The Muslim Student Association's Terror Problem

The end of summer is around the corner, and students are beginning to return to college campuses across the country. That means buying textbooks, rearranging class schedules, Saturday tailgate parties, and a host of academic and extracurricular activities.

One national student group gearing up for the upcoming academic year is the Muslim Student Association (MSA). Founded in 1963 at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and operated as an arm of the Saudi-funded, Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Muslim World League, the MSA is one of the oldest, largest, and most respected Islamic institutions in the country. They have chapters at more than 100 universities and colleges.

But despite its apparent respectability and polished public presentation, the MSA has a dark side.

Since its inception, the MSA has chronically been a vehicle of extremism, hatred, and incitement to violence. Its chapters host a wide variety of extremist speakers and have repeatedly raised funds for Islamic groups that have later been closed by the U.S. government for funding terrorism. For this reason, the MSA was identified in 2004 as one of 27 Islamic charities and groups in the U.S. under investigation by the Senate Finance Committee for terrorist support.

As a result of the long-time institutional extremism, the MSAs have also proved to be a fertile recruiting ground for terrorist organizations, such that a 2007 report on Islamic radicalization published by the New York City Police Department identified the MSA as one of the key “radicalization incubators” for homegrown terrorists (p. 68). This dubious distinction is not without cause.

One of the darkest secrets of the MSA, certainly never advertised by the organization or mentioned in their publications, is a rather lengthy list of top MSA leaders who have been arrested and convicted on a wide array of terrorism charges, ranging from material support of terrorist groups to being actively involved in terrorist plots.

It is important to stress that these are not fringe figures in the MSA organization, but some of its top leaders.

These include an MSA national president who was al-Qaeda’s top financier in the U.S., a chapter president who was one of al-Qaeda’s co-founders, and a former MSA faculty advisor who is currently the terrorist most wanted by the U.S. government. Other MSA leaders have been recently identified in several domestic and international terror plots, and some currently are facing terrorism charges.

The following list is by no means exhaustive:

  • Earlier this month a Boston news outlet reported that Tarek Mehanna -- currently facing indictment on terrorism material support charges with federal prosecutors alleging that Mehanna and his associates were planning domestic terror attacks -- had represented himself as a MSA official in the student publication of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science where he attended. Curiously, the April 2007 issue of the school publication mentioned in the news report has recently been taken offline.

  • Last September, Fox News reported that a top official of the al-Qaeda-linked Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab, previously identified in recruitment videos as “Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki,” was in fact 25-year-old American-born Omar Hammami of Daphne, Alabama. Hammami had served as president of the MSA chapter at the University of South Alabama in 2001 and 2002. Speaking to the campus newspaper as MSA president after the 9/11 attacks, he complained of the troubles of living as a Muslim in America and that it was “difficult to believe that a Muslim could have done this.”

  • In April 2003, the apartment of Arizona State MSA president Hassan Alrefae and vice president Jaber Al-Thukair was raided by the FBI in a search for weapons as part of a larger investigation into possible terrorist training by foreign student members of the MSA. The group had been under surveillance by the FBI, who videotaped them engaged in weapons training, with all but Alrefae doing so in violation of their student visas that prohibit handling firearms. Alrefae is the son of a high-ranking member of the Saudi Royal Navy.

  • Ali Asad Chandia, who was convicted in June 2006 on terror charges as part of the Northern Virginia jihad network, had previously served as president of the Montgomery College (MD) MSA in 1998 and 1999. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for convictions on three separate counts of conspiracy and material support to the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group.

  • Abdurahman Alamoudi, who served as MSA national president in 1982 and 1983, is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence for his extensive international terrorist activities. Once the most prominent Muslim political activist in the country, and counselor to U.S. presidents and cabinet officials, the U.S. government now claims that he was one of al-Qaeda’s top fundraisers. A 2005 U.S. Treasury press release said that Alamoudi’s arrest was “a severe blow to al-Qaeda, as Alamoudi had a close relationship with al-Qaeda and had raised money for al-Qaeda in the United States.”

  • Aafia Siddiqui was convicted this past February of attempted murder of a U.S. Army captain while she was incarcerated and being interrogated by authorities at a prison in Afghanistan. According to news reports, she had been captured in 2008 with explosives, deadly chemicals, and a list of New York City landmarks. Described as “al-Qaeda’s Mata Hari” and “Lady al-Qaeda,” Siddiqui was active in the MSA at MIT, where she studied neuroscience. A 2005 article in Vogue, which speculated that Siddiqi’s radicalization began with her association with the MSA, noted that Siddiqi had authored a guide published by the national MSA organization that encouraged MSA members not to water down Islamic doctrine -- particularly on the topics of jihad and the treatment of women, saying that perseverance was needed until “America becomes a Muslim land.” Siddiqui is scheduled to be sentenced on September 23.