Jihad in South Florida

In a trial with more important national security implications than any since the Rosenbergs’, Sami Al-Arian now begins his third month in the dock. The defense claims that Al-Arian is a peaceful Muslim with unpopular political views. But according to prosecutors, while Al-Arian was a professor at the University of South Florida, and Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times was affectionately characterizing him as a “rumpled academic with a salt-and-pepper beard,” he was actually the head of the American wing of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), held a key position in the group’s worldwide leadership, and even established a cell of the terrorist group at his university.

A great deal of information about Al-Arian’s activities on behalf of Palestinian Islamic Jihad has come to light at the trial – much of which was hitherto unknown or only sketchily reconstructed by intelligence officials. The trial has become the occasion for the professor, whose case has for years been a minor cause celebre among Leftists, to be confronted with the fruit of his labors for the first time. Israeli policeman Yuval Avargil was on the scene at Beit Lid in Israel on January 22, 1995, when a PIJ suicide bomber exploded a bomb that killed twenty-two people. “I opened my eyes,” Avergil recounted at the trial, “I heard something rolling near me, I saw a head of a soldier with his eyes open on the side.”

What did the Rumpled Academic think of this attack? He wrote about the bombing enthusiastically almost three weeks later in a letter to Kuwaiti politician Ismail al- Shatti: “The latest operation, carried out by the two mujahideen who were martyred for the sake of God, is the best guide and witness to what the believing few can do in the face of Arab and Islamic collapse at the heels of the Zionist enemy and in keeping the flame of faith, steadfastness and defiance glowing.” He also asked for donations so that “operations such as these can continue.” Key to the defense’s case at this point is Al-Shatti’s contention that he never received this letter; prosecutors are hoping that Abdurraham Alamoudi, once the leading “moderate Muslim” and now serving a 23-year prison sentence on other charges, will corroborate their claim that the letter was hand-delivered to Al-Shatti.

Al-Arian, meanwhile, has consistently denied any involvement with the leadership of PIJ or any other “political organization.” In fact, when in early 1995 Tampa Tribune reporter Michael Fechter probed his ties to the jihad group, Al-Arian attributed it all to the sinister hand that jihadists so often see behind their misfortunes, no matter how farfetched the connection: “This,” he intoned to another PIJ member, “is an Israeli job, my brother.” 

Is Sami Al-Arian actually caught in the middle of terrorist activities by others who are linked to him, but with which he has had nothing to do? A clue may come from a 1989 conference of the Islamic Committee for Palestine. Held in Chicago, the conference featured a panel discussion moderated by Al-Arian. As the Rumpled Academic looked on, one panelist addressed a question about how to solve the Israel/Palestinian conflict by inviting him to talk with him later about weapons smuggling techniques. Another, Imam Fawaz Damra of Cleveland, a former high-profile “moderate” who has recently been deported for failing to disclose his ties to terrorist groups on his visa application, declared: “The first principle is that terrorism, and terrorism alone, is the path to liberation.”

Damra, incidentally, was one of the signers of the recent fatwa condemning terrorism issued by the Fiqh Council of North America under the auspices of the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Damra’s name among the signatories lends credence to the view that this fatwa, despite the enthusiastic praise it has received from the mainstream media, is in fact another exercise in the deception that Damra and others so skillfully practiced in America for so long, while continuing behind closed doors to support terror. Just how well Sami Al-Arian played this game is now coming to light.