The Magazine

Hamas's Rock Star

By day he was an engineer working for the city of Dallas. On weekends he entertained at fundraisers for a terrorist group.

Feb 13, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 21 • By TODD BENSMAN
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JUST DAYS after his party's upset landslide in the Palestinian elections, Hamas's supreme political leader, Khaled Meshal, was thrust into an unfamiliar spotlight, on the front page of the New York Times and in the looping reels of cable news shows. The whole world seems these days to hang on every defiant word Khaled utters from his hideout in Damascus, where he's been ducking Israeli assassins the last several years.

Khaled's newfound top billing is all the more striking since his name recognition had long been confined to the smallish geography of the Arab-Israeli conflict and an even smaller circle of Western intelligence experts. Now, the reviled terrorist leader, outlawed by the Americans and hunted by the Israelis, has pulled up a seat at the international table.

If, by the end of last week, Americans were unsure how exactly to react to the Hamas leader, there's been no such ambivalence about Khaled's kid brother, who lives in President George W. Bush's home state of Texas. The feds have corraled Khaled's half-brother Mufid in Dallas, in what is currently the administration's signature domestic terrorism case. He is expected to go on trial later this year.

It was a big surprise in Dallas when Mufid Abdulqader, a publicly mild-mannered civil engineer employed by the city, was named on July 26, 2004, with six other men, in a 42-count indictment of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. The feds say the Holy Land Foundation was a bogus North Texas Muslim "charity" that had actually served since 1989 as Hamas's largest clandestine source of funding in the United States--collecting "over $57 million" in donations between 1992 and 2001. So important did the administration consider the Holy Land Foundation's role in the financial infrastructure of international terror that President Bush himself announced its closing in a December 2001 Rose Garden event.

But there were bigger surprises about Mufid, beyond the striking fact that his older brother served as the supreme political leader of Hamas. Since coming to America in 1980 and gaining citizenship, he has lived a double life that at once defines the differences between the brothers and underscores a chilling ideological sameness--mainly their shared fondness for the idea of murdering Jews.

While the government says Khaled is a stone-cold deployer of suicide bombers, Mufid was a singer in a troupe that toured the country. It wasn't exactly feel-good music in the conventional sense. Mufid's Al Sakhra ("The Rock") band crooned a gospel of death and hatred toward the Jews at Hamas fundraisers, while the collection plates moved through wildly enthusiastic Arab-American audiences.

The stern Khaled Meshal may have been known for his angry praise of martyrs who'd blown themselves up amid Israeli civilians. But Mufid the engineer could liven up a roomful of fellow technocrats with backslapping, disarming goofiness. Thickening a bit at the age of 46, Mufid wore his graying black beard heavy on his cheeks, as is customary for many pious Middle Eastern men. The full head of bristly black hair and limber eyebrows, which he often flexed sharply upward for comic effect, made him come off as a big, smiling teddy bear of a man to his former city colleagues. Mufid was a toastmaster, and he loved the spotlight, relishing any excuse to get up in front of a crowd.

A Palestinian who grew up in Kuwait and a proud father of three U.S.-born daughters, he never turned down an invitation to lecture high school students about the struggles he endured as an immigrant searching for a better life in America. But if he masked his secret life while at City Hall by day, the Arabic lyrics he sang at weekend Hamas fundraising gigs across the country, from New Jersey to California, left no doubt about his true feelings.

With all the fist-shaking angst of a rock star, Mufid would urge violent holy war and glorify the martyrdom of suicide bombers. Sources close to the upcoming trial say the FBI will likely play video of Mufid's Al Sakhra performances for the jurors. The federal government, in its July 2004 indictment, made only brief reference to his show-business side, noting that Mufid "performed skits and songs which advocated the destruction of the State of Israel and glorified the killing of Jewish people."

"Our people in Al Aqsa are out to revenge, to destroy the enemy; our revolution is spread throughout the land!" Mufid cheerfully sang in one number. "With Koran and Jihad, we will gain our homes back, hey, hey, hey! My precious eyes are for Palestine, the agony of death is precious, killing Jews . . . Death to Jews, is precious. Jews will not fear threats, only action. So Hamas, hit them with the shoe bottoms of Islam and Hamas!"