Wahhabis in the Old Dominion
What the federal raids in Northern Virginia uncovered.
Apr 8, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 29 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT has kicked over quite an anthill in Northern Virginia. A U.S. Treasury task force, Operation Green Quest, has been investigating the funding of Islamic terror. Raids on March 20 struck an extraordinary array of financial, charitable, and ostensibly religious entities identified with Muslim and Arab concerns in this country, most of them headquartered in Northern Virginia.
Reaction to the raids suggests the Feds inflicted serious injury on the Wahhabi lobby, the Saudi-backed extremist network that largely controls Islam in America. Officials of the targeted groups as well as their non-Muslim apologists--notably GOP operative Grover Norquist, the chief enabler of Islamic extremists seeking access to the White House--have condemned the raids as civil rights violations.
The convoluted system of interlocking directorates, global banking transactions, and ideological activities exposed in Northern Virginia will take time to sort out. Operation Green Quest has drawn attention to a previously overlooked aspect of support for extremism in this country: The principal threat comes not from the thousands of working-class Arab immigrants in places like New Jersey and Michigan who contribute modest sums to the so-called Islamic charities, but from the Arab elite.
The Saudis stand behind all of it. The kingdom pledged $400 million last year for the support of "martyrs' families," according to the Saudi Embassy website. At $5,300 per "martyr," that works out to about 75,000 martyrs, suggesting the Saudi princes anticipate a lot more suicide bombings than Israel has yet suffered. The Saudis offered a fraudulent "peace" plan this year intended to divert attention from their involvement in the horrors of September 11.
The keystone of the Saudi-sponsored Northern Virginia network is the Saar Foundation, created by Suleiman Abdul Al-Aziz al-Rajhi, a scion of one of the richest Saudi families. The Saar Foundation is connected to Al-Taqwa, a shell company formerly based in Switzerland, where its leading figures included a notorious neo-Nazi and Islamist, Ahmed Huber. Subsequently moved to the United States, Al-Taqwa was shut down after September 11 and its assets frozen by U.S. presidential order. But operations continued, as the Wahhabi lobby shifted to its backup institutions here.
Saar has also been linked to Khalid bin Mahfouz, former lead financial adviser to the Saudi royal family and ex-head of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia. Mahfouz has been named by French intelligence as a backer of Osama bin Laden; Mahfouz endowed the Muwafaq Foundation, which U.S. authorities confirm was an arm of bin Laden's terror organization. Muwafaq's former chief, Yassin al-Qadi, oversaw the financial penetration of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania by Wahhabi terrorists in the late 1990s.
Men like al-Rajhi, Mahfouz, and al-Qadi are the big players in the financing of Islamic extremism. And their paths repeatedly lead back to Northern Virginia. They don't play for small stakes: Saar received $1.7 billion in donations in 1998, although this was left out of the foundation's tax filings until 2000. No explanation has been offered for this bit of accounting sorcery.
A major personality on the ground in Virginia is an individual named Jamal Barzinji, whose office in Herndon was a major target of the raids. In 1980, he was listed in local public records as a representative of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), an arm of the Saudi regime with offices in Virginia. WAMY has been deeply involved in providing cover for Wahhabi terrorism. The 2002 entry in the U.S. Business Directory lists the president of the WAMY office in Annandale, Va., as Abdula bin Laden--the terrorist's younger brother.
Barzinji serves as a trustee and officer of the Amana Mutual Funds Trust, a growth and income mutual fund headquartered in Bellingham, Wash., conveniently near the Canadian border. Amana's board also includes Yaqub Mirza, a Pakistani physicist who shares Barzinji's Herndon office address and who is widely described as a financial genius. Another board member and tenant in the Herndon office is Samir Salah. He formerly ran a branch of Al-Taqwa in the Caribbean, heads a financial firm linked to Saar, and directs Dar al-Hijra, a mosque in Falls Church, Va., notable for hardline Wahhabi preaching. Salah is also deeply involved with Taibah International Aid Association, a Virginia charity with a Bosnian branch that is being investigated by authorities in Sarajevo.
Front groups interfacing between the Wahhabi-Saudi money movers under federal suspicion and the broader American public include two institutions active in the religious field: the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) and the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS). The involvement of GSISS with the financing of extremism is especially startling in that it alone is credentialed by the Department of Defense to certify Muslim chaplains for the U.S. armed forces. Barzinji has appeared on the boards of both.
The day of the raids, Barzinji appeared on U.S. television news insisting he knew of no questionable behavior by the groups under scrutiny, and promising full cooperation with the authorities. But in a familiar pattern of duplicity, he expressed himself quite differently in the Islamic media. Barzinji told the Internet news service Islam Online (www.islam-online.net) he believed the investigations fulfilled the will not of the Bush administration, but of "elements within the government, media, and [academia] who were unhappy with the positive attention being given to Muslims." This tortured formulation, repeated in several variations, embodies the Islamist fantasy that every doubt cast on the activities of the Wahhabi lobby is the product of Jewish influence.
Speaking to Islam Online, Barzinji spelled out his anxieties. He alleged that the real powers behind the raids were "self-styled Middle East 'experts,'" individuals "who do not want to see Muslims develop such excellent relations with the government, assuming political rights." This line simply dumbs down one peddled by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which condemns any challenge to the Wahhabi lobby as a product of "right-wing commentators."
Barzinji, CAIR, and their cohort give the impression of living in their own conspiratorial world, divorced from reality. For them to imagine that the aftermath of September 11 has been anything but disastrous for the image and credibility of American Muslims is absurd. The presumption that anybody outside government dictates policy to the Treasury, however, is only the classic supposition about alleged Israeli influence that infests the Arab mind.
Perhaps it's to be expected that the Wahhabi lobby would react to a federal investigation with its usual combination of pseudopatriotic protest, claims of innocence, and paranoia. But perhaps the White House might suggest to friends like Norquist that they should stop trying to protect enablers of terrorism.
Otherwise, more and more people will wonder whether the administration really understands the problems afflicting Islam in the United States, and whether it really is united in resisting the influence of the extremists.
Stephen Schwartz's new book, "The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud From Tradition to Terror," is forthcoming.