In 2002, the spokesman for FBI director Robert Mueller memorably described the American Muslim Council (AMC) as the "the most mainstream Muslim group in the United States." A year later, the Catholic bishops called the AMC "the premier, mainstream Muslim group in Washington."
Its founder and long-time chief, Abdurahman Alamoudi, was a Washington fixture. He had many meetings with both Clintons in the White House and once joined George W. Bush at a prayer service dedicated to victims of the 9/11 attacks. Alamoudi arranged a Ramadan fast-breaking dinner for congressional leaders. He six times lectured abroad for the State Department and founded an organization to provide Muslim chaplains for the Department of Defense. One of his former AMC employees, Faisal Gill, serves as policy director at the Department of Homeland Security's intelligence division.
Abdurahman Alamoudi in better times, with U.S. president Clinton and vice president Gore.
In brief, as the Washington Post describes him, Alamoudi was "a pillar of the local Muslim community."
But the one-time high-flyer last week signed a plea agreement with the American government admitting his multiple crimes in return for a reduced sentence. His confession makes for startling reading.
Alamoudi acknowledges having obtained money from the Libyan government and other foreign sources, "unlawfully, knowingly, and willfully falsified, concealed and covered up by a trick, scheme and device." He transmitted these funds to the United States, "outside of the knowledge of the United States government and without attracting the attention of law enforcement and regulatory authorities."
In doing so, he engaged in illegal financial transactions and filed false tax returns. He lied about his overseas travels, his interest in a Swiss bank account, his affiliation with a Specially Designated Terrorist (the Hamas leader, Mousa Abu Marzook), and his membership in terrorist-related organizations.
Of particular note are admissions by Alamoudi that he:
Was summoned by Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi to two meetings and as a result of these Alamoudi helped organize the assassination of Saudi crown prince Abdullah. (The plot was foiled.)
Transported money from Libya to Saudi Arabia to the United States, where he deposited it in the American Muslim Foundation, one of his non-profits.
Omitted on his American citizenship application his connections to many radical organizations: the United Association for Studies and Research, Marzook Legal Fund, Mercy International, American Task Force for Bosnia, Fiqh Council of North America, Muslims for a Better America, Eritrean Liberation Front/People's Liberation Force, and Council for the National Interest Foundation.
Then there is the fact that Alamoudi's Palm Pilot, seized at the time of his arrest, contained contact information for seven men designated as global terrorists by U.S. authorities. Also, law enforcement found an unsigned Arabic-language document in Alamoudi's office with ideas for Hamas to undertake "operations against the Israelis to delay the peace process." And Alamoudi has at least indirect links to Osama bin Laden through the Taibah International Aid Association, an American non-profit where he served along with Abdullah A. bin Laden, Osama's nephew.
For his crimes, Alamoudi's punishment can include serving up to 23 years in prison, forfeiting US$1¼ million received from the Libyans, paying six year's worth of back taxes plus penalties, and having his U.S. citizenship revoked. Alamoudi could also be removed from the country and not allowed back in. (But the agreement defers decision on Alamoudi's expulsion until after his prison term ends, suggesting that he is singing like a bird.)
Alamoudi is hardly the only high-profile, seemingly non-violent leader of an Islamist organization to associate with terrorists. At the Council on American-Islamic Relations, five staffers and board members have been accused or convicted of terrorism-related charges and the same has happened with leaders of the Islamic Center of Greater Cleveland, Holy Land Foundation, Benevolence International Foundation, and the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom.
The Alamoudi story points to the urgent need that the FBI, White House, Congress, State Department, Pentagon, and Homeland Security – as well as other institutions, public and private, throughout the West – not continue guilelessly to assume that smooth-talking Islamists are free of criminal, extremist, or terrorist ties. Or, as I put it in late 2001: "Individual Islamists may appear law-abiding and reasonable, but they are part of a totalitarian movement, and as such, all must be considered potential killers."
Militant Islam is the enemy; even its slickest adherents need to be viewed as such.
Aug. 3, 2004 update: For a running account about Alamoudi, started with his arrest on Sept. 29, 2003 and since continuously updated, see my weblog entry, "United States of America vs. Abdurahman Muhammad Alamoudi."
Oct. 15, 2004 update: Alamoudi was sentenced to the maximum 23 years in prison. He will be serving it at U.S. Penitentiary McCreary in McCreary, Kentucky.