Doctoral Student Accused of Urging Anti-U.S. Terrorism
The Washington Post, Feb. 27, 2003
By Susan Schmidt, Washington Post Staff Writer
Five men connected to a militant Islamic organization operating in the United States were indicted yesterday in connection with a pair of money-raising and distribution efforts, in what federal officials characterized as significant and related ongoing investigations in upstate New York and Idaho.
A 34-year-old Saudi doctoral candidate at the University of Idaho who has been supported financially by the Saudi government is accused of raising and distributing money through Web sites that promote terrorism and violence against the United States. He is charged with visa fraud and making false statements.
Four Arab men living near Syracuse were accused of conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions against Iraq by allegedly raising $2.7 million for unnamed individuals in Baghdad through a charity organization called Help the Needy.
Federal officials said the defendants in both cases are linked to the Islamic Assembly of North America, a Saudi charity that operates out of Ann Arbor, Mich., and among other endeavors, operates the Web site that advocates violence against the United States. Help the Needy is an IANA affiliate, federal officials said.
In news conferences in New York and Idaho, prosecutors declined to provide further explanation about the dovetailing of fundraising by nationals of Iraq’s secular regime and the holy war allegedly advocated by University of Idaho computer science student Sami Omar al-Hussayen.
“The cases have a common thread; that’s all I can say at this point,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry Derden, a prosecutor in Idaho.
The indictment against al-Hussayen said he provided computer services and advice to Web sites that “advocated violence against the United States,” among them IANA’s Web site and another site that published a violent fatwah, or religious edict, by a radical sheik in June 2001 that advocated suicide attacks.
The purpose of the Web site, according to the indictment, is “indoctrination, recruitment of members, and the instigation of acts of violence and terrorism.” Al-Hussayen is accused of receiving $300,000 and transferring it to IANA and other organizations and individuals, and using it, among other purposes, to pay a top IANA official. Money went to individuals and entities in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and Canada, according to the indictment.
The men in Syracuse are accused of using Help the Needy to raise money in the United States, purportedly for charity. The funds were placed in banks in New York and then laundered through an account at the Jordan Islamic Bank in Amman before being distributed to unnamed individuals in Baghdad, according to the indictment.
Those charged in that case are Rafil Dhafir, 55, an oncologist in Fayetteville, N.Y., who is an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen; Maher Zagha, 34, a Jordanian who attended college in New York state; Ayman Jarwan, 33, of Syracuse, a Jordanian citizen born in Saudi Arabia who worked as the executive director of Help the Needy; and Osameh al-Wahaidy, 41, of Fayetteville, a Jordanian citizen employed as a spiritual leader at the Auburn Correctional Facility and a math instructor at the State University of New York at Oswego.
The men are charged with conspiracy and violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which makes it illegal for anyone in the United States without authorization to send funds to the government of Iraq or anyone in that country while U.S. economic sanctions against the government of President Saddam Hussein are in place.
The charges stem from an investigation that began three years ago. Two of the men, if convicted, could face 265 years in prison and fines of more than $14 million. The other two could face five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The government has focused on groups that raise and distribute money to terrorists as a central part of its overall war on terrorism. It has previously cracked down on three of the largest Muslim charities in this country, seizing records and shutting offices. All of the groups deny any tie to terrorist activity.
Agents raided the Illinois offices of the Global Relief Foundation in December 2001, alleging that it has had dealings with the al Qaeda terrorist network. In the same month, federal officials seized documents and computers from the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in Texas, which U.S. authorities said raises money for the Islamic Resistance Movement, also known as Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
The only executive of any of the Muslim charities to be charged criminally is Enaam Arnaout, head of the Illinois-based Benevolence International Foundation, who authorities said was a longtime close associate of al Qaeda. On Feb. 10, he reached a plea agreement with prosecutors, admitting to no terrorism charges, but acknowledging that he illegally diverted contributions intended for the needy to armed fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya.
The indictment against al-Hussayen contends that he supplied expertise to a Web site associated with IANA that expressly advocated suicide attacks and using airliners as weapons. The indictment quoted a posting on one Web site: “The mujahid [warrior] must kill himself if he knows that this will lead to killing a great number of the enemies. In the new era, this can be accomplished with the modern means of bombing or bringing down an airplane on an important location that will cause the enemy great losses.”
Al-Hussayen is accused of 11 counts of visa fraud and making false statements on documents by misrepresenting to the Immigration and Naturalization Service that he was in this country solely to attend school. He is accused of failing to disclose, as specifically required in INS forms he signed, his affiliation with “professional, social, charitable organizations.”
According to the indictment, al-Hussayen has been studying in the United States since 1994, first at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Tex., and at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., where he received a master’s degree in computer science. He enrolled in the University of Idaho’s doctoral program in computer science in 1999, with a specialty in computer security and intrusion techniques, according to the indictment.
The indictment alleges that al-Hussayen received a monthly living stipend and tuition aid from the Saudi government. Ahmed Kattan, deputy chief of mission for the Saudi embassy in Washington, said that al-Hussayen was in the United States on an expired visa at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and that during the ensuing government crackdown on INS violators he returned to Saudi Arabia and obtained a new visa.
University officials said al-Hussayen, one of 13 Saudi citizens in the student body of 10,000 located in the northern part of Idaho, has a Saudi wife and two children in Moscow, Idaho. He was arrested yesterday and is scheduled to be arraigned in Boise today.