An Islamic school has removed alleged terrorist co-conspirator Sami Amin al-Arian from its board of trustees, the Florida school’s principal told WorldNetDaily.
But his instrumental role at the Tampa school raises disturbing questions about the use of mosques and schools in America by terrorist sympathizers as fronts or bases of operation for terrorist groups and their activities, experts say.
Sami Amin al-Arian in photo featured on the Islamic Academy of Florida website.
The Islamic Academy of Florida, which al-Arian founded, also removed Sameeh Hammoudeh from its board. He was named Thursday along with al-Arian, a college professor, and several others in a federal indictment charging the men conspired to aid Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel.
“We have already replaced them,” said IAF Principal Abdul Majid Biuk, who maintained that the two are no longer affiliated in any way with the academy, which was named in the indictment as a “base of support” for Hamas fund-raising and other terrorist-related activities.
He would not release the names of the new board members, however.
“I cannot give you this information,” Biuk said. “We will issue this information to our parents. That’s all we need to do.”
IAF’s website lists al-Arian as its “founder and senior adviser,” as well as a voting member of its board. It also lists him as chairman of the K-12 school’s Budget and Financial Affairs Committee and chairman of its Facilities, Maintenance, Safety and Transportation Committee. Hammoudeh headed IAF’s Personnel Committee, according to the website.
Al-Arian, who was born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, also was the academy’s principal at one time, and maintained an office there. He founded the school more than 10 years ago as part of the Al-Qassam Mosque in Tampa, which was named after a mosque in the Gaza Strip.
Al-Arian’s brother-in-law, Mazen al-Najjar, a Palestinian refugee, previously served as the school’s principal, until the INS arrested and deported him for visa violations and alleged terrorist ties. Al-Arian is a permanent resident, but not a U.S. citizen. His wife, Nahla, was born in Saudi Arabia to Palestinian parents.
Last week’s federal indictment says al-Arian was the school’s “director” through at least June 2002. It also says Hammoudeh was employed by IAF as its “treasurer.”
What’s more, the indictment cites tax-exempt IAF as part of the defendants’ criminal “enterprise,” noting that both men solicited donors for the school through various fund-raisers, and then funneled some of the donations to organizations tied to Middle East terrorism. Specifically, the indictment charges IAF offices were used as a “base of support” and fund-raising for terrorist-related activities.
Federal investigators questioned many of the 400 or so members of the mosque and the school’s administrators, donors and parents. IAF recently installed security surveillance cameras on its six-acre campus, located along a dead-end street near the University of South Florida, where al-Arian taught engineering. Neighbors reportedly also were interviewed.
“I live next to the mosque and school founded and run by al-Arian and have waited a long time to see something happen at both,” a neighbor said. “I could tell there was evil amok.”
Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, says the school’s role in alleged terrorist activities raises larger questions about Islamic education in America.
Based on a prominent Muslim leader’s recent estimate that some 80 percent of American mosques are dominated by radicals, logic suggests that the majority of Islamic schools also are run by such radicals, Pipes says.
“I think one can extend that to Islamic community centers and schools,” he said in a WorldNetDaily interview. “From what I can tell, the majority of them are founded by people like al-Arian.”
“Most of them, presumably, are not actively engaged in planning and funding terrorism,” he said. “But they have great sympathy for that general point of view.”
Pipes added: “This is a problem that has not surfaced until now, but one that we should be focusing on.”
If extremists are running most Islamic schools, what are they teaching students? More than likely to hate Israel, America and any other society that is not governed by Koranic law, says Pipes, a Ph.D. Harvard historian.
In a 1988 speech in Cleveland, al-Arian declared “Death to Israel!” And in a 1991 speech at the end of the Gulf war, he pronounced, “Let us damn America, let us damn Israel, let us damn them and their allies to death.”
IAF’s website gives no evidence of such vitriol. It says it teaches young Muslims to “function constructively in the American society.” And a recent newsletter to parents highlights student field trips to American historic sites.
However, disparaging references to Israel and Jews have turned up in textbooks used by schoolmasters at Saudi-run schools in the U.S. Such references are supported by passages in the Koran. It’s not clear what textbooks IAF uses. Biuk, the school’s principal, would not comment.
“I have nothing more to say to you,” he said.
But IAF’s website lists among the school’s goals and objectives to “shape morals and motives based on Islam.” It also stresses “raising children with [the] Quran as their Guidance.”
Under “Islamic Philosophy,” it encourages parents to educate their children in the Islamic school, because devout children will raise “your levels in paradise higher and higher,” a reference to the apparent caste system in the Quranic version of heaven.
“It will also increase the odds that they will join them in paradise when they also die, the section adds: “Some parents who would be residing in paradise, with of course the mercy of Allah, would wish very eagerly that their children be there with them too.”
The website says “Allah will please these parents by making their children join the family,” at which point it cites a Quranic passage (52:21). “To benefit from this open invitation and eternal promise of Allah, Islamic education becomes a must, and Islamic schools a necessity.”
The Islamic studies curriculum at IAF includes: “Qur’anic Studies, Aqeedah, Fiqh, Seerah, Hadith, Islamic Civilization and the Arabic language.”
Students who violate the school’s disciplinary code are made to copy page after page of text from the Quran.
Pipes says IAF and other Islamic schools in America could be operating much like the madrassas of Karachi, Pakistan, which are known to be hatcheries for future terrorists. The madrassas require boys to memorize the many violent passages of the Quran, particularly ones related to martyrdom and “fighting the unbelievers in the cause of Allah.” The unbelievers include Jews and Christians.
“They certainly could be,” he said. “There are many of us who are worried about this.”