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Profile: Sami Al-Arian
Sami Al-Arian was a participant or observer in the following events:
Salon will later write, “A document seized in a 1995 raid of a close [Abdurahman] Alamoudi friend and political ally, University of South Florida professor Sami al-Arian, outlined a plan to ‘infiltrate the sensitive intelligence agencies or the embassies in order to collect information and build close relationships with the people in charge of these establishments.’ The unsigned document, which authorities believe was authored by al-Arian in part because it was found among his papers, added: ‘We are in the center which leads the conspiracy against our Islamic world… Our presence in North America gives us a unique opportunity to monitor, explore and follow up.’ It instructed members of the ‘center,’ thought to refer to an Islamic think tank that al-Arian founded, to ‘collect information from those relatives and friends who work in sensitive positions in government.’” [Salon, 6/22/2004] In 2005, Al-Arian will be acquitted on a number of terrorism-related charges (see December 6, 2005).
Sami al-Arian. [Source: Chris O'Meara]In 1995, investigators raid two groups in Tampa, Florida, associated with Sami al-Arian, a university professor who some claim has been a supporter of terrorist groups. These raids alert investigators to a group of Muslim charities in Herndon, Virginia, known as the SAAR network (see July 29, 1983). An investigation into that network’s alleged terrorism financing begins. In 1998, National Security Council aides in the Clinton White House push the FBI to intensify the SAAR investigation. However, the FBI declines, claiming that an aggressive probe would be seen as ethnic profiling. The SAAR network will not be raided until early 2002 (see March 20, 2002). [Washington Post, 10/7/2002] Al-Arian will not be arrested until 2003, largely on the basis of activities from 1995 and before. He will eventually be sentenced to almost five years in prison and will admit to aiding the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (see December 6, 2005), which the US has officially designated as a terrorist group.
Gamal Abdel-Hafiz. [Source: Charles Ommanney]Gamal Abdel-Hafiz, one of only a few Muslim FBI agents in the years just prior to 9/11, becomes involved in FBI agent Robert Wright’s Vulgar Betrayal investigation in early 1999. An accountant working for BMI Inc., an investment firm with connections to many suspected terrorism financiers (see 1986-October 1999), tells Abdel-Hafiz that he is worried that BMI funds had helped fund the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). BMI president Soliman Biheiri hears that Abdel-Hafiz had been told about this, and wants to meet with him to discuss it (apparently without realizing that Abdel-Hafiz is an undercover FBI agent). Wrights asks Abdel-Hafiz to wear a wire to the meeting, but Abdel-Hafiz refuses to do so. This leads to infighting within the FBI. On July 6, 1999, Abdel-Hafiz files a religious discrimination complaint, accusing Wright of making derogatory comments to fellow agents. [Frontline, 10/16/2003] On March 21, 2000, Wright makes a formal internal complaint about Abdel-Hafiz. FBI agent Barry Carmody seconds Wright’s complaint. Wright and Carmody accuse Abdel-Hafiz of hindering investigations by openly refusing to record other Muslims. In an affidavit, Wright claims that Abdel-Hafiz refused to wear the wire “based on religious reasons saying, ‘A Muslim doesn’t record another Muslim.’” Abdel-Hafiz does not deny the quote, but claims it was taken out of context. [Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2002; ABC News, 12/19/2002; Frontline, 10/16/2003] Federal prosecutor Mark Flessner and other FBI agents back up the allegations against Abdel-Hafiz. [ABC News, 12/19/2002] Carmody will also claim that, in a different investigation, Abdel-Hafiz hindered an inquiry into the possible ties to Islamic militants of fired University of South Florida Professor Sami al-Arian by refusing to record a conversation with the professor in 1998. [Tampa Tribune, 3/4/2003] Complaints to superiors and headquarters about Abdel-Hafiz never get a response. [Fox News, 3/6/2003] “Far from being reprimanded, in February 2001 Abdel-Hafiz [is] promoted to one of the FBI’s most important anti-terrorism posts, the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia, to handle investigations for the FBI in that Muslim country.” [ABC News, 12/19/2002; Frontline, 10/16/2003] In 2003, FBI agent John Vincent will complain, “Five different FBI field divisions complained of this agent’s activities, and the FBI headquarters response was to promote him to a sensitive position in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.” [Federal News Service, 6/2/2003] Abdel-Hafiz will be suspended in February 2003 over charges that he faked a break-in of his own house in order to collect $25,000 in insurance benefits and then failed an FBI polygraph test when asked about it. In January 2004, the FBI’s Disciplinary Review Board will reinstate him after deciding there was insufficient evidence in the case. [Tampa Tribune, 3/4/2003; Frontline, 10/16/2003]
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]
Abduraham Alamoudi (far left), Bush (center), and Rove (far right). Judging from the background, this picture was probably taken in 2000. [Source: PBS] (click image to enlarge)Sami al-Arian attends a meeting in the White House complex with President Bush’s adviser Karl Rove. Al-Arian is one of 160 members of the American Muslim Council who are briefed on political matters by Rove and others. Al-Arian had been under investigation for at least six years by this time, and numerous media accounts reported that US investigators suggested al-Arian had ties to US-designated terrorist groups. Yet al-Arian passes the Secret Service’s stringent security check, enabling him to attend the meeting. [Newsweek, 7/16/2001; Washington Post, 2/22/2003] “A law-enforcement official… [said] the Secret Service had flagged al-Arian as a potential terrorist prior to the event,” Newsweek later reports. “But White House aides, apparently reluctant to create an incident, let him through anyway.” [Newsweek, 3/3/2003] In 2005, al-Arian will be found innocent of serious terrorism charges, but sentenced to almost three years in a US prison on lesser charges (see December 6, 2005).
Abduraham Alamoudi is also at the meeting. US intelligence have suspected Alamoudi of ties to bin Laden and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman since 1994 (see Shortly After March 1994). Rove and Bush met with Alamoudi in 1999 and 2000 as well (see 1999 and July 2000). Alamoudi will later be sentenced to 23 years in a US prison for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004). [Washington Post, 2/22/2003]
[Source: Publicity photo]Counterterrorism expert John Loftus files a lawsuit against Sami al-Arian, a Florida professor with suspected ties to US-designated terrorist groups. Hours later, the SAAR network, a group of charities based in Herndon, Virginia, is raided (see March 20, 2002). Loftus claims that a January 2002 raid on the network was cancelled for political reasons, so he filed his lawsuit to force the raid. The SAAR network investigation grew out of an investigation of al-Arian and other people in Florida in the mid-1990s. In 2004, Loftus will claim that for years, people like al-Arian and Abdurahman Alamoudi, one of the targets of the SAAR raid, were able to operate with impunity “because [US agents had] been ordered not to investigate the cases, not to prosecute them, because they were being funded by the Saudis and a political decision was being made at the highest levels, don’t do anything that would embarrass the Saudi government.… But, who was it that fixed the cases? How could these guys operate for more than a decade immune from prosecution? And, the answer is coming out in a very strange place. What Alamoudi and al-Arian have in common is a guy named Grover Norquist. He’s the super lobbyist. Newt Gingrich’s guy, the one the NRA calls on, head of American taxpayers. He is the guy that was hired by Alamoudi to head up the Islamic Institute and he’s the registered agent for Alamoudi, personally, and for the Islamic Institute. Grover Norquist’s best friend is Karl Rove, the White House chief of staff, and apparently Norquist was able to fix things. He got extreme right wing Muslim people to be the gatekeepers in the White House. That’s why moderate Americans couldn’t speak out after 9/11. Moderate Muslims couldn’t get into the White House because Norquist’s friends were blocking their access.” [St. Petersburg Times, 3/21/2002; MSNBC, 10/23/2005]
Sami al-Arian being led from a courthouse in handcuffs. [Source: Chris O'Meara/ Associated Press]Former Florida professor Sami al-Arian and three co-defendants are found not guilty of various counts of terrorist support, perjury, and immigration violations. The jury acquitted al-Arian of eight of the 17 federal charges against him and deadlocked on the rest. The New York Times calls the verdict “a major defeat for [US] law enforcement officials.” Al-Arian was indicted and imprisoned in 2003. He had been heavily investigated since 1995 and most of the charges related to events from 1995 or earlier (see 1995 and 1995-1998). Law professor Peter Margulies says, “I think the government’s case was somewhat stale because a lot of these events dated back ten years and the case was so complex that it was all over the board.” [New York Times, 12/6/2005] Six months later, a federal judge will sentence al-Arian to an additional 19 months in jail in addition to the 38 months he has already served before being deported. Al-Arian will plead guilty to a lesser charge of aiding members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and agree to be deported and in return the US will not retry him on the more serious charges. As part of the plea deal, al-Arian admits he raised money for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and conspired to hide the identities of other members of the group. He denies committing any act of violence himself, but admits knowing “that the PIJ achieved its objectives by, among other means, acts of violence.” [Tampa Tribune, 4/18/2006] The New York Times will note that the “outcome of the case against Mr. al-Arian did little to resolve the conflicting portraits of his life” as either a terrorism supporter or political scapegoat. [New York Times, 5/2/2006]
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