Tuesday, September 30, 2003

A leading Muslim activist arrested for reportedly violating U.S. sanctions against Libya once helped select and train Islamic military chaplains as part of a Pentagon-approved process being investigated by the Defense Department and Congress.

Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi, founder of the American Muslim Council and the American Muslim Foundation, was involved with the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council and the Islamic Society of North America, two groups that selected and trained Muslim clerics for the U.S. military, authorities said.

One of those clerics was Army Capt. James J. Yee, a Muslim chaplain who counseled al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Accused of espionage, Capt. Yee was arrested Sept. 10. He is being held at a naval brig in Charleston, S.C.

Last week, the Defense Department ordered a review of how it recruits chaplains, particularly Muslim clerics endorsed by U.S. groups with reported ties to radical Islam. The Islamic Society of North America and the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council are the only such groups recognized by the Pentagon.

The Pentagon’s selection process also will be the focus of an investigation by the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security, whose chairman, Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, wants to know who allowed the two groups to become the determining bodies for chaplains.

“It is remarkable that people who have known connections to terrorism are the only people to approve these chaplains,” Mr. Kyl said.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said an investigation would allow the Senate to determine whether the groups responsible for choosing and training Muslim chaplains are affiliated with radical Islamic organizations. He recently told reporters the U.S. military had given extremists “a monopoly on who becomes an imam in the military.”

Most of the Muslim chaplains endorsed by the two groups were trained at the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg, Va. Last year, federal agents raided the school. No charges were filed.

The Washington Times was first to report on Capt. Yee’s arrest, noting that the 1990 West Point graduate was detained by federal agents as he arrived in Jacksonville, Fla., on a military flight from Guantanamo.

Mr. al-Amoudi, 51, of Falls Church, was named in a criminal complaint unsealed Sunday accusing him of visiting Libya in violation of government-ordered sanctions and of illegally accepting $10,700 from the Libyan Mission to the United Nations.

The sanctions were imposed after Libya was held responsible for terrorist attacks in 1986 in Italy and Austria, and for its role in the 1988 bombing of an airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.

The complaint said Mr. al-Amoudi, a native of Ethiopia who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1996, failed to disclose to U.S. authorities at least 10 trips to Libya. He was arrested Sunday at Washington Dulles International Airport by Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and the FBI after his arrival on a British Airways flight from London.

Law enforcement authorities noted the arrest came just weeks after Mr. al-Amoudi sought to smuggle $340,000 from London to Syria, the cash wrapped in 34 bundles of $100 bills. The money was discovered Aug. 16 by British customs agents, who said Mr. al-Amoudi told them he received the cash from “someone who spoke Arabic with a Libyan accent” at a London hotel.

According to an affidavit by ICE Agent Brett Gentrup, Mr. al-Amoudi told British authorities he hoped to use the money for the American Muslim Foundation, and he intended to deposit the cash at banks in Saudi Arabia “from which he would feed it back in smaller sums into accounts in the United States.”

The cash is of interest to federal authorities, who have targeted several Islamic-based charities and other businesses and organizations in Virginia over the past two years in a wide-ranging investigation into the financing of international terrorist groups.

The affidavit said Mr. al-Amoudi told U.S. authorities he visited England and Saudi Arabia on a U.S. passport, but he did not tell them he had also traveled to Libya. It said Customs and Border Protection agents found Mr. al-Amoudi held a second passport issued in Yemen, which contained an entry stamp for Libya dated Sept. 19.

According to the affidavit, the Yemeni passport also showed Mr. al-Amoudi visited Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Egypt.

Mr. al-Amoudi, a prominent Muslim spokesman who is often sought for political and religious discussions, also served as executive assistant to the SAAR Foundation, an organization created by Suleiman Abdul Al-Aziz al-Rajhi, a member of one of Saudi Arabia’s richest families.

In 1995, a federal task force identified 80 U.S.-based charities suspected of diverting cash to Islamic terrorists overseas, including a network of Virginia-based charities controlled by the SAAR Foundation.

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