Your Neighbor, the Terrorist

'Sleepers,' Fresh Targets, and the Taliban's Favorite Charities

WASHINGTON, D.C.—At least four Muslim organizations with past connections to Osama bin Laden or other terrorist fundamentalists operate within the U.S. and Canada.

At least two of them have ties with the Saudi royal family, which initially supported Bin Laden and the fundamentalist cause in Afghanistan. The royal family consists of some 2000 members and represents a wide spectrum of political beliefs, from playboys to fundamentalists. And it pays at least lip service to fundamentalists by allowing their religious police to roam the streets harassing the populace. The late king Faisal was a friend of Bin Laden's father. While Saudi Arabia claims to have broken relations with Bin Laden and the Taliban following the September 11 attack, Bin Laden reportedly still has ties with family members. After the September 11 bombing, King Fahd, the current Saudi ruler, phoned his nation's ambassador in Washington and asked him to protect Bin Laden's family in the U.S. Under FBI supervision, family members were quickly gathered together and sent home. (The Saudi royal family has always denied any connection to terrorism.)

The number of terrorists within the U.S. Muslim community, which numbers more than 7 million, is unknown. Attorney General John Ashcroft says the government had detained 500 people and is looking for another 400.

Experts think the total number is relatively modest, anywhere from less than 100 to more than a thousand. "I would say small," says David Isby of Jane's Intelligence Review. "What we saw took five years to put together." "I would say dozens, rather than hundreds," estimates Mark Pitcavage, fact-finding director of B'nai B'rith's Anti Defamation League. "There are terrorist groups in the U.S. But many terrorists view us as a big piggy bank. Terrorists do fundraising here, whether soliciting funds from immigrant communities, à la the IRA, or setting up businesses to siphon off money or charities designed to collect money."

Where do they live? FBI portraits of the hijackers show them melding into the suburban American landscape. One suspect was even a sergeant in the U.S. Army. "Al Qaeda and others like it . . . have carefully thought about evading law enforcement detection," says terrorism expert Jessica Stern, who teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School. "A manual that came to light during the African embassy bombing trial instructed operatives living in enemy territory to dress so they could not be identified as Muslims, to shave their beards, to rent apartments in newer areas where people do not know one another, and to not chat too much, especially to cab drivers." Adds Paul Wilkinson of St. Andrews College in Scotland, which has become the world center of terrorist studies: "It is clear they didn't attract much attention to themselves. They didn't take any part in political activities. They blended in well to their environment. They were not suspected by neighbors of any malevolent or illegal activity. It indicates a well-briefed, tightly controlled operation."

"A good terrorist is the most boring person," adds Isby. "Totally law abiding and never drives above 55 miles per hour, because they're afraid they'll get stopped for speeding and caught on that."

Neil Livingstone, another terrorist expert in Washington, says that "betrayal is probably the biggest fear they have. That someone will sell them out, even close relations. Ramzi Yousef [the 1993 WTC bomber] was sold out in Pakistan."

By Monday, October 1, the Taliban was reportedly beginning to crack inside Afghanistan, with some members trying to jump ship before it was too late. If this turns out to be true, it could be a big break for Western intelligence, and might lead to the whereabouts of Bin Laden himself.

The Muslim organizations with past operations in North America:

• The notorious Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HUM)— "movement of holy warriors"—labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. With leaders trained in Afghanistan, HUM focused its activities on Kashmir, killing tourists there. It was responsible for the December 1999 hijacking of an Indian airliner to Afghanistan. The group fought the Soviets during the war and has close ties to the Taliban. It reportedly has recruited in North America.

• International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and the Muslim World League, two closely associated Muslim charities. Both are tightly tied to the Saudi royal family and have been previously investigated for possible terrorist activities, according to The Washington Post. The IIRO has given $60 million to the Taliban. In 1999 an Orlando, Florida, resident who had worked for the Muslim World League in Pakistan was jailed after he refused to explain his connections to people involved in the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa. The IIRO said it has nothing to do with terrorism, and Saudi intelligence claims there are no ties to the Saudi royal family. But Jonathan Winter, a former State Department official, testified before Congress last week, saying that Islamic charities have "either provided funds to terrorists or failed to prevent their funds from being diverted to terrorist use," according to the Post.

• Al-Fuqra (AF), which began clandestine activities in the Muslim communities of North America and the Caribbean in the 1980s. This group is reported to have raised money for fundamentalist groups in Pakistan and recruited groups of African Americans to train within Pakistan. Based in Hancock, New York, the group had an estimated 1000 to 3000 members in the U.S. in the '90s.

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