Joel Mowbray
What a difference a few months can make. That’s all it took for the federal government to go full-circle, from prosecuting an alleged terrorist to headlining and funding an event co-sponsored by one of his biggest supporters—a group that also happens to be still under investigation itself.

Through December of last year, the U.S. government was using its full force to convict the alleged North American leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Sami al-Arian, of terrorism charges. By this March, the State Department dispatched its head of counterterrorism, Ambassador Hank Crumpton, to be the keynote speaker at a conference co-sponsored by one of al-Arian’s former principal funder, the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT). And for good measure, the Defense Department largely paid for the event.

Aside from the group’s history with al-Arian, IIIT’s co-founder and former longtime president—and an unindicted co-conspirator in the al-Arian trial—allegedly wrote a fatwa, or religious edict, years ago endorsing Jihad against Israelis. Though he wasn’t at the conference, Taha Jaber al-Alwani still sits on IIIT’s board.

Though the former University of South Florida professor was acquitted of eight of 17 counts against him—the jury hung on the other nine—he is by no means innocent. (He admitted as much over the weekend, pleading guilty to aiding Islamic Jihad.) And whatever can be said about the alleged terrorist can also be said about IIIT—and that’s in the words of the group’s co-founder, al-Alwani, who once wrote that al-Arian was “a part of us and an extension of us.”

Not in question because of wiretaps and phone and fax intercepts is that al-Arian had an intimate relationship with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Also not in dispute is that al-Arian mocked an executive order designating PIJ a terrorist entity just weeks after it was signed by President Clinton, calling it the result of “a war staged by Zionists.” The setting was an intercepted phone conversation with Lou’ay Safi, then the research director IIIT.

Also uncontested is that al-Arian played host to some of the world’s most notorious Islamic terrorists. The Islamic Conference of Palestine (ICP), founded by the former USF professor, held annual conferences that played host to what the Tampa Tribune dubbed a “militant all-star team”: PIJ founder and spiritual leader Abdel Aziz-Odeh, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (spiritual leader of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers), leading Hamas official Mohammed Sakr, and high-ranking Sudanese terrorist Hassan Turabi.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

Be the first to read Joel Mowbray's column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.