© St. Petersburg Times, published March 27, 2003
WASHINGTON -- An Islamic scholar -- a man court records suggest is an unindicted co-conspirator in the Sami Al-Arian case -- has played a key role in training Muslim chaplains in the U.S. military, prompting a U.S. senator to pursue a Pentagon investigation.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote the Defense Department's inspector general earlier this month to request a probe into a school run by prominent Islamic scholar Taha Jabir Al-Alwani.
Al-Alwani and a network of Virginia-based organizations with which he's associated -- including a group accused of funding alleged fronts for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Tampa -- are under federal investigation for suspected financing of terrorism.
A federal indictment last month named Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor, as the North American leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group prosecutors say has killed more than 100 people in Israel with suicide and car bombings.
Documents seized in a 1995 raid of a USF-sponsored think tank and charity founded by Al-Arian indicate that Al-Alwani is the unnamed "unindicted co-conspirator five" in the Tampa indictment.
The indictment alleges that Al-Arian used the World and Islam Studies Enterprise think tank and a charity, the Islamic Concern Project, as fronts to raise money for and recruit people into the Islamic Jihad. Al-Arian has denied the charges.
Al-Alwani, who lives in the Washington suburb of Herndon, Va., did not return phone calls. But his lawyer, Nancy Luque, said the scholar and Muslim activist "is not an extremist."
She criticized Schumer for suggesting Al-Alwani and the academy he runs, the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences, have ties to terrorism. "It was outrageous," Luque said.
The graduate school, in Leesburg, Va., is one of three Islamic organizations that endorse Muslim chaplains for the military.
At least seven of the 12 Muslim chaplains in the armed forces were educated at Al-Alwani's school, which the Pentagon describes as one of the few academies in the nation able to provide Islamic theological training.
In March 2002, a Customs Service-led task force raided the school, Al-Alwani's home and a network of interlocking Islamic nonprofit organizations and businesses in suburban Virginia.
The raid sought evidence that the web of Saudi-funded organizations was funneling money to al-Qaida, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other groups sympathetic to militant Islam. The search warrants named Al-Alwani and Al-Arian as targets, among others.
So far, only Al-Arian and seven others accused of supporting Palestinian Islamic Jihad have been charged with crimes. No charges have been filed against Al-Alwani.
Luque said she has "no reason to believe" that prosecutors remain interested in her client. But in a March 14 motion filed with the U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia, prosecutors described the probe of Al-Alwani and others in Virginia as "ongoing."
Rita Katz, executive director of the SITE Institute, a Washington group that researches terrorism, said Al-Alwani is a "person who supports and funnels money to terrorist organizations, and he's training Muslim chaplains for the military."
Katz is a consultant to South Carolina trial lawyer Ron Motley, who is suing members of the Saudi royal family and others -- including Al-Alwani -- on behalf of 3,100 family members of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The lawsuit accuses the defendants of financing international terrorism.
The Army has seven Muslim chaplains, the Navy has three and the Air Force has two. A spokesman for the Army, Martha Rudd, said, "these are all good chaplains who have represented their faith and other faiths well."
The other two endorsing organizations are the Saudi-funded Islamic Society of North America and the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council. Al-Alwani has close ties to both organizations.
The veterans affairs council is an outgrowth of the American Muslim Council, whose founder, Abdurahman Alamoudi, helped place the Pentagon's first Muslim chaplain in 1993.
Alamoudi is a director of two organizations raided by the Customs-led task force last year. One group, the American Muslim Foundation, is funded primarily by Alamoudi's wealthy family in Saudi Arabia, which owns a construction business, Alamoudi said in an interview earlier this month.
Alamoudi spoke with pride of his efforts to bring American Muslims into the mainstream by placing Muslim chaplains in the military. "That was an excellent opportunity to show my community we have people who are patriotic."
A Navy chaplain trained by Al-Alwani's graduate school, Lt. Abuhena M. Saifulislam, has ministered to prisoners captured in Afghanistan and held by the military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In 2001, Al-Alwani issued a fatwa, or Islamic ruling, permitting American Muslims to fight in the conflict in Afghanistan. The fatwa was also endorsed by Sheikh Yussuf Al-Qaradhawi, a prominent Qatar-based religious scholar who has provided religious justification for suicide bombings in Israel.
The Al-Arian indictment says that "unindicted co-conspirator five," who is thought to be Al-Alwani, wrote a letter to Al-Arian saying he considered the Tampa group "as part of and an extension" of his own organization and "promised to send the remainder of the money pledged previously."
Schumer's office did not return phone calls seeking comment on the status of his request to the Pentagon. But people familiar with the matter said the department's inspector general has not yet responded to the senator's letter.