Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Laura Mansfield: Sami Al-Arian's Islamic Academy

By Laura Mansfield June 8, 2005

Florida's tuition voucher program is designed to help improve the education level of children who attend schools which do not meet educational standards. In 2003, Florida taxpayers indirectly subsidized the Islamic Academy of Florida in Tampa, with over $350,000 in funds.

Why is this a problem? What makes funding an Islamic school any different from funding a Christian school?

The difference is that at the time, the school's principal was none other than Sami Al Arian, who was under indictment for terrorism-related charges. He is at this very moment going to trial.

The Florida Islamic Academy was founded in 1992 by Sami Al-Arian. North American Islamic Trust holds the the title to the school property, as well as to the Tampa-area mosques at 130th Ave. E in Temple Terrace, FL and at 6307 Barclay Avenue in Spring Hill, FL. The trust owns about 27 percent of the 1,200 mosques in the United States.

The North American Islamic Trust is a subsidiary of the Islamic Society of North America.Sami Al Arian, along with seven others, was indicted in February 2003, on racketeering charges for allegedly financing and supporting homicide bombers in Israel.

The Florida Islamic Academy is explicitly named in the indictment:

The Islamic Academy of Florida, Inc. (hereinafter referred to as "IAF") was a tax exempt Florida corporation established on August 24, 1992. SAMI AMIN AL-ARIAN was the Director of IAF from its inception through at least June, 2002. SAMEEH HAMMOUDEH was also employed by the IAF and served as its Treasurer. IAF was located at 5910 East 130th Avenue, Tampa, Florida.

And then later goes on to state:

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Jihad-Shiqaqi Faction (PIJ), including the ICP, WISE, IAF, and others known and unknown, constituted an "enterprise" (hereinafter referred to as the "PIJ Enterprise"), as defined by Title 18, United States Code, Section 1961(4); that is, a group of individuals and entities associated in fact which engaged in, and the activities of which affected, interstate and foreign commerce. The enterprise constituted an ongoing organization whose members functioned as a continuing unit for a common purpose of achieving the objects of the enterprise.

The indictment also alleges:

On or about May 5, 2002, SAMI AMIN AL-ARIAN and SAMEEH HAMMOUDEH caused an employee at IAF to tell an unidentified woman during a telephone conversation that the woman should write a check to IAF after she indicated she wanted to send money for the Palestinians.

Yet, despite this, the Islamic Academy of Florida continued to receive money from the tuition voucher program in Florida through July 2003.

On July 19, 2003, the Palm Beach Post reported that payments to the school were being suspended:

John Kirtley, founder of the voucher organization Florida PRIDE, said he is suspending payments to the Tampa-based Islamic Academy of Florida, which has been under scrutiny by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI in relation to its founder and former Director Sami Al-Arian. Al-Arian stands accused of being the North American leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group responsible for numerous suicide bombings in Israel.

Florida PRIDE provides the Islamic school with money that it collects from corporations. The corporations in turn get to deduct the amount of their donations - up to $5 million - from their state taxes.

According to the Palm Beach Post article, the school received approximately $350,000 from Florida PRIDE for tuition for 100 underprivileged students in 2003. This makes up more than 50% of the school's revenue.

Islamic Academy of Florida has since been removed from the Florida PRIDE program completely. How much, if any, of this money actually went to support terrorism is unknown. In the meantime, while the cases of Al Arian and the others indicted move through the legal system, the North American Islamic Trust continues to operate Islamic primary and secondary schools throughout the country. The Islamic Society of North America continues to operate mosques and school as well.

How many more of these schools will eventually be linked to terrorism? How many of their faculty and staff have ties to terrorist organizations?

Those questions need to be answered.

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