WASHINGTON - Concern is mounting over the connections between a Boston Islamic group and a high-profile Muslim activist, Abdurahman Alamoudi, after a recent statement by the federal government that Mr. Alamoudi had a "close relationship" with Al Qaeda and that he raised money for Al Qaeda in America.
Alamoudi - who is serving a 23-year sentence in federal prison after having pleaded guilty in 2004 to participating in a Libyan plot to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah - is also a founder of the Islamic Society of Boston. The society is now embroiled in a bitter legal dispute over the society's efforts to build a mosque with the aid of public subsidies.
That lawsuit, according to journalists and terrorism investigators, is part of a larger trend of litigation by Muslim groups that, they say, is having a "chilling effect" on the ability to report domestic ties to terrorism.
In July, Alamoudi was cited in a Treasury Department press release designating the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, a U.K.-based Saudi oppositionist organization, led by Saad al-Faqih, as providing material support for Al Qaeda. MIRA "received approximately $1 million in funding through Abdulrahman Alamoudi," the statement said.
"According to information available to the U.S.Government," the statement continues, "the September 2003 arrest of Alamoudi was a severe blow to Al Qaeda, as Alamoudi had a close relationship with Al Qaeda and had raised money for Al Qaeda in the United States." The Treasury Department has declined to provide further information, saying the material is classified.
Alamoudi, an Eritrean-born naturalized American citizen, was arrested in 2003 on charges of having participated in a Libyan assassination plot against Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah, an allegation to which he admitted in the 2004 plea agreement with federal prosecutors. He was also stripped of his American citizenship after admitting to having obtained it fraudulently.
A lawyer for Alamoudi, James McLoughlin Jr., told the Sun that his client "vigorously denies ever having raised money for Al Qaeda." The Treasury had refused requests to review its information.
Before his arrest, Alamoudi enjoyed extensive connections to Washington lawmakers as the founder and president of the American Muslim Council. During the Clinton administration, according to press accounts, Alamoudi often visited the White House to meet with and advise President Clinton, now-Senator Clinton, and Vice President Gore. In 2001, Alamoudi appeared with President Bush at a prayer vigil for victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks just days after the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon.
Alamoudi was also one of the founders of the Islamic Society of Boston, which is engaged in a dispute over its plans to build a $22 million mosque and cultural center on 1.9 acres of land next to Roxbury Community College. Valued at $400,000 by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the lot was sold to the ISB for $175,000 in a deal supported by Boston's Democratic mayor, Thomas Menino. The city said the sale price had been lowered in exchange for an ISB promise to provide 5,000 books about Islam to Roxbury Community College; to provide the college with a lecture series about Islam; and to raise money for the college.
The land exchange prompted a lawsuit by a Roxbury resident, James Policastro, challenging its constitutionality as a subsidy for the Muslim religion. Last month, a motion by the ISB to have the Policastro suit dismissed was denied.
The land deal also prompted a series of investigative reports by the Boston Herald and Fox TV Channel 25, probing the alleged connections between several ISB leaders, including Alamoudi, and radical Islam. In turn, the ISB has filed a defamation lawsuit claiming that the reports were part of a conspiracy to prevent the mosque's being built.
The reports alleged that one former ISB trustee, the Egypt-based Yusuf al-Qaradawi, was barred from entering America by the Clinton State Department in 1999 after openly supporting the Palestinian Arab terrorist organization Hamas.
The ISB denies that Mr.Qaradawi was a trustee of the group. He is listed as a trustee on the ISB's IRS 990 forms for 1998, 1999, and 2000. The ISB has described this as an "administrative oversight."
And the Anti-Defamation League recently denounced as anti-Semitic writings by another ISB trustee, Walid Ahmad Fitaihi, that appeared in foreign newspapers. In the articles, Mr. Fitaihi said Jews "perpetrated the worst of evils," "brought the worst corruption to the earth," and "killed prophets," according to press accounts. The ISB responded on its Web site that "the articles were intended to condemn particular individuals ... not meant to incite hatred of an entire faith or people." The ISB denies any connection to radical Islam.
After the Herald and Fox filed reports raising questions about the ties between Messrs. Qaradawi, Alamoudi, Fitaihi, et al. and the ISB, the society and two of its trustees, Yousef Abou-Allaban and Osama Kandil, filed defamation suits against the Herald and Fox last year. The suits allege, among other charges, that the Herald and Fox reports - abetted by the other investigators and journalists named in an expanded lawsuit filed last month - have prevented the ISB from raising the money required to build the mosque.
According to a report in the Boston Globe, the ISB has raised $14 million so far, mostly from other countries, particularly Saudi Arabia.
As evidence for the conspiracy, the ISB's complaint includes e-mails exchanged between Herald reporters and members of the investigative groups, including the Washington-based Investigative Project and its president, Steven Emerson, and the Boston-based David Project, a 501(c)(3) Jewish educational organization.
Representatives of the David Project and other groups say the reports and inquiries were meant to raise serious questions about the ISB's potential links to terrorism in the hopes of getting more information out of the organization. A lawyer for the David Project, Jeffrey Robbins, said: "It's outrageous that at a time when all Americans are trying to have information on this topic, that those who asked the questions would be sued for having asked them."
A lawyer for the ISB, Howard Cooper, told the Sun earlier this week: "The ISB has had nothing to do with Alamoudi for a long time, and before those questions were asked by the people who were sued they knew that was the case."
Questioning whether Alamoudi's identification by the federal government as an Al Qaeda fund-raiser in America might have implications for the Islamic Society of Boston, Mr. Cooper added, "is just such classic overreaching and guilt by fabricated association as part of an intolerant attitude toward Muslims that it is perfectly illustrative of why this lawsuit has been brought."
The David Project, however, points to an online petition - available at www.petitiononline.com/alamoudi/petition.html, and signed by a "Dr. Osama Kandil" of Herndon, Va., identifying the imprisoned Alamoudi as "our community leader" and calling for his release - as a sign of potential ongoing connections between Alamoudi and the ISB. The Dr. Osama Kandil who serves as one of the trustees of the ISB and who brought the lawsuits against the Herald and Fox divides his time between Egypt and Herndon, Va.
Mr. Cooper said his client was in Egypt and could not be reached to confirm whether he signed the petition. "However, I am aware that Dr. Kandil, as a young man and student in Boston, was one of founders of Islamic Society of Boston. ... Would it shock me that, at the time that Mr. Alamoudi was arrested, that those who knew him his days as a young man would express an opinion about him in an effort to help him? No, that would not surprise me," Mr. Cooper said.
"But to suggest that such an event, if it occurred, establishes a link between the ISB and Dr. Kandil on the one hand, and radical Islamic terrorism on the other, is ridiculous and it smacks of the worst type of McCarthyism and guilt by association that one could possibly imagine," Mr. Cooper added.
A senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Andrew McCarthy, asserted these sorts of defamation and libel lawsuits were part of a "concerted effort" by Muslim groups to intimidate investigators. "If you say anything borderline critical of them they sort of bare their fangs and threaten to sue," Mr. McCarthy, a former federal attorney who prosecuted the case against the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, said.
A spokeswoman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, Rabiah Ahmed, acknowledged that lawsuits had increasingly become an "instrument" used by the Muslim community. "The Muslim community realizes that it has to respond to these allegations and to these attacks, otherwise, the people who are promoting these defamatory remarks will win in the court of public opinion," Ms. Ahmed said.