The fifth column syndrome

Posted: Mar 25, 2003 12:00 AM

The most traumatic loss the U.S. military has suffered to date in the war with Iraq may, ironically, have been inflicted not by Iraqi Republican Guards, regular army units or irregular “Fedayeen.”  Rather, it may have come at the hands of an American servicemen.

 Early Sunday morning Kuwait time, a sergeant assigned to an engineering brigade of the 101st Airborne Division allegedly attacked three tents in which many divisional commanding officers were sleeping on the eve of their unit’s jump-off into Iraq.  According to press reports of the incident, Sgt. Asan Akbar rolled three or four grenades into the tents then proceeded to shoot some of those who sought to flee the ensuing fire and carnage.  The attack killed Captain Christopher Seifert and wounded more than a dozen other members of the storied “Screaming Eagles,” several so severely they had to be flown to the U.S. military hospital at Ramstein, Germany.

 What made this episode so wrenching was not merely that a U.S. soldier would have turned his weapons on his comrades.  Such “fragging” incidents have happened before -- notably, during the dark days of the Vietnam conflict, when a demoralized and drug-ridden military comprised of significant numbers of conscripts was fighting an increasingly unpopular war.  They are always corrosive to the good order and discipline essential for successful combat operations.

 The attack for which Sgt. Akbar is being held at Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait is sending shockwaves through the national security community for another reason, though: It could be the precursor for a far larger and more dangerous problem, both for the military and for American society more generally.  Call it the “Fifth Column syndrome.”

 While details of Sgt. Akbar’s personal history are sketchy at the moment, published accounts indicate that he is a black Muslim convert.  Exactly when he converted to Islam is unclear, as is the nature of his adherence. (One report says his neighbors in Fort Campbell, Kentucky saw beer bottles in his trash; another neighbor, however, told a journalist that Akbar had declined an offer of a beer at a social occasion, saying he was a Muslim).

 What is clear, however, is that in the days leading up to the attack on the tents comprising the 101st’s Tactical Operations Center, Akbar exhibited unsettling behavior.  Evidently, what has been called an “attitude problem” reached a point where his superiors decided the sergeant would be “left behind” when the division deployed into Iraq. 

 The words Akbar is reported by the Los Angeles Times to have uttered when he was seized after the fragging suggest the ominous nature of his “attitude”: “You guys are coming into our countries and you're going to rape our women and kill our children.”

 The question occurs:  If this account is correct, where would a serviceman get the idea that his non-Muslim colleagues were different from him (“you guys”) and that they were determined to do horrible things to the civilians of countries with which he evidently identifies more than with his own?

 Since Sgt. Akbar’s personal case is, at this writing, under investigation, it is too early to say with precision.  Yet what is known of his background is illuminating of the larger problem we must now confront.

 Radical Muslim sects and organizations -- distinguished from peaceable, non-violent and law-abiding adherents to Islam by the term “Islamists” -- have been making steady progress over the past four decades in establishing a presence in the United States (as elsewhere around the world) and dominating their co-religionists and, in due course, others they consider to be “non-believers.”  Thanks to the oil-revenue underwritten largesse of the Saudi Arabia’s state religion, the Wahhabi sect, this Islamist enterprise has established itself in several places where a man like Akbar could have come under its sway.

 Perhaps, Akbar was exposed to Islamist thinking via the Wahhabi-backed Muslim Student's Association, which has a chapter at the University of California, Davis -- an institution he reportedly attended from 1988-1997.  Or perhaps, it was at the mosque he attended in the South Central section of Los Angeles, the Masjid Bilal Islamic Center.  The Center’s school (they are called madrassas in places like Pakistan) received funds from the Islamic Development Bank (ISDB), a Saudi-controlled fund headquartered in Jeddah that claims to have capitalized $19 billion worth of projects around the world. 

 Alternatively, and particularly worrisome, is the possibility that Akbar could have gotten murderous ideas about America, its armed forces and the Muslim world from a chaplain in the U.S. military.  As of June 2002, nine of the armed forces’ fourteen Muslim chaplains received their religious training from another Saudi-supported entity, the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS) in Leesburg, Virginia.  In March of that year, the multi-agency Operation Greenquest raided the offices of GSISS, along with twenty-three other Muslim organizations.  Agents also raided the homes of Dr. Iqbal Unus, the Dean of Students at GSISS, and Dr. Taha Al-Alwani, the school's President.  According to search warrants issued at the time, these groups were raided for "potential money laundering and tax evasion activities and their ties to terrorist groups such Qaeda as well as individual terrorists...(including) Osama bin Laden."
 It may be that last Sunday’s attack turns out to be an isolated event.  It should, nonetheless, serve as a wake-up call to the Bush Administration and all who love this country that there are among us some who do not.  They, and organizations that may be fomenting their hatred towards the United States, must be recognized as such and dealt with accordingly.