See no evil?

Posted: Jul 09, 2002 12:00 AM
The FBI's depiction of the murderous 4th of July attack at Los Angeles International (LAX) must have struck most Americans as utterly bizarre. After all, it occurred on a day when the entire country was on alert for terrorist attacks; it was conducted by an Egyptian immigrant, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, armed with two handguns and a knife; and, but for the rapid and effective action of an El Al security guard, Hadayet's premeditated assault would have succeeded in killing far more than the two innocent civilians whose lives he brutally cut short. This would, on its face, seem to fit the profile -- pardon the politically incorrect term -- of terrorism perpetrated by Arabs against Israelis and Americans with which the world has become all too familiar in recent years. Yet the FBI has repeatedly declined to describe this incident as an act of terrorism. Its spokesmen insisted that Hadayet could not be classified as a terrorist because, as one put it to the Los Angeles Times, the Bureau "does not use the term to describe every violent act an individual commits against a state entity or racial group." Others argued that the LAX shooter did not qualify because he appeared to have acted alone and was not on any of the U.S. government's "watch lists" for individuals associated with terror organizations. The same could have been said of Timothy McVeigh. Interestingly, the LA Times reported on Saturday that, in so doing, "the FBI seemed to ignore its own definition of terrorism in favor of a more limited State Department definition. That meaning holds that terrorism is perpetrated 'by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.' FBI officials repeatedly emphasized Friday that Hadayet had no known connection with Islamic terrorist organizations." This seems suspicious on two grounds: First, there is evidence that Hadayet was connected to al Qaeda. On Sunday, the Arabic London-based Al Hayat reported that the shooter was a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and that he had met Dr. Ayman Zuwahri, the Islamic Jihad leader who became Osama bin Laden's deputy, in California -- not once but twice in California, in 1995 and again in 1998. Taken together with other aspects of Hadayet's background -- notably that he reportedly had worked at LAX for five years in the employ of a ground service company until he aroused El Al's suspicions and that he then left to run a limousine service that afforded him continued, regular access to airport terminals -- raises suspicions that the gunman might have been a "sleeper" agent for al Qaeda. We are in serious trouble if, in light of the distinct possibility that there may be many such unidentified sleepers in this country, the FBI is not fully alert to this danger. Second, there are other grounds for concern that more than State Department politicization is compromising the Bureau's vigilance towards Islamists in this country -- fanatics who interpret Mohammed's teachings to justify violent holy war ("jihad") against non-Muslims. On June 28, FBI Director Robert Mueller dignified the American Muslim Council, a group long associated with Islamist causes and known terrorist groups, by addressing its annual convention in Washington. In the face of intense criticism over such legitimation, Mr. Mueller felt compelled to acknowledge that "persons associated with this organization have in the past made statements that indicate support for terrorism and for terrorist organizations." This statement could only be true if, as the FBI's recent mischaracterization of Hadayet's actions suggests, the official definition of terrorism is being altered significantly. For the American Muslim Council continues to associate with individuals and groups -- some of whom actually appeared on the same stage as did Director Mueller -- who support terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. This is, in short, not simply a matter of semantics. It is a question of whether our top law enforcement agency -- and, for that matter, the Bush Administration more generally -- comprehend the true character of the threat posed by Islamist terrorism. Concerns on this score can only be heightened as Administration officials meet this week with a self-described "goodwill" delegation sponsored by the Muslim World League (MWL). The MWL is an organization founded in 1962 in Saudi Arabia to spread the Wahhabist strain of Islamism throughout the world. The one-time head of its Pakistan office, Wa'il Jalaidan, was a co-founder with bin Laden of al Qaeda. The MWL's office in Northern Virginia was among those raided by federal agents on March 20, 2002 on suspicion of ties to terrorism. This delegation purportedly represents a cross-section of the "scholars, leaders and jurists from the Muslim world" and is to visit four U.S. cities, starting with Washington, D.C. Yet, it is led by Dr. Abdullah al-Turki, the head of the Muslim World League and formerly a Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs. In both capacities he has been a driving force behind Wahhabi proselytizing worldwide (including the Saudi-financed construction of some 1500 mosques since 1950, school construction, "research" entities, etc.) and assuring the uniformity and "purity" of the materials distributed throughout the Muslim and non-Muslim world. It is unlikely that moderate Muslims or their views are going to be much in evidence in any delegation he sponsors. Worse yet, the "scholars" that Dr. al-Turki will be trotting around the United States this week presumably share the view expressed by a six-day conference of such folks held in January in Mecca. While the conferees sponsored by the MWL's Islamic Fiqh (Jurisprudence) Academy duly condemned "terrorism," they made clear that they too have their own definition -- one that excludes holy wars: "Jihad is meant for upholding right, ending injustice, ensuring peace and security and establishing mercy. Terrorism and violence committed by the aggressor who usurp the land, desecrate holy sanctuaries and loot wealth cannot be compared to the practice [of] the right of legitimate defense as used by the oppressed seeking to gain their legitimate rights to self-determination." Clearly, such a definition of terrorism fits the Wahhabists and other Islamists' interests. But it certainly is not compatible with ours -- and must not be allowed to color our understanding of the evil we now confront in many forms and guises.