The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in Virginia has approved, on a close 6-4 vote, the extension of a lease for the Islamic Saudi Academy, a Saudi Embassy-owned school described by local law enforcement as a "breeding ground for terrorists."
The academy, located in a 148,000-square-foot former public high school in Alexandria, Va., has graduated several terrorists, including a valedictorian-turned-al-Qaida agent recently sentenced to life in prison for plotting to assassinate President Bush.
The hearing preceding the vote last week was contentious, with some 100 people turning out to protest the school. Ten of them – including Nina Shea of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – testified that teachers and textbooks there promote violence and teach anti-American ideology.
At one point, supervisor Gerald Hyland of Alexandria stormed out of the auditorium, upset by lusty boos from protestors over his support for the school. Another supervisor who supports ISA, Catherine Hudgins, quietly joined Hyland outside. They voted for the lease, along with supervisors Sharon Bulova, Penelope Gross, John Foust and Linda Smyth. Supervisors John Cook, Michael Fry, Patrick Herrity and Jeffrey McKay opposed it.
Supporters argued that the Saudi academy was good for business. The lease is expected to generate $2.6 million in county revenues in the first year, with a 5 percent increase each year after.
Foes, including the anti-terror watchdog group Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force, or VAST, argued that by continuing to lease the school building to the Saudi government the county was "enabling the growth of domestic jihad."
They noted the Saudi school's alumni include Omar Abu Ali, an al-Qaida operative convicted of plotting to assassinate Bush. Ali graduated as valedictorian, and the school proudly published another superlative for him in its yearbook: "Voted Most Likely to be a Martyr," a caption under his photo read.
A couple of other academy graduates were arrested in Israel last decade for plotting terrorism.
What's more, the U.S. government has cited the school for using textbooks promoting hate and violence against Jews and Christians. Dawood Abdulrahman, head of the Islamic Studies Department at the academy, maintains the school recently revised it textbooks to show more tolerance, including removing all references to "jihad."
Abdulrahman also serves as a trustee of the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in neighboring Falls Church, Va. The Saudi-funded mosque has been the subject of numerous terrorism investigations. Some of the 9/11 hijackers received help finding housing while worshipping there in 2001. At the time, the mosque employed imam Anwar Awlaki, now a fugitive al-Qaida cleric. The phone number for the Saudi-funded mosque was found in the address book of one of the senior al-Qaida planners of the 9/11 attacks, who was in Germany at the time.
The hijackers stayed in an Alexandria apartment complex just across a highway from the Saudi academy's campus. It is not clear if they had contact with ISA administration.
The academy's former comptroller, Ismail Elbarasse, was arrested after 9/11 for allegedly casing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland for a possible terrorist attack. Elbarasse is a founding member of Dar al-Hijrah and served as ISA's top accountant for 14 years.
In 2008, ISA Director Abdalla Al-Sabnan was arrested for obstruction of justice related to a child abuse case.
'Jihad' Gerry Connolly
ISA protestors noted that the former chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors – Gerry Connolly – "took Saudi money" while voting to keep the Saudi school open. Connolly, now a U.S. congressman, "received numerous contributions to his congressional campaign as he was shepherding the last lease renewal through the board and attacking opponents," said VAST founder James Lafferty.
Lafferty cited data reported in the book "Muslim Mafia" which show Connolly received thousands of dollars in donations from several Virginia Islamists under federal investigation for financing terrorism. In addition, the book reveals, Connolly received an $18,758 windfall from the Saudi government's U.S. public-relations firm – Qorvis Communications – while fighting to keep open the Saudi academy.
Former Qorvis co-founder and partner Doug Poretz admitted in an e-mail that "I was responsible for our support of Connolly," but denied it had anything to do with the firm's Saudi account.
"I can assure you that when it comes to Qorvis' support of Connolly, it had nothing to do with Saudi Arabia," said Poretz, who held a fundraiser for Connolly in his home. "There is no reason for me to be anything than truthful on this matter."
After 9/11, the FBI investigated Qorvis for distributing Saudi propaganda under a different name.
Qorvis' managing partner Michael Petruzzello personally appeared at a news conference held at ISA to defend its textbooks. Petruzzello personally gave at least $2,300 to Connolly's congressional campaign. Qorvis was on Saudi retainer at the time, yet Petruzzello did not report the contribution or other Qorvis contributions to Connolly in his Foreign Agents Registration Act report to the Justice Department, according to investigative journalist and terrorism analyst Paul Sperry, co-author of "Muslim Mafia," which exposes radical Saudi and Muslim Brotherhood front groups in America.
"Connolly was busy cashing checks and shilling for the Saudis, but we didn't find out about it until after the vote was taken and after he had called the citizen opposition 'bigots,' " Lafferty said, referring to the last vote on the Saudi academy's lease.
Connolly, a Democrat, faces Republican challenger Keith Fimian, a business owner, in the race for Virginia's District 11 on Nov. 2. Fimian has called Connolly a liar, charging that "he will tell you things that are outright lies." Connolly's office declined comment.
"All of the Saudi money buys a lot," Lafferty said, "but it doesn't buy the American people."
He and his group have demanded "full disclosure from every member of the board concerning donations or cash payments they have received from the ISA, Dar al-Hijrah and all other related Muslim Brotherhood front groups."
Lafferty asserts that receiving funds from these groups "results in a conflict of interest" in their ISA vote.
The renewed ISA lease extends the current lease from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012.