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Covering for the radicals

June 2, 2009
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A prominent Muslim American leader issued a stern warning to the FBI. Informants should never breach the grounds of a mosque. No matter what.

“Our Koran is off limits,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Los Angeles office said at an Anaheim mosque in April. “Our youth, who they try to radicalize, are off limits. Now is the time to tell them, ‘we’re not going to let this happen anymore.’ ”

It was the lead element in a Los Angeles Times story by Paloma Esquivel. The story described the sense of betrayal felt by Muslim activists like Ayloush after “the FBI sent an informant into a mosque in Orange County, surveilled community leaders and sent an agent to UC Irvine – caus[ing] some to begin questioning the FBI’s real intentions.”

The story never names the person agents wanted the informant to approach; much less the man’s family ties to Osama bin Laden or his efforts to conceal his continuing relationship with the relative. Nor does it explain to readers that CAIR may have some sour grapes toward the FBI, which cut off access to CAIR last summer in light of court evidence showing the group, which touts itself as the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, was born to serve a Hamas-support network in the U.S.

It’s just one example of reporters favoring a good quote over the old shoe-leather approach of tracking down a paper trail. For some veteran journalists, it can be too much to take. Mary Jacoby, a former Wall Street Journal reporter now operating her own website, called out “the usual bunch of uninformed reporters” who seem glad to serve as a megaphone for CAIR and other apologists for terror.

Jacoby wrote some stories for the Investigative Project on Terrorism before launching MainJustice.com. Among them was her story breaking the news of cut off from FBI contact, tracking down written proof and obtaining formal confirmation from the FBI. Contrast that with stories in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Detroit News and St. Louis Post-Dispatch which seem to accept any claim about FBI behavior that comes forward yet seem to run out of space before explaining what the record says about people like Niazi and groups like CAIR.

“It’s easy to believe the worst about the FBI,” Jacoby wrote. “But in this case, the Bureau has bent over backwards to be fair. But it’s stopped bending – and rightly so.” Jacoby noted that Richard Powers, assistant director of the Bureau’s congressional affairs office, revealed in a letter why the FBI ended contacts with CAIR’s national leadership: because evidence in the federal government’s terrorism prosecution case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) showed that CAIR had ties with Hamas. In a recent letter to three U.S. senators, an FBI congressional liaison indicated that the Bureau wasn’t sure whether that relationship ever ended:

“Nevertheless, until we can resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and HAMAS, the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner,” the letter said.

CAIR was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case, which ended with the November 2008 convictions of five former HLF officials on all charges for conspiring to raise $12 million for Hamas. Two of the defendants received 65-year prison terms, with the others sentenced to terms between 15 and 20 years.

Those are pretty serious allegations from the nation’s top law enforcement agency. Yet, Detroit News reporter Greg Krupa can’t seem to bring himself to report them to his readers. Krupa didn’t mention the FBI cut off for nearly three months. When he finally did, he offered scant details about the evidence prompting the FBI decision, and cast doubt on some of it.

For example, in a conversation recorded in 1993 by the FBI, Hamas members and supporters discussed creating a new political organization to help their cause. Transcripts and other records identify CAIR founder Omar Ahmad in attendance and the FBI says co-founder and current CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad was there, too. Krupa said that identification is based solely on “the sound of his voice.” Yet, an examination of what “Nihad” said shows it was Awad. In addition, Awad has never contested the allegation since an FBI agent first said it during testimony in August 2007.

For good measure, Krupa adds:

“Officials of CAIR and defense lawyers in the Muslim charity case say no evidence was presented that CAIR intended to work on behalf of Hamas or that it was established as a result of the recorded conversation.

While the U.S. and other governments consider Hamas a terrorist group, many Muslims and Arabs consider it a resistance group, and say Palestinians have a right to resist Israel.”

By any measure, the Holy Land Foundation trial and its aftermath have been disastrous for CAIR’s spin campaign to convince people it is a moderate civil rights organization. Since the trial, CAIR and its allies have sought to discredit the FBI. CAIR is part of a coalition calling itself the American Muslim Task Force on Civil Rights and Elections, which has staged a series of news conferences denouncing the FBI for violating Muslim rights by conducting surveillance in mosques. That has garnered sympathetic coverage across the country, including the Los Angeles Times article mentioned earlier.

These organizations seized on the case of Ahmadullah Niazi, who was arrested in February for allegedly lying on his U.S. application for naturalization, obtaining a passport through fraud and lying to federal investigators. Niazi, a naturalized U.S. citizen, drew attention from the FBI because his brother-in-law, Amin al-Haq, had served as Osama bin Laden’s security coordinator and was named as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the U.S. government in 2001. Niazi was accused of failing to disclose his links to terrorists when he applied for naturalization in 2004 and of lying about his travels to Pakistan – where he met with al-Haq in 2005. A search warrant affidavit also indicates Niazi is suspected of illegally structuring financial transactions to avoid detection by law enforcement.

Testifying at Niazi’s February 24 bond hearing, FBI agent Thomas Ropel III said it was Niazi who initiated conversations about jihad – not the FBI informant. Niazi said that holy war was an Islamic duty, Ropel added. Niazi also discussed sending the informant to terror training camps in either Yemen or Egypt and had instigated conversations about “conducting terrorist attacks and blowing up buildings.”

Moreover, according to Ropel, Niazi lied to the FBI about the number of times he discussed jihad with the informant: Niazi claimed that the pair had spoken about the issue once or twice, when agents already possessed “at least 15 or 20 such conversations.”

Niazi, of course, has not been convicted of any crime and is entitled to the presumption of innocence. But the FBI’s allegations against him are serious ones, and they are critical to understanding why the Bureau was investigating Niazi. Yet they were virtually ignored in media accounts of the case that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Detroit News and St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Niazi’s name was not even mentioned in any of the stories.) The media coverage amounted to a propaganda windfall for the Islamists, courtesy of the people Mary Jacoby skewers as “the usual bunch of uninformed reporters.”

These are not isolated examples. Another of Jacoby’s former employers, the St. Petersburg Times, has repeatedly exhibited a blind spot toward admitted Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) member, Sami Al-Arian. He pled guilty in 2006 to conspiring to provide goods and services to the PIJ. As part of his plea, Al-Arian admitted lying about his PIJ connection and knowledge of the organization. At his sentencing, the judge blasted Al-Arian for lying about his support for terror and his work on the PIJ’s governing board.

He now is fighting criminal contempt charges, claiming the plea agreement absolved him of complying with a federal grand jury subpoena in a Virginia terror financing case.

In a March 6 story, reporter Meg Laughlin claimed a new prosecution filing in that contempt case proved Al-Arian’s argument:

“For the first time, federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., have acknowledged that when Sami Al-Arian took a plea deal in early 2006, federal prosecutors in Tampa believed — as did Al-Arian — that it exempted him from testifying in other cases.”

That would be shocking. But it’s simply not true and the proof is in the same document Laughlin cited. It summarizes findings of an internal review of the case and includes this passage:

“To the contrary, the evidence shows that (1) MD FL [Middle District of Florida] and DOJ [Department of Justice] prosecutors did not equate cooperation and compelled testimony … did not believe that Al-Arian or his experienced attorneys thought that his plea immunized him from compelled testimony.” [Emphasis added]

And:

“The government attorneys who negotiated the plea agreement in Florida clearly understood that the plea agreement barred EDVA [the Eastern District of Virginia] from prosecuting Al-Arian for any offense then known to the government, but did not understand any provision in the plea agreement to bar EDVA from compelling Al-Arian’s testimony. Not only was such a provision never requested by defense counsel, it would have required a global agreement difficult to achieve, and no such provision had ever been the subject of an agreement within their experience.” [Emphasis added]

Either the reporter misread something, failed to read the entire document, or ignored the prosecution’s representation.

Similarly, Time magazine ran a March 18, 2009 article by reporter Wendy Malloy titled, “Despite Acquittal, a Florida Terror Suspect’s Legal Saga Continues,” which depicts al-Arian as a “victim” of the U.S. legal system even though he was convicted of the material-support charge – a terrorism-related felony. Al-Arian had no shortage of opportunities to have his case heard, but lost in four different federal courts: district court, two appellate courts and even the Supreme Court.

Then there’s New York Times reporter Neil MacFarquhar, who has repeatedly whitewashed the extremist records of Islamist groups such as CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the Muslim Students Association (MSA). In one article, he dismissed criticism of the Justice Department’s presence at a 2007 ISNA convention. MacFarquhar ignored disturbing information about ISNA that came out during the HLF prosecution, including evidence of its foundations in the Muslim Brotherhood and its multiple contributions to Hamas through its subsidiary, the North American Islamic Trust.

In his story, MacFarquhar allowed ISNA keynote speaker, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), to launch a specious, unrebutted attack on two of his colleagues, Reps. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) and Sue Myrick (R-NC) for writing a letter challenging the Bush Justice Department’s official participation in the ISNA conference. Their letter, Ellison said, was “ill informed and typical of bigoted attacks that other minorities have suffered.”

But Ellison’s argument was a cheap shot: Hoekstra and Myrick never criticized Islam or minorities. Instead, they criticized ISNA as an organization – a Muslim Brotherhood front group with an extensive record as apologists for terror groups. MacFarquhar then went on to quote Zaid Shakir, who he described as “an African-American imam with rock-star status.” Shakir complained about hearing comments on talk radio from people who were “Making stuff up about Islam.”

MacFarquhar’s “rock star” was the same person who told a different ISNA conference in Texas months earlier: “We Muslims are weak because we don’t have planes and trains and bombs and nuclear weapons and the Kaafir [infidel] are strong because they have all that in abundance.” The Times story neglected to mention a speech at a 2005 convention in Canada in which Shakir said of America:

“And the finger of blame will be pointed at all of those real or imagined terrorists scattered all over the world, and no mirror will be held up to see the terrorism that is being inflicted on the people of the world because of the policies of the United States of America.”

In a subsequent piece, MacFarquhar portrayed Amir Mertaban, a radical leader of the Muslim Students Association, as an “inclusive” moderate based on his willingness to admit a coed wearing a miniskirt into the MSA to the consternation of more traditionally minded members. MacFarquhar overlooked comments Merteban had made a year earlier during a speech at U.C. Berkeley. A Muslim man is allowed to have four wives, Merteban said, and no matter what Osama bin Laden may – or may not — have done, Muslims are obliged to defend him “to the end.”

MSAs routinely invite radical Islamic speakers who justify suicide bombing and make anti-American and anti-Semitic statements. Speaking at an April 2002 MSA event at San Francisco State University, Imam Abdul Malik Ali demanded that Muslims stop using the term “suicide bombers:”

“When a person commits suicide, they are depressed! When a person commits suicide, they are without hope! When a person commits suicide they are losing their patience. They are in a state of despair! These brothers — and sisters –before they go out on their martyr missions, are doing videotapes, and they are saying ‘Yeeeuuhh! I’m doing this! I’m doing this!’ And their mothers are right next to them saying, ‘Go ahead and go!’ “

Israel, Ali added approvingly, was in “serious trouble” and because it could not defend its people against such attackers:

“You cannot win against a people like this! Because you have Israelis whose ideology is so bankrupt –You never hear an Israeli talking about ‘I hope I’m going to die.’ They want to live, they want to live. And once you go up against a people who love death more than you love life, you in trouble, man [sic].”

MacFarquhar did not report this or any other radical statement by Malik Ali that can be found with a simple Google search.

Balance is a noble pursuit in journalism. But true balance requires more than presenting “both sides” of an issue. Stories about terrorism and extremism are complex and sensitive. But when there is a record to document many of the allegations – it requires more effort than simply asking two sides to comment.

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