WASHINGTON – A former Democratic congressman years ago
hampered FBI efforts to investigate terrorist suspects
in Detroit, which is now a hotbed for al-Qaida
sympathizers and cells, former FBI officials say.
Former Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., led a campaign on
Capitol Hill to pressure the FBI to back off an
intelligence-gathering operation in Detroit aimed at
deterring terrorism during the last Gulf war.
Former Rep. David Bonior and Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., in Baghdad
Under the short-lived counter-terrorism program,
started by then-Assistant FBI Director William Baker
in 1990, FBI agents tried to cultivate Arab sources
and informants who could lead them to terrorists and
help them foil their plots. They questioned
Arab-American leaders in Detroit and other cities
about their political views, asked if they knew any
terrorists, and advised them to contact FBI field
offices if they learned of planned acts of terror.
But Bonior, whose old district is in Detroit, which
has the nation’s largest Arab-American population,
heard about the interviews and cried racism. He and
other Detroit-area Democrats, including John Conyers
and John Dingell, threatened to hold hearings unless
the FBI stopped the counterterrorism interviews. Baker
met with them privately to explain the
national-security benefits of the program, but could
not allay their concerns.
“After a few weeks and many interviews, we backed
off,” said former FBI special agent Robert M. Blitzer
in an exclusive WorldNetDaily interview.
“There were a few members on the Hill that were
outraged that we would ask for help from the
Arab-American community,” added Blitzer, who was
assistant section chief of the FBI’s Counterterrorism
and Middle East Section from 1991 to 1995. “And if my
memory is correct, this outrage was mainly from
members who had Arab-American voters in their
FBI counterintelligence veteran I.C. Smith singled out
Bonior for rebuke, but complained that the
“politically correct” FBI caved easily to his demands.
William Sessions was bureau director then.
“His Detroit area was much involved” in the FBI’s Arab
outreach program, Smith said in a recent phone
interview. “He led a hue and cry on the Hill about the
good and decent Arab citizens being singled out, and
the FBI pulled in its horns and dropped the program
instead of explaining why they were doing it.”
Attempts to reach Bonior, now a professor at Wayne
State University in Detroit, were unsuccessful.
It was recently revealed that the longtime congressman
took $3,200 in campaign donations from alleged
terrorist co-conspirator Sami al-Arian, who was
arrested last month in Florida. Of lawmakers who
received money from al-Arian, Bonior got the most. And
he hired al-Arian’s eldest son, Abdullah, as an intern
in his Washington office.
What’s more, Bonior in 1998 lobbied to have al-Arian’s
brother-in-law, Mazen al-Najjar, released from jail.
He was later deported for visa violations and alleged
terrorist ties. Al-Najjar
attended North Carolina A&T State University’s
engineering school at the same time as Khalid Shaikh
Mohammed, the al-Qaida lieutenant and Sept. 11
mastermind who was arrested earlier this month in
Bonior also has been cozy with Arab-American groups
accused of sympathizing with terrorist groups. The
American Muslim Council in 1999 gave Bonior a special
service award. The plaque read: “In appreciation for
distinguished political activism on behalf of the
AMC board member Abdurahman Alamoudi, who has declared
support for Hamas and Hezbollah, gave $1,000 to
Bonior’s 2000 House campaign, records show.
At the Islamic Society of North America’s 2001
convention, held just weeks before the Sept. 11
attacks, Bonior reportedly “urged Muslim Americans to
organize at the grass-roots level, noting that in terms
of political contributions, Muslims are outspent by
Jewish Americans by only about $2 million,” according
to ISNA member Mahjabeen Islam, who heard Bonior speak
at the convention in Rosemont, Ill.
“I look forward to the day in the not-to-distant
future when I will serve alongside Muslim-Americans in
the U.S. House,” Bonior said in a 1998 speech at the
American Muslim Alliance in Hempstead, N.Y.
Bonior, who supports a Palestinian state, has also
worked closely with the Council on American-Islamic
Relations to secure
airport-security jobs for Middle Eastern nationals,
and at the same time has joined CAIR in fighting
federal attempts to profile Arab passengers at U.S.
“I am working with members of the Muslim community and
government officials to end discriminatory profiling
at airports,” Bonior told Muslims gathered at the
American Muslim Alliance convention in 1998. “This is
“I have been in close contact with the Federal
Aviation Administration about this policy,” he added,
“and met last month with FAA Administrator Jane Garvey
and leaders of the Arab-American community in
It was in Detroit that FBI agents last summer indicted
five al-Qaida-tied suspects – Karim Koubriti, Ahmed
Hannan, Youssef Hmimssa, Farouk Ali-Haimoud and a man
only known by the first name Abdella. In a raid of
their Detroit apartment after the Sept. 11 attacks,
agents found a videotape that appeared to case U.S.
landmarks such as Disneyland in Los Angeles and the
MGM Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The men also
checked Detroit’s airport for gaps in security.
Thanks to leads from the raid on Mohammed’s safehouse
in Pakistan, the FBI is zeroing in on other al-Qaida
sleeper cells in Detroit, authorities say.
Blitzer says that he didn’t expect last decade’s
interviews to produce many good leads even if they
were allowed to continue, because agents got only
mixed results from the interviews they managed to
conduct. He said few Arab-Americans cooperated, and
some were “very negative and hostile.”
“The Arab-American community was penetrated with many
supporters of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad (and other
terrorist groups), and were contributing large sums of
money to these groups thinking they were helping the
widows and orphans of ‘freedom fighters,’ who they did
not view as terrorists then or now,” Blitzer added.
But he says recent FBI interviews in Detroit and other
Muslim-dominated communities have produced solid
“Since Sept. 11, I understand many in the
Arab-American community have been helping the bureau,”