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The Muslim Student Association’s Terror Problem

Why do top MSA leaders keep joining terror groups and involving themselves in terror plots?

by
Patrick Poole

Bio

August 20, 2010 - 12:00 am
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  • Former University of Arizona MSA president Wael Hamza Julaidan, who attended the university in the mid-1980s, has the distinction of being one of al-Qaeda’s co-founders and its logistics chief. He also served as the president of the Islamic Center of Tucson in 1983 and 1984. He was listed as a specially designated global terrorist by the U.S. government in September 2002, saying that he is a close associate of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders, and served as director of the Rabita Trust, which had already been designated a terrorist finance entity for its logistical and financial support of al-Qaeda.
  • Reporter Paul Barrett detailed the arrest of University of Idaho MSA president Sami Omar Al-Hussayen in a May 2003 Wall Street Journal article. Federal authorities accused him of using his academic studies as a cover for terrorist support activities. Hussayen operated nearly a dozen Arabic language websites for clerics that thundered anti-American themes and encouraged suicide bombings. One website opened by Hussayen a year to the day before the 9/11 attacks carried an article encouraging the use of an airplane to attack Western targets. At the university, he had also covertly relocated his campus office without his advisor’s approval from the computer science department to the engineering lab that handled radioactive materials. Despite being acquitted on terrorism charges, and a mistrial on others for immigration violations, he was deported back to Saudi Arabia in June 2004 after a deal with federal prosecutors.
  • Just last December, Howard University dental student Ramy Zamzam and four other D.C.-area men were arrested in Pakistan and charged with plotting to join the Jaish-e-Muhammed terrorist group with plans to attack U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. The five were active in the MSA, but Zamzam served as the president of the MSA’s D.C. Council. They were convicted in a Pakistani court in June and each will serve at least 10 years in prison there. Authorities were notified they were missing by their parents after a disturbing farewell video was discovered after their disappearance.
  • Syed Maaz Shah was arrested on his way to final exams at the University of Texas-Dallas in December 2006, for his involvement with three other students from Houston who were conducting paramilitary training at an Islamic campground and intended to join the Taliban to fight U.S. troops. Following his arrest, the school newspaper identified Shah as secretary of the UTD MSA and a student government senator, despite being in the country on an expired student visa. An investigation by the Dallas CBS affiliate found that Shah had posted comments on the UTD MSA’s website praising insurgents killing troops in Iraq and posting links to terrorist videos. When questioned by the reporter, MSA president Ahmed Subhani refused to answer questions on camera on advice from Shah’s attorney, but the MSA’s entire online forum was pulled down immediately afterward. Shah was convicted on weapons charges in May 2007.
  • Al-Qaeda’s chief procurement agent in the U.S. during the 1990s, Ziyad Khaleel, was also the president of the Columbia College (MO) MSA. A computer science student, he also registered and operated the English-language website for the Hamas terrorist organization. Khaleel, who also regularly lectured at the University of Missouri MSA as a representative of the Islamic Association for Palestine (a Hamas front), was tasked by a top al-Qaeda operative in 1996 to purchase a $7,500 satellite phone for Osama bin Laden. Over the next two years he purchased a spare battery for the phone and at least 2000 airtime minutes. The phone, dubbed by intelligence authorities as the “jihad phone,” was used to plan the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings.
  • In the early morning hours of March 23, 2003, in Kuwait, as U.S. forces prepared to invade Iraq, US Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar of the 101st Airborne launched a fratricidal attack on his fellow troops, killing an Army captain and an Air Force major with gunfire and fragmentary grenades. Prior to entering the Army, Akbar had obtained aeronautical and mechanical engineering degrees at the University of California-Davis. As reported a few weeks later, during his seven years of study, Akbar spent considerable time at the Davis Islamic Center, the headquarters of the UC-Davis MSA. Akbar was found guilty of murder in a court martial in April 2005, and is awaiting execution.
  • For U.S. authorities, the most wanted terrorist is al-Qaeda cleric Anwar Al-Aulaqi, who reportedly played a roll in the Ft. Hood massacre, the failed Christmas Day underwear bomber plot, and the recent attempted Times Square bombing. Before fleeing the U.S. for Yemen in 2002, Aulaqi served as the chaplain for the George Washington University MSA. He was elected to that position by the group’s membership. But no sooner had Aulaqi’s ties to three of the 9/11 hijackers been revealed then the GWU MSA began to distance itself from the terror cleric, claiming he had attended only one group meeting and played no active role despite being the organization’s spiritual leader.

It would certainly be grossly unfair to tar the tens of thousands of MSA members across the country as terrorist supporters or would-be terrorists solely for their participation in the organization and the actions of these MSA leaders. Despite the historic extremism of the group’s national leadership, some chapters have been outspoken in their demand for a moderate, non-violent form of Islam. But even some MSA members have complained of the authoritarian structure, manipulation of elections, and religious extremism that permeate many MSA chapters.

But what is clear is that the MSA has a serious problem, despite any protestations of moderation to the contrary. The group’s designation by counterterrorism authorities as a “radicalization incubator” is apt as witnessed by this shocking list of a baker’s dozen of top MSA leaders involved in all manner of terror plots and activity. Again, these aren’t marginal figures, but the MSA’s cream of the crop leadership on the local, regional, and national level stretching back more than a quarter-century. Considering such a horrible historical track record, as students return for a new school year perhaps other terrorist plots are stewing in the MSA terror incubator.

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Patrick Poole is a national security and terrorism correspondent for PJMedia. Follow me on Twitter.
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