis, and the notation “Met Mousa Abu Marzouk in Jordan.” Marzouk is a Hamas leader believed to be involved in fundraising for Hamas in the US for many years (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). Alamoudi is alleged to be a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
bullet Samir Salah, an Egyptian-born president of the Piedmont Trading Corporation, which is part of the SAAR network. He is also a former director and treasurer of the Al Taqwa Bank’s important Bahamas branch. Additionally, he was a founder of a Bosnian charity reportedly connected to a plot to blow up the US embassy in Bosnia. [New York Times, 3/25/2002]
bullet Ibrahim Hassabella. He is a shareholder of the SAAR Foundation and also a former secretary of the Al Taqwa Bank. [New York Times, 3/25/2002] Investigators will later find that much of SAAR’s money seemed to disappear into offshore bank accounts. For instance, in 1998, SAAR claimed to have moved $9 million to a charity based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man, but investigators will find no evidence the charity existed. One US official involved in the probe will say of SAAR, “Looking at their finances is like looking into a black hole.” [Washington Post, 10/7/2002] In 2003, it will be reported that US investigators are looking into reports that the director of the SAAR foundation for most of the 1990s stayed in the same hotel as three of the 9/11 hijackers the night before the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Some US investigators had looked into the SAAR network in the mid-1990s, but the FBI blocked the investigation’s progress (see 1995-1998).

Talat Othman.Talat Othman. [Source: Hanania]In the wake of the Operation Greenquest raid on the SAAR network (see March 20, 2002), disgruntled Muslim-American leaders meet with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill to complain about the raid. At the time, the Treasury Department had control over the Customs Department, which ran Greenquest. The meeting is arranged by prominent Republican activist Grover Norquist. About a dozen leaders are asked to attend the meeting. O’Neill pledges to look into concerns the leaders have about the raid. [Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002; Harper's, 3/2004] Those who meet with O’Neill include:
bullet Khaled Saffuri. He is head of the Islamic Institute, a group he co-founded with Norquist to organize conservative Muslims (see 1998-September 2001). The institute accepted $20,000 in donations from the Safa Trust, which was targeted in the raid. The Safa Trust in turn has been funded by Youssef Nada, who had his assets frozen shortly after 9/11 on suspicion on funding al-Qaeda (see November 7, 2001). The institute also received donations from Abdurahman Alamoudi, another target of the raid who will later receive a long prison term (see October 15, 2004). [Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002; Harper's, 3/2004]
bullet Talat Othman. The Wall Street Journal calls him “a longtime associate and supporter of President Bush’s family who gave a benediction at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in August 2000.” He serves on the board of Amana Mutual Funds Trust, an investment firm founded by Yaqub Mirza, the director of most of the organizations targeted in the raid. Amana was not a target of the raid, but two other organization that were raided held large blocks of shares in Amana’s mutual funds. Othman claims to know Mirza only slightly. Othman is also on the board of Saffuri’s Islamic Institute. Further, Othman served on the board of Harken Energy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, at the same time that President Bush did. At the time, Othman represented Saudi businessman Abdullah Bakhsh on Harken Energy’s board, and the investments through Bakhsh were considered essential in saving Harken from bankruptcy. Bakhsh has indirect connections to the notorious criminal bank BCCI (see July 5, 1991), and in 1996 reputedly attended a secret meeting with al-Qaeda representatives, where the attendees agreed to pay al-Qaeda many millions of dollars of protection money (see May 1996). [Wall Street Journal, 12/6/1991; Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002] Bakhsh will head a subsidiary of Halliburton, the oil services company formerly run by Vice President Cheney. Othman reportedly remains a friend of Bush. [Harper's, 3/2004] Harper’s magazine will note that “large sums of money from the suspect groups have moved through Amana, [yet] Greenquest agents chose not to raid the firm,” and will hint that political influence from Othman and others may have saved Amana from being raided. [Harper's, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Talat Othman, Grover Norquist, Khaled Saffuri, SAAR Foundation, Operation Greenquest, Islamic Institute, Paul O’Neill

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abdurahman Alamoudi.Abdurahman Alamoudi. [Source: Wikipedia/ public domain]Muslim activist Abdurahman Alamoudi is sentenced to 23 years in prison in the US for illegal dealings with Libya. Charges include that he was involved in a complex plot to kill Crown Price Abdullah, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. Prosecutors successfully argued that Alamoudi served as a go-between Saudi dissidents and Libyan officials involved in the plot. Alamoudi admitted that he illegally moved money from Libya, taking nearly $1 million and using it to pay conspirators. The plot, thought to stem from a personality dispute between the leaders of Libya and Saudi Arabia, was ultimately foiled by the Saudi government. The Washington Post notes that Alamoudi was “one of America’s best-known Muslim activists—a former head of the American Muslim Council who met with senior Clinton and Bush administration officials in his efforts to bolster Muslim political prominence.” He was “once so prominent that his influence reached the highest levels of the US government.” Alamoudi is said to be cooperating with US investigators as part of the deal. It is believed that his testimony could be very useful to an ongoing probe of the SAAR network, since he was closely involved with that network (see March 20, 2002). [Washington Post, 10/16/2004]

Entity Tags: SAAR Foundation, Abdurahman Alamoudi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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