Yehudit Barsky is senior Middle East research analyst at the Anti-Defamation League.
Administrators at the University of South Florida faced a most unusual problem in October 1995: a former member of their academic staff, Ramadan Abdallah Shallah, had just been named leader of Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization that has undertaken repeated suicide bomb attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers. Shallah had cultivated a soft-spoken image of himself in Tampa; in contrast, the former adjunct professor now pledged a "hard war" against Israel and praised the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.1 Shallah's former colleagues who knew him as "Ramadan Abdallah" were incredulous, but the image of their colleague of four years being broadcast from Syria was unmistakable.
Similarly, Musa Abu Marzuq was arrested at Kennedy Airport in July 1995 on charges of murder and attempted murder for Hamas,2 the other fundamentalist Islamic group that repeatedly engages in terrorist acts against Israel. At the time of his arrest, Abu Marzuq--a permanent resident of the United States for five years--headed a Washington-area think tank called the United Association for Studies and Research.
The involvement of these two American-based scholars in Middle Eastern violence points to a larger pattern: since the late 1980s, leaders of a number of fundamentalist Islamic organizations have found a safe haven in the United States and Western Europe. Groups involved include Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front, Tunisia's Islamic Tendency Movement, Saudi Arabia's Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights, the MQM group in Pakistan and the Bahrain Freedom Movement. Nonfundamentalist organizations that have similarly found refuge in the West include the People's Mujahedin of Iran and the Worker's Party of Kurdistan.
Again and again, profoundly anti-Western fundamentalist groups relocate to the West. Why do they do so? What implications does this have for the Middle East and for the West? What can be done to prevent them from using the United States as a base from which to carry out their violence?
WHY IN THE WEST?
The apparent paradox of fundamentalists' situating themselves in enemy territory is easily resolved; leaders of fundamentalist organizations find it advantageous to their causes to live in the West. To show this, we look in detail at the case of Hamas (formally, the Islamic Resistance Movement in Palestine, Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya fi Filastin), a group that rose to prominence immediately after its founding in 1987. Hamas is not only particularly well known (due to the recent arrest and conviction of several operatives) but it is the fundamentalist movement with the most developed international infrastructure.
The extent of Hamas's links to the United States became apparent in December 1992, when the Israeli authorities arrested Dr. Mahmud Rumayhi, the local liaison for two Palestinian-Americans living in the Chicago area. On January 25, 1993, they then arrested the two operatives, Muhammad `Abd al-Hamid Salah and Muhammad Hilmi Jarad, on charges of distributing more than a half-million dollars to local Hamas activists. Salah was subsequently convicted, and sentenced in 1995 to a five-year prison term; Jarad got only six months and returned to Chicago in 1993.
Personal freedoms. Freedoms that Westerners take for granted--freedom of assembly and freedom of movement--are far more restricted and regulated in the Middle East. In many countries, the government must approve all organizations; unofficial groups being illegal, their leaders may be arrested and jailed. Movement within the country and abroad is closely watched. The freedoms available in the West thereby make it easier for fundamentalists to lead their organizations from afar than from near.
Advanced communications. In contrast to the heavily surveilled, oppressive atmosphere within most Middle Eastern countries, terrorist leaders who have relocated in the West face no difficulties in acquiring state-of-the-art communications technology. They have spread throughout the West to make use of ever more advanced modes of communication--audio tapes, videotapes, fax machines, and now the Internet. These forms of communication are not easily accessible in the Middle East and, where they do exist, tend to be highly regulated to suppress dissent. In many countries, for example, an individual requires a license to own a fax machine or has access to the Internet only through government-owned services.3 Taking advantage of guaranteed Western freedoms, the terrorist leaders can say anything, at any time, anywhere in the West, then have pronouncements distributed internationally.
In particular, the proliferation of fax machines in the late 1980s made instant, direct, mutual, and detailed communications possible between the commanders of terror organizations and their followers. During his exile in New York, Sheikh `Umar Abd ar-Rahman produced and distributed taped sermons vitriolically denouncing the Egyptian government more freely than he could have from Egypt. More recently, Muhammad al-Mas`ari, the Saudi fundamentalist dissident living in exile in Britain, has maintained contact with his followers in the Saudi kingdom via fax and electronic-mail updates.
Protecting the leaders. Immediate communications between operatives and commanders abroad make possible the continuing development of an organization like Hamas. It seems to consider its operatives expendable; in contrast, the leadership has benefited from living in a haven where it can operate openly because it does not carry out violent activities on U.S. soil. In this, terrorist groups seem to be emulating business corporations--which increasingly locate their headquarters in one country and diversify their operations by relocating them in distant countries.
Leadership. Far from being cut off and alienated from their Middle Eastern followers, leaders of Islamic fundamentalist groups are able to maintain contact and keep abreast of developments on the ground in their home countries. From their places of exile in the West, the leadership of fundamentalist Islamic movements maintains daily contact with followers in the Middle East via facsimile transmissions, telephone conversations, and frequent visits of emissaries of the movement from their home countries. During the intifada, the Hamas movement's communiqués, for example, were jointly produced by Hamas activists in Gaza, who drafted the materials and then faxed them to Ahmad Bin Yusuf, a Hamas ideologue resident in Virginia, for his editing and approval. The communiqués were then faxed back to Wa'il Banat, a Hamas activist in Gaza, for distribution.4 Thus do Hamas leaders respond to and incorporate the sentiments of their followers.
Intelligence-gathering. Fax machines also serve as an intelligence-gathering device to collect reports from the field, which then are compiled and analyzed at the organization's Western headquarters. In the Hamas case, for example, Bassam Musa in the Khan Yunis area of Gaza maintained contact with Muhammad Salah, Abu Marzuq's emissary and a resident of Chicago, by collecting Hamas field reports and faxing them off to him. In one case, Bassam Musa sent off the description of a local man accused of "collaboration" with the Israeli authorities; in so doing, he was asking permission to attack him. Soon after, the man was killed by members of Hamas's "military" wing, the `Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade.5
Targeted by Muslim regimes. Especially since the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Middle Eastern states tend to see fundamentalist Muslims as their most dangerous enemies and stop at little to crush them.6 But they have been ruthless for many years: as long ago as March 1970, the Sudanese government called out the air force to kill some three thousand fundamentalists holed up on Aba Island in the Nile. Likewise, the Syrian military assaulted Muslim Brethren in the city of Hama in February 1982, leading to an estimated twenty thousand deaths. Starting in January 1992, the military junta in Algeria has mercilessly pursued that country's fundamentalists; in the near civil war since then, some fifty thousand lives have been lost. Fundamentalist groups, in short, do better in the West, where they are exotic, obscure, and pretty much left alone.
Fundraising. Living in the wealthy countries of the West gives terrorist leaders access to greater financial resources than would be the case in their countries of origin. They establish ostensibly charitable organizations to raise funds for their terrorist operations overseas. Muhammad Salah, the convicted emissary, indicated that a total of thirty-one charitable organizations plus many mosques raise funds on behalf of Hamas in the United States.7 These charitable organizations advertise in U.S.-based publications, which are then distributed at conventions run by fundamentalist groups. Those conventions are a particularly useful fundraising outlet; taking place in the ballrooms of hotels in major American cities, they attract several thousand participants.8 The organizations have adopted the Western practice of sending direct mail appeals during the holiday season, in this case particularly during the Ramadan fast. In addition, they encourage Muslims to donate a percentage of their income as zakat, the charitable giving required by Islamic law, to such causes.
Attack Western governments. The terror organizations' first priority is overthrowing their home governments, but living in the West also allows them to target the great power patrons of those governments. By situating himself in the West, Sheikh `Umar `Abd ar-Rahman afforded himself the possibility of waging war against his enemies on two fronts. Initially, he concentrated on inciting his followers against Egypt's regime by producing tape recordings of his sermons.9 Then, because he sees the U.S. government as the force that keeps Husni Mubarak in power, `Abd ar-Rahman and his followers waged a parallel war against the American government.
Having leaders live abroad has two other major benefits: it permits the organization on the ground to be compartmentalized and organized in cells; and it makes possible the discreet movement of large sums of money.
By virtue of exporting its leadership, Hamas went from being a centrally controlled organization to being one with a diversified base, and gained much from this change. In the past, the capture of a single operative risked exposing the entire command structure of an organization; this is no longer the case. Now when a terror cell is exposed, the organization can regroup its efforts almost instantly because its essential command-and-control structure remains intact.
From the movement's origins, the quadriplegic Sheikh Ahmad Yasin served as the leader and the central address for all of its activities. As the movement's leader, he enjoyed assistance from Muslim Brethren activists in Jordan and maintained ties with Musa Abu Marzuq, a close associate of his from the Muslim Brethren who had left Gaza to study for his Ph.D. in the United States in 1974.10 Yasin's involvement in every aspect of Hamas's activities and his centralized control over a small, tightly knit organization eventually almost caused its downfall. His arrest by the Israeli authorities in 1989 indicated the range of his activities, as he was charged with premeditated murder, possession of weapons, incitement, the illegal transfer of $500,000, assisting the escape of two convicts from prison, recruiting members for Hamas, and membership in an illegal organization.11 Two years later, Yasin was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment plus fifteen years.12
The removal of Sheikh Yasin created a vacuum that temporarily destroyed Hamas's ability to function. In his absence, Hamas's second tier of leadership, including such men as Ibrahim Ghawsha and `Imad al-`Alami in Jordan and Musa Abu Marzuq and Ahmad Bin Yusuf in the United States, rebuilt the organization's infrastructure. Abu Marzuq, one of Hamas's most senior leaders abroad (who previously coordinated the group's international activities as its political chief), became acting leader of the movement.
Abu Marzuq proceeded to compartmentalize the organization to ensure that the loss of no single individual would again endanger the movement. He divided the tasks of Hamas's leadership into three areas of responsibility: the Political Committee (al-Lajna as-Siyasiya), headed by Abu Marzuq himself; the Propaganda Committee (Lajnat ad-Da`wa), headed by Ahmad Bin Yusuf; and the Jihad Committee (Lajnat al-Jihad), headed by Muhammad Qasim Suwalha (a resident of London until spring 1993).13 Next, Abu Marzuq similarly compartmentalized the organization in the West Bank and Gaza, its theater of operations. He arrived in Gaza in September 1989 (along with Ahmad Bin Yusuf, Muhammad Salah, and Muhammad Jarad)14 and appointed Salah responsible for Hamas's security and military affairs (the Qassam Brigade).15 During his visit, Abu Marzuq made contact with Sayyid Abu Musamih, a Muslim Brethren activist he knew from Saudi Arabia in 1981,16 and appointed him chief of Hamas's activities in Gaza. Together with Hamas representatives from the five areas into which Gaza would be divided, Abu Musamih headed Hamas's Central Administrative Committee.17
Abu Marzuq further compartmentalized the activities of Hamas into three categories: Security Apparatus (Jihaz Amni), Activities Apparatus (Jihaz al-Ahadith), and Propaganda Apparatus (Jihaz al-A`lam). The Security Apparatus carried out surveillance on individuals suspected of collaborating with the Israeli authorities. The Activities Apparatus was responsible for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, setting up road blocks during strikes, holding demonstrations, and painting graffiti slogans on the walls.18 The Propaganda Apparatus was supposed to publish Hamas materials and maintain ties with journalists in Israel;19 in practice, the job of producing the materials is now carried out by Hamas's leadership in the United States.
Each commander of the five Gazan sectors established his own committees corresponding to the three levels of activity,20 and these carried out Hamas's violent confrontation with Israel. Their activities ranged from supporting families of Hamas "martyrs" to the recruitment and indoctrination of the next generation of the Qassam Brigade.21
While local members engaged in such activities, the Hamas leadership coordinated the different cells out of harm's way. Through this arrangement, beyond the reach of Israeli authorities, the leadership processed intelligence information, allotted funds, and ran the organization.
The transfer of money from the United States to the Qassam Brigade was done through an intricate set of steps. Abu Marzuq relied on three main methods:
Cashing U.S. checks. To avoid the scrutiny that transferring large amounts of money internationally would generate, all evidence indicated that the transferal of funds for Hamas's "military" activities took place in the United States. Abu Marzuq gave Salah $17,110 in July-August 1992, prior to the latter's departure for Gaza later that summer. The checks were drawn on two personal accounts: one jointly owned by Abu Marzuq and Ismail Selim Elbarasse at the First American Bank in McLean, Virginia, and the second from an account belonging to Abu Marzuq at the Ruston State Bank in Ruston, Louisiana.22 In Gaza, Salah accessed these funds by cashing his own personal checks from his Bridgeview, Illinois account at a Palestinian moneychanger in amounts of $5,000.23 In all, Salah cashed $50,000 this way.24
In a variant method, Abu Marzuq provided Hamas's commander of Gaza, Sayyid Abu Musamih, with signed blank checks from his Bank of America account; Abu Musamih then filled in the amounts.25 Abu Musamih, however, burned the checkbook, preferring to receive funds via messenger.26
Local bank accounts. Salah was dispatched on a rescue mission by Abu Marzuq following Israel's deportation of over four hundred Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders to Lebanon in December 1992. In advance of this trip, nearly a million dollars was transferred from the Abu Marzuq-Elbarasse account to Salah's account in Bridgeview, Illinois.27 On this occasion, Salah accessed the funds differently: with the assistance of Mahmud ar-Rumayhi, a Hamas activist on the West Bank, both Salah and Muhammad Jarad opened local bank accounts.28 On this trip, Salah contacted Salah al-Aruri, leader of the Qassam Brigade in Hebron, and gave him $96,000 for weapons procurement and to sustain the terror activities of the brigades in the area.29
Field requests. In one example, Aruri made contact via telephone with Muhammad Salah after the latter's return to Bridgeview, and requested money to purchase weapons. Salah asked for the bank account number to which the funds could be transferred. Aruri went to a local moneychanger, told him that a relative in the United States was sending him money, and received a bank account number.30 (Before he could use the account, however, Aruri was arrested by the Israeli authorities.)
Western governments need to find a way to close the opportunity for terrorists to operate in their countries, without violating the personal freedoms of law-abiding citizens. They must develop an approach to the problem premised on the fact that leaders of terrorist groups take refuge in Western countries precisely because their handiwork takes place elsewhere. This approach contains five elements:
Increase the information exchange among Western governments. Intelligence agencies must note the remote-control mechanism of terror groups and adopt a parallel approach. This means multinational sharing of intelligence information on the whereabouts of terrorist leaders and operatives who travel between various zones of conflict (notably the Arab "Afghans" who have surfaced in such diverse countries as Algeria and Hungary.31
Do not grant permanent residency to terrorists. More effective use of intelligence information among U.S. law-enforcement agencies would prevent such cases as that of Musa Abu Marzuq. Although the recently passed Omnibus Counterterrorism Act (of 1996) makes easier the deportation of an alien, like `Abd ar-Rahman, who is discovered to be a terrorist, the many agencies involved were either unaware or uninformed of his identity and he was permitted to enter this country. Within the country, increased coordination between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Central Intelligence Agency, and the State Department is imperative to building an awareness of terror organizations. The current trend of creating interagency terrorist task forces (composed of representatives of various law-enforcement agencies) is a step in this direction. Still, the instruments of law are available but the ineffective use of intelligence information remains problematic.
Deny citizenship in a Western country. Terrorist leaders32 should not have the luxury of being able to travel with authentic Western passports nor enjoy the rights that come with them. Legislation is needed to revoke the citizenship of terrorist leaders or their operatives, even if they are discovered to be terrorists after they may have received citizenship in a Western country.
Pass legislation with a conspiracy provision to deal with terrorist crimes. Under current law, conspiracy to commit a crime leads to a five-year term of imprisonment. A conspiracy provision for terrorist crimes should lead to a life sentence. Previous actions--such as the Racketeering, Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act in the United States, passed in response to the activities of organized crime, and the use of seditious conspiracy charge pressed against the World Trade Center gangs33--provide a basis for such legislation.
Pass legislation that would try leaders for murders committed in other countries. If a terrorist leader is discovered on American soil and there is reluctance to extradite him to a Middle Eastern country for fear of human-rights violations, it should be possible to try him in the United States. This would also solve the problem of sending a terrorist to another Western country, such as France or Italy. This implies claiming some extraterritorial jurisdiction. Such an integrated approach would allow Sheikh `Abd ar-Rahman to be tried in New York for murders incited in Egypt; Abu Marzuq can be tried for murders and attempted murders in Israel. These laws would go far to remove the impunity terror organizations now enjoy.
1 The New York Times, Nov. 13, 1995.
2 Israel's Warrant of Arrest of Sept. 27, 1995 charges Abu Marzuq with ten counts, including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, manslaughter, conspiracy to manslaughter, causing harm with aggravating intent, conspiracy to cause bodily harm, conspiracy to cause aggravated harm and wounding, causing harm and wounding under aggravating circumstances, and conspiracy to commit a felony.
3 Business Week, Aug. 21, 1995; The Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 24, 1995.
4 Roni Shaked and Aviva Shabi, Hamas: M'emunah B'allah L'Derekh Hateror (Jerusalem: Keter Publshing House, Ltd., 1994), p. 154.
5 U.S. District Court Southern District of New York (hereafter USDC-SDNY), In the Matter of the Extradition of Mousa Mohammad Abu Marzuk, statement of Bassam Musa (Affirmation 95, Cr. Misc. 1, Oct. 5, 1995), Feb. 17, 1993, p. 12.
6 Exceptions include the fundamentalist regimes in Afghanistan, Iran, and the Sudan. The leadership in Syria bloodily represses its own fundamentalists but permits those of other countries to operate on its soil.
7 USDC-SDNY: In the Matter of the Extradition of Mousa Muhammad Abu Marzuk, Affirmation 95, Cr. Misc. 1, Oct. 5, 1995, written statement of Muhammad Salah, p. 44.
8 The Washington Post, Sept. 12, 1992.
9 Sheikh `Abd ar-Rahman and his followers, it should be recalled, were convicted of conspiracy charges to assassinate Egypt's President Mubarak during his visits to New York.
10 Shaked and Shabi, Hamas, p. 150.
11 Ibid., p. 144.
12 Ibid., p. 146.
13 Ibid., pp. 153-54.
14 Ibid., p. 151.
15 USDC--SDNY: In the Matter of the Extradition of Mousa Mohammad Abu Marzuk, Affirmation 95, Cr. Misc. 1, Oct. 5, 1995, written statement of Muhammad Salah, pp. 2-4, 5-6.
16 USDC-SDNY: In the Matter of the Extradition of Mousa Mohammad Abu Marzuk, Affirmation 95, Cr. Misc. 1, Oct. 5, 1995, statement of Sayid Abu Musamih, Jan. 13, 1991, pp. 1-2.
17 Ibid., p. 2.
19 USDC-SDNY: In the Matter of the Extradition of Mousa Mohammad Abu Marzuk, Affirmation 95, Cr. Misc. 1, statement of Salah Al-Aruri, Jan. 27, 1993, p. 4.
20 Ibid., pp. 2-3.
21 Ibid., pp. 3-4.
22 USDC-SDNY: In the Matter of the Extradition of Mousa Mohammad Abu Marzuk, Affirmation 95, Cr. Misc. 1, Oct. 5, 1995, Appendix #7 and #8.
23 Ibid., Appendix #1.
25 USDC-SDNY: In the Matter of the Extradition of Mousa Mohammad Abu Marzuk, Affirmation 95, Cr. Misc. 1, Oct. 5, 1995, statement of Sayid Abu Musamih, Jan. 13, 1991, p. 4.
26 Ibid., p. 5.
27 Three such transactions took place in late Dec. 1992 and late Jan. 1993: $300,000 on Dec. 29, 1992; $135,000 on Jan. 20, 1993; and another $300,000 on Jan. 25, 1993. Ibid., Appendix #4 and #5.
28 Israel Defense Forces Radio, Feb. 2, 1993; in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report: Near East and South Asia, Feb. 3, 1993.
29 USDC-SDNY, In the Matter of the Extradition of Mousa Mohammad Abu Marzuk, statement of Salah Al-Aruri, Jan. 27, 1993.
30 Ibid., pp. 5-6.
31 On Apr. 16, 1996, one of the "Afghanis" stabbed and wounded the director of a Jewish school in Budapest as vengeance for the Israeli bombing of southern Lebanon.
32 Who, despite the general disagreement over terminology, are defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 212(B). Terrorism is "any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place where it is committed (or which, if committed in the United States, would be unlawful under the laws of the United States or any State)" and which involves: hijacking, hostage-taking, a violent attack against an internationally proteected person or the liberty of that person, assassination, the use of any biological, chemical, or nuclear weapon or explosive or firearm with intent to endanger individuals or cause substantial damage to property.
33 Seditious conspiracy deals specifically with the charge of overthrowing the government of the United States and so is too demanding a standard for anti-terrorism charges. Congress should pass a law that targets terrorist crimes as such.