A R C H I V E S
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Black Muslims target of FBI anti-terrorist watch|
|07/22/02 at 12:19:36|
|Black Muslims target of FBI anti-terrorist watch in Northwest |
By Patrick McDonnell
Los Angeles Times
Sunday, July 21, 2002 - SEATTLE -- The brawny man in the Muslim skullcap gestured toward a brick apartment building across the street from where he was standing guard at a shelter for homeless families.
"See that window over there?" said the man, Abdul-Hakim, pointing to an upper floor. "The FBI watches me from that window."
The FBI will not comment. But a federal investigation of a possible terrorist cell in the Pacific Northwest is focusing on a group of black converts to Islam, possibly opening a new chapter in the domestic war on terrorism.
Across the United States, court papers suggest that FBI anxiety about radical black Muslims has reemerged in the last decade as the bureau has concentrated on Islamic terrorism.
Federal investigations into the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and a related plot to blow up New York landmarks discovered the names of black Americans associated with the "blind sheik," Omar Abdel Rahman, now serving a life term for his part in the bombing conspiracy. Among those convicted in the same plot was U.S.-born Rodney Hampton-el, a former New York clinic worker and ex-mujahedeen volunteer in Afghanistan.
"FBI scrutiny of African-American Muslims has clearly increased since the (1993) World Trade Center bombing," said Ihsan Bagby, a professor at Shaw University in North Carolina who has studied the nation's Muslims. "A lot of this is a combination of a focus on terrorism and an agenda about black 'radicals' and Muslims -- all lumped together."
The Seattle investigation turns on the notion that foreign terrorists may have recruited on U.S. soil among black Muslims, and may even have sponsored a "jihad training camp" in the Oregon backcountry with U.S. collaborators. Law enforcement documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times say that an American man who worshiped at one of the mosques here may have served as a liaison for recruits seeking entry into Afghan terrorist training camps. In addition, documents show, he and his brother were suspected of scouting targets "for a terrorist operation" during a road trip back to Seattle last month.
The inquiry has sent a shudder through a small, insular community whose members view themselves as having worked hard to banish crack dealers from their block.
Abdul-Hakim says he worshiped with the two brothers. He said neither the brothers nor anyone else associated with the case ever advocated violence or terrorism. Most, if not all, strongly opposed U.S. policy in the Middle East, Abdul-Hakim said, but none ever preached violence.
"We're still trying to figure out what al-Qaida is," said Abdul-Hakim. "Muslims are under attack worldwide. Why are Muslims the only people not allowed to train in self-defense?"
"It's not the policy of the FBI to investigate mosques or any other religious institution," said Charles Mandigo, the FBI chief in Seattle. "Any investigations that the FBI may be conducting would be based on the actions of individuals and not their religion, national origin, race or any other such characteristics."
Nevertheless, the disquieting scenario of home-grown terrorist recruits has set off alarms. A confidential FBI alert on the Seattle case last month was sent to field offices -- as well as to the White House, CIA, State Department and other assorted government agencies. The Times obtained a copy.
The two brothers apparently targeted in the Seattle case -- who had not previously been publicly identified -- issued a news release on Monday denying any links to terrorism.
The release identified the pair as James and Mustafa Ujaama. According to the FBI document, they were born in Denver, reared in Seattle and their given names and ages are Earl James Thompson, 36, and Jon Alexander Thompson, 34.
"These two gentlemen are community activists, not terrorists," declared Ron Sims, the King County executive, who is the highest-ranking black elected official in the state of Washington.
"It's the McCarthy era all over again," said Charlie James, who heads a group called the Organization of African American Unity and who issued the news release on behalf of the brothers.
Neither brother has been charged with a crime, and neither has been questioned by the FBI, but both have been subject to considerable surveillance, the law enforcement documents indicate.
The two brothers, along with others under scrutiny, worshiped at several now-defunct storefront mosques just east of downtown Seattle that have been tied to Semi Osman, an immigrant of apparent Lebanese origin, who served as an imam, or prayer leader. Osman, 32, is a car mechanic and U.S. Navy reservist and is the only person known to have been arrested in the inquiry. He was charged with immigration and gun violations, but his attorney, Robert M. Leen, said the government is pressuring Osman to tell all about former acquaintances as part of the terrorism investigation.
Acquaintances describe the two brothers targeted by the FBI as hard-working fathers with small children. The younger sibling lives in Seattle and makes his living as a mechanic and used-car salesman.
The older brother is an "entrepreneur" based in London, according to Charlie James. The older brother has written and privately published several inspirational books aimed at young blacks. One book is called "The Young People's Guide To Starting a Business Without Selling Drugs."
In particular, the FBI inquiry has zeroed in on the elder brother's supposed relationship with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a militant London-based sheik whom U.S. authorities regard as a recruiter for al-Qaida. The FBI document states that the American "worked for and provided services to" the cleric, including taking computers to the Taliban before the U.S. invasion.
According to the FBI document, the asserted "jihad training camp" was carried out in November 1999 "in concert with" Hamza al-Masri at a ranch in the secluded community of Bly, in south-central Oregon. The London sheik, whose Finsbury Park mosque is a center of radical Islam in Europe, has denied any connection.
(Optional add end)
The two brothers did travel to Bly, James conceded, but he said the trip was for recreational "practice shooting," not for terrorism training. The FBI is attempting to determine who visited the site.
The wide-ranging investigation based here may have arisen from intelligence gleaned from interrogations of prisoners at the U.S. military lockup at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Specifically, the documents cite the case of a British citizen, Feroz Abbasi, who was captured in December by U.S. forces while allegedly defending the former Taliban stronghold of Kunduz. U.S. authorities state that the elder of the Seattle brothers introduced Abbasi "to individuals at al-Qaida facilities in Afghanistan," thus enabling his "matriculation" into a "terror training camp."
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board