National Guardsman?s Islamic conversion

Posted: Feb 16, 2004 12:00 AM

When asked if recently ?detained? National Guard soldier Ryan Anderson?who allegedly tried to pass on sensitive information to al Qaeda?was a Muslim, the unit spokesman, Lt. Col. Stephen Barger replied, ?Religious preferences are an individual right and responsibility, and I really can?t get into it.?

  On one level, of course, Barger is right.  Sadly, however, Anderson?s religion may be the only prism through which his alleged behavior can be understood.

  Various media reports have pegged Anderson as a convert to Islam.  Why is this significant? 

  Because if he had converted to Buddhism or Hindu, for example, he almost certainly would not have not been caught up in a sting operation that found him trying to deliver to al Qaeda closely-guarded details about vulnerabilities and capabilities of armed tanks and Humvees.

  This is obviously not to suggest that Muslims cannot be trusted or that, as a group, they should be viewed with suspicion.  But it is just as true that Anderson?s reported conversion to Islam cannot be ignored.

  We call our struggle against al Qaeda and the rest of the worldwide terror network the ?War on Terror.?  But to al Qaeda and its ilk, it is not a ?war.?  It is a Jihad.

  In a Jihad, where the terrorists unite under the rallying cry of defeating the Infidels in the name of Islam, the most likely?if not the only?people to betray America in order to help the enemy are going to be Muslim. 

  That group of Muslims willing to commit horrific acts is certainly tiny, but a tiny number of Benedict Arnolds is all al Qaeda needs to wreak enormous havoc.

  And as anyone who knows folks who have converted to <i>any</i> religion can attest, the converts often become, for lack of a better expression, hard-core.  ?Hard-core? indeed sounds harsh, as most passionate converts are devout in the best sense.  Yet from the likes of John Walker Lindh and Jose Padilla, converts can become among the most radical. 

  Should Anderson have been denied the opportunity to serve his country because he is a convert to Islam?  Of course not.  But just as we give psych exams and various personality tests to soldiers, thorough examination of Islamic converts?at the least?would not seem to be such a bad idea.  And for people working in sensitive positions, then rigorous screening would seem to be nothing if not prudent.

  Some would undoubtedly scream ?profiling.?  But it is precisely because of ?profiling? that authorities might be inclined to focus more on Arabs, meaning al Qaeda is more likely to prefer Muslims who are not Arabs.

  As we witnessed with Asan Akbar, the Muslim Army Sergeant who killed two and wounded 14 of his fellow soldiers last year in Kuwait, it only takes one soldier to harm many innocents.  And if he hadn?t been such a coward?he was found hiding in a bunker?he probably could have murdered many more Americans.

  Questions of profiling aside, however, specific facts about Anderson should have prompted investigation long ago.  The 26-year-old attended Washington State University, which the FBI believes has been a base of operations for people affiliated with al Qaeda.

  Throughout 2002 and 2003, federal authorities probed a possible terror cell operating out Pullman, Washington (home of WSU) and the University of Idaho campus, which is just nine miles away in Moscow, Idaho.  At least two current or former WSU students have been arrested.

  Others were also arrested, including former Idaho football player Abdullah al-Kidd (born Lavoni T. Kidd), who was nabbed at Dulles International Airport, just outside of Washington, D.C., holding a first-class, one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia. 

  The man reportedly at the center of the investigation, Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, allegedly helped design website for radical Islamic sheikhs who had direct ties to Osama bin Laden and he also allegedly had on his computer hard drive thousands of photos of the World Trade Center, both before and after 9/11. 

  According to court documents, al-Hussayen?s uncle traveled to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia and ?stayed in the same hotel in the Herndon, Va., area as three of the Sept. 11 hijackers of Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon.?

  Graduating in 2002, Anderson attended WSU?where he converted to Islam?as the alleged terror activity was ongoing.  The question investigators must not be shy about asking is: how did Anderson?s Islamic experience at WSU help shape him?