By Patrick Poole
Monday, September 29, 2008
In counterterrorism circles there is significant buzz about “Al-Qaeda 2.0”, warning of highly decentralized jihadist networks operating independently and driven by a highly toxic internet-inspired Islamic ideology. The sad reality is, however, that an increasing number of jihadist websites, especially those in the English language, are finding safe haven in the US – and the US government seems powerless, or unwilling, to stop them.
Other commentators have explored at length the “Al-Qaeda 2.0” phenomenon, but what has thus far gone unreported is how mainstream Islamic websites associated with some of the most visible Islamic organizations in the US are openly promoting extremist ideology and terrorism.
This is nothing new, of course. Before and shortly after 9/11, the Ohio State chapter of the Muslim Student Association ran an email service called MSANews, where virtually every Islamic terrorist organization in the world directly posted their public statements, including Al-Qaeda, HAMAS, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the Armed Islamic Group and the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front. MSANews also published all of Osama bin Laden’s pre-9/11 statements, calling him “sheikh” and identifying him as a “Saudi dissident”, not a terrorist. According to an Associated Press article published just weeks after 9/11, MSANews was the subject of a federal investigation for promoting the sales of jihadist videos praising the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The MSANews list, which operated on the taxpayer-supported servers of The Ohio State University, shut down soon afterwards.
More recently, the media has focused on the case of Charlotte, North Carolina resident, Samir Khan. Fox News recently reported that Khan’s website, inshallahshahid, features videos of terrorists bombing US military vehicles, provides links to the writings of Al-Qaeda chiefs Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and praises “martyrdom bombers” who sacrifice their lives “for the sake of Islam”. Last October, the New York Times reported on Khan’s online efforts, observing that he is just one of many new faces of what Al-Qaeda calls the “Islamic jihadi media”. While Samir Khan lost his job last month after a 3-part investigative report was aired by Charlotte CBS affiliate WBTV, Khan continues to operate his website with impunity.
The same is true for the popular Islamic website, Islamicity.com, which operates an entire video channel dedicated to Yemeni Al-Qaeda cleric and bin Laden mentor, Abd al-Majid Al-Zindani, who was listed by the US government as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist back in February 2004. In several of Zindani’s videos – videos which bear the embedded Islamicity logo – he is seen guarded by a man wielding an AK-47 (for more background on Zindani, see John Devon’s article, “Yemeni Shiekh of Hate”). The website states that Islamicity is run by Human Assistance and Development International (HUDI), a tax-exempt not-for-profit organization based in Culver City, California.
But Islamicity is not your small mom-and-pop jihadist website. According to Alexa, Islamicity has revenues of $10-50 million each year and is among the top 25,000 websites in the world. And it is backed by some heavy-hitters in the North American Islamic community, most notably Jamal Badawi and Abdullah Idris Ali, both on the board of directors of the Islamic Society of North America, which claims to be largest Islamic organization in North America. Badawi has a regular radio show hosted by Islamicity with hundreds of programs archived on their site, and Idris Ali has done promotional videos for the website encouraging viewers to subscribe. Another major supporter is Dr. Ahmed Sakr, one of the original founders and former president of the Muslim Student Association of the US and Canada.
Curiously, the CEO of Islamicity, Mohammed Aleem, was a prosecution witness for the federal government against another website operator, Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, who the government charged with fostering terrorism on the Islamway website, owned by the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA) and ranked by Alexa as one of the top 1,500 websites in the world. During the trial, Hussayen’s defense attorneys attempted to question Aleem about similar material appearing on his own Islamicity website supporting terrorism, but the judge wouldn’t allow that line of questioning. He also prevented the jury from seeing a defense of suicide bombings published on the IANA Islamway website. Predictably, Hussayen was acquitted on criminal charges, but was later deported for immigration violations.
Even more interesting for our present discussion, the Islamway website originally operated from Canada until a series of articles was published by National Post reporter Stewart Bell just days before 9/11 exposing that the website published an “invitation to jihad” and provided instructions on how to train at terrorist camps run by Al-Qaeda. Islamway was defended by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which published several action alerts and press releases decrying the newspaper’s “tabloid journalism” and promoting Islamophobia, directing its supporters to besiege the paper’s editors to complain of the supposedly “anti-Muslim” bias of the reporter. The National Post reportedly received death threats during CAIR’s protest (again, which occurred less than two weeks before 9/11). The Royal Canadian Mounted Police initiated an investigation at the request of B’nai B’rith Canada, but the website relocated to the US, prompting authorities there to drop their inquiry.
Perhaps emboldened by Hussayen’s acquittal, Islamway continues to publish incendiary material. For instance, the website features nearly two dozen audio lectures by convicted Northern Virginia jihad network leader Ali Al-Tamimi, who is currently serving life in prison after being convicted of soliciting others to wage war against the US. Al-Tamimi was a longtime leader of IANA, Islamway’s parent organization. Two other prominent names appear on Islamway’s list of speakers – ISNA’s Abdullah Idris Ali and Jamal Badawi.
Two other names featured at Islamway are also worthy of mention: Khalid Yasin and Bilal Phillips. Both men are American-born converts to Islam now living outside the US, and both were featured in the January 2007 UK Channel 4 “Undercover Mosque” exposé, which investigated the propagation of extremist hate teachings in mosques in the UK.
During the program, Phillips was secretly recorded by a Channel 4 operative defending pedophilia, saying that Mohammad’s marriage to nine-year old Aisha, while violating current laws, was entirely acceptable according to Islam:
The prophet Muhammad practically outlined the rules regarding marriage prior to puberty. With his practice, he clarified what is permissible, and that is why we shouldn't have any issues about an older man marrying a younger woman," he said. "It is looked down upon the society today, but we know that the prophet Muhammad practiced it. It wasn't abuse or exploitation, it was marriage ," he added.
Khalid Yasin, who recently conducted a US tour, is one of the most recognized international hate sheikhs. In 2005, his extremist teachings were openly condemned by Australian NSW Premier Bob Carr, and in the Undercover Mosque program, Khalid was recorded condemning the beliefs of Christians and Jews as “filth”. In another clip aired on the program, he says that the Quran justified wife-beating and that equal rights for women are a “delusion” and “foolishness”. Yasin also openly traffics in bizarre conspiracy theories, claiming that AIDS was created at a US government lab and spread in Third World countries by the US through UN relief agencies and Christian missionaries.
But Islamway is not the only purveyor of Khalid Yasin and Bilal Phillips’ teachings. In fact, the audio sermons and DVDs of these two hate sheikhs are featured prominently by Ilmquest Productions, the media sales arm of the AlMaghrib Institute. AlMaghrib, a wildly popular Islamic studies program, operates chapters in more than a dozen cities in the US and Canada offering dual-weekend long seminars. An Arab News article describes the attraction of AlMaghrib – state-of-the-art advertising, slick graphic presentations, and young Saudi Wahhabi-trained instructors using Western vernacular.
Another speaker whose products are hawked by Ilmquest is Anwar Al-Aulaqi, who the Washington Post reported earlier this year is wanted by the FBI for questioning about his extensive contacts with Al-Qaeda. Prior to 9/11 he was the spiritual director for two of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Al Hazmi and Khalid Al Mihdhar. Al-Aulaqi helped the two 9/11 terrorists locate housing in San Diego, and the pair followed Al-Aulaqi when he moved to the Washington DC area in 2001. He also operated the US offices of a charity founded by Al-Zindani which federal prosecutors claim was used as a front “used to support Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden”. Al-Aulaqi fled to Yemen in 2002 and worked for designated terrorist Abd Al-Majid Al-Zindani. (As an aside, US News and World Report states Aulaqi was arrested several times for soliciting prostitutes. At least they were able to arrest him on something.)
But it isn’t just sermons and videos promoted on US Islamic websites. For those seeking more practical and more personalized instructions, a number of websites allow users to address questions to Islamic scholars to obtain judicial rulings, or fatwas. One such website is IslamQA.com, where you can get detailed rulings on such pressing contemporary topics, such as when a Muslim can enslave an infidel and use female slaves sexually. The website’s ruling?
The reason why a person may be taken as a slave is his being a kaafir (infidel) and waging war against Allaah and His Messenger. If Allaah enables the Muslims who are striving and sacrificing their lives and their wealth and all that Allaah has given them to make the word of Allaah supreme over the kaafirs, then He allows them to enslave the kuffaar when they capture them, unless the ruler chooses to free them or to ransom them, if that serves the interests of the Muslims.
Another fatwa at IslamQA responds to a question from an inquirer wanting to know what to do with his wife who has left Islam. In addition to directing him to leave his wife, he directs that if he lives in a country with an Islamic government that should be reported to authorities and if remaining unrepentant, she should be executed as an apostate:
If he has a kaafir wife, it is not permissible for him to stay married to her. He has to advise her and establish proof against her, then leave her. If he is in a place where there is an Islamic government and sharee’ah law, then he has to refer her case to the Muslim qaadi, for him to ask her to repent. If she does not repent then the ruling of Allaah should be carried out on her, which is execution, because the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever changes his religion [leaves Islam], execute him.
These extremist rulings aren’t just limited to fatwas, but are also included in the notes in various versions of the Quran offered on a number of prominent websites. One popular Saudi-authorized English translation is “The Noble Quran”, which among other things contains verse-by-verse commentary exhortating jihad against non-Muslims and expressing hatred of Jews and Christians. This is the only English version of the Quran made available on the Islamway website.
Counterterrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has previously analyzed the commentary in “The Noble Quran”, particularly the passages advocating armed jihad against non-Muslims:
An early footnote in this translation lays out, at length, the importance of jihad: "Al-Jihad (holy fighting) in Allah's Cause (with full force of numbers and weaponry) is given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its pillars (on which it stands). By Jihad Islam is established, Allah's Word is made superior, . . . and His Religion (Islam) is propagated. By abandoning Jihad (may Allah protect us from that) Islam is destroyed and the Muslims fall into an inferior position; their honour is lost, their lands are stolen, their rule and authority vanish. Jihad is an obligatory duty in Islam on every Muslim, and he who tries to escape from this duty, or does not in his innermost heart wish to fulfil this duty, dies with one of the qualities of a hypocrite." Thus, this translation both rules out non-military interpretations of jihad by specifying that it involves "full force of numbers and weaponry) and also states that it is "an obligatory duty on every Muslim."
What troubled Gartenstein-Ross, expressed here and in another article, is that this particular version of the Quran was actively distributed in American prisons by a number of Islamic organizations, some of which have since been closed by the US government and designated terrorist organizations. But the Qurans still circulate in many institutions without the slightest concern by prison authorities.
The promotion of terror and hatred on Islamic websites appears to be a problem that everyone readily acknowledges, but few have any substantive suggestions to confront. One section of the Patriot Act attempting to curb active online recruitment by terrorist organizations was gutted by a federal judge in the Hussayen/Islamway prosecution as infringing on First and Fifth Amendment protections.
Having just passed the seventh anniversary of 9/11, those who promote Islamic terrorism are moving their online recruiting and instruction operations to the US where they can operate free from any fear of legal repercussions. What compounds this travesty is that some of the most prominent Islamic organizations in the US are actively associated with websites actively promoting terrorism, violence and hatred.
And as I’ve discussed elsewhere, these are the same organizations being consulted at the highest levels of our government to help shape national policy and hailed by the government officials as “moderates”. If the violent deaths of thousands of our fellow citizens in a single day and witnessed by the entire world were insufficient for us to begin to address these pandemic problems, what unspeakable future tragedy will it take finally spur our leaders to action?