Saturday, August 7, 2004

Last Friday, Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi, once a powerful political player in the Washington-area Muslim community, pleaded guilty in federal court to illegal financial transactions with Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s regime and admitted his participation in a Libyan conspiracy to assassinate Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. Al-Amoudi faces up to 23 years in prison and $750,000 in fines when he is sentenced Oct. 15.

In exchange for his guilty plea, federal prosecutors dropped 31 other counts against al-Amoudi, a native of Eritrea who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1996. As part of the plea deal, al-Amoudi, described by U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty as “a major player in the financial support of terrorism,” has agreed to cooperate with with authorities in other investigations.

For al-Amoudi, a man once instrumental in gaining White House and congressional access for Muslims, the fall from grace has been stunningly rapid. Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes observes that al-Amoudi had lectured abroad on behalf of the State Department and founded an organization to provide Muslim chaplains for the Defense Department. Just two years ago, a spokesman for FBI chief Robert Mueller described an organization founded and previously headed by al-Amoudi, the American Muslim Council (AMC), as “the most mainstream Muslim group in the United States.” In a speech to the AMC, Mr. Mueller heaped praise on that organization while glossing over evidence of its public support for organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

A politician who should be somewhat embarrassed by his own efforts to impugn the integrity of one of Mr. Al-Amoudi’s most thoughtful critics is Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat. On Oct. 14 (roughly two months after al-Amoudi was arrested at Heathrow Airport in London carrying $340,000 that was apparently given to him by Libyan agents), the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism held a hearing on efforts by radical Islamist groups to infiltrate the chaplaincy of U.S. prisons and the military. The panel, chaired by Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, heard testimony from veteran journalist J. Michael Waller, a senior editor for Insight magazine and a professor at the Institute of World Politics. During the very period when al-Amoudi and his organization were involved in the military chaplain program, Mr. Waller said, al-Amoudi “was a senior figure in Northern Virginia-based entities that were either raided or shut down for alleged terrorist financing; he openly spoke out in support of Hamas and Hezbollah; he campaigned for the release of a Hamas leader; and he attempted to secure the release of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader convicted for his role in plotting to bring down civilian airliners and bomb bridges, tunnels and skyscrapers in New York City.”

When Mr. Waller criticized the FBI for depicting the AMC, headed by al-Amoudi for years, as mainstream, Mr. Durbin falsely suggested that he was attempting to impugn Mr. Mueller’s patriotism. Mr. Durbin repeatedly interrupted Mr. Waller as he attempted to complete his testimony and denounced carefully documented Insight stories about al-Amoudi as going “over that line.” But contrary to Mr. Durbin’s assertions, Mr. Waller had not gone over any line. Instead, he carefully made the case that al-Amoudi was up to no good —a point confirmed by his guilty plea.

In a statement of facts presented to the court, al-Amoudi said he contacted Saudi dissidents in London on behalf of Libyan officials who wanted them to kill Prince Abdullah. In addition, he admitted to filing false tax returns and unlawful procurement of citizenship. Contrary to the protestations of his defenders, al-Amoudi was never a victim of anti-Muslim bias. He is a criminal who trafficked in violence and terror.

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