- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

To see more clearly the battle lines in the war on terrorism, consider the case of Wadih el Hage. El Hage, 41, emigrated from Lebanon in the late 1970s. He went to college in Louisiana, converted from the Roman Catholic faith to Islam, became a U.S. citizen, married and worked various jobs, most recently as manager of a tire repair shop in Fort Worth, Texas. He lived with his wife and seven children in Arlington, Texas, where he attended its main mosque.

His was, by those signs, a happy story of immigrant success. But it finally ended last month when, in federal district court in Manhattan, el Hage was sentenced to life without parole for conspiring to kill U.S. citizens. el Hage, it turned out, had lived another life: as a member of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's international terrorist network.

Federal investigators began to suspect el Hage's involvement in al Qaeda soon after they opened an investigation of bin Laden in 1996. In 1997, they brought el Hage to New York City and told him what they had learned in his case such as that he had served as bin Laden's personal secretary and asked for his cooperation in the probe. He refused it and then, before a grand jury, stonewalled about his life in al Qaeda.

In early 1998, bin Laden issued his notorious fatwah stating that Muslims should kill Americans, military and civilian alike. On Aug. 7, 1998, al Qaeda operatives bombed the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, killing American civilians. Searches in Nairobi yielded documents bearing el Hage's name and code name ("Norman") as well as those of other al Qaeda members.

Before a second grand jury that fall, el Hage said he wasn't "Norman," again denied any involvement in al Qaeda, and stated he had learned only after the embassy bombings via CNN that bin Laden actually had targeted the United States. The government marked those down as more lies.

El Hage was among those members of al Qaeda, including bin Laden, who were indicted in 1998. This past May, el Hage and three others (all foreign nationals) were convicted. At the sentencing on Oct. 18, el Hage, who had said he worked with bin Laden only in his "legitimate businesses," continued to maintain his complete innocence. He said his religion forbids the "radical, extreme" act of "killing innocent people and noncombatants." He called "extreme" both "what happened in Africa [in 1998] and what happened here [on September 11]." And he said he "did not participate or support any extreme conduct or any act that violates my beliefs as a devout Muslim."

Notably, el Hage didn't condemn by name bin Laden, the author of the calls for such "extreme" a comparatively benign choice of words, no? acts as the murderous embassy bombings. Apparently, they just happened, and he, good Muslim that he is, had nothing to do with them.

El Hage's statement was too much for Peter Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in the case, to let pass without comment. He recalled the choice he had put to el Hage before the Arlington resident appeared before the grand jury in 1997 that he could cooperate with the government's investigation or face the consequences: "He chose to lie. He lied repeatedly. He lied that day. He lied in the grand jury. And he even lied under oath after the bombings in August of 1998." He lied the last time, as the prosecutor saw it, to cover up what he had done and what he had done was to facilitate the embassy bombings. El Hage "betrayed his country."

Mr. Fitzgerald also said el Hage "betrayed his religion." Whether he did is a matter for Muslims not the government to sort out. Yet what his statement at sentencing revealed was a man committed to the radical brand of Islam preached by bin Laden. Which includes this imperative, as stated by el Hage: That "devout Muslims" must "re-implement God's rules" in Islamic countries by force if necessary. El Hage saw it as his duty to "support [his] brothers" abroad in their re-implementing efforts.

It is, of course, not a crime (at least not in this country) to believe such things or anything else. The question, always, is what a person does. The jury believed the government's case that el Hage had facilitated the murder of U.S. citizens.

President Bush insists that we aren't at war with Islam. But certainly there is a version of Islam that is at war with us. The disturbing case of Wadih el Hage shows it is a war that has been waged with help from within, even by a U.S. citizen.

Terry Eastland is publisher of the Weekly Standard.

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