Old terrorists do not die, they just move to Turkey

I welcomed the idea of putting Sami Al-Arian on trial. Let Americans and the world see the lengths that terror’s supporters go in order to murder civilians riding a public bus.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hosts Hamas leaders in Istanbul on Aug. 22, 2020. Source: Twitter.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hosts Hamas leaders in Istanbul on Aug. 22, 2020. Source: Twitter.
Stephen M. Flatow. Credit: Courtesy.
Stephen M. Flatow
Stephen M. Flatow is president of the Religious Zionists of America. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995, and author of A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror. (The RZA is not affiliated with any American or Israeli political party.)

Condemnation of Israel and Jews from terrorists and their supporters is not new, it just comes from different directions. One case in point is Sami Al-Arian, who was deported from the United States following a prison sentence for his guilt as a sponsor of the terrorist organization, Islamic Jihad.

Today, the Kuwaiti-born Al-Arian lives in Turkey, the only country that would accept him after his deportation, where he heads the Istanbul-based Center for Islam and Global Affairs. He’s often interviewed and quoted by Arab news outlets—most recently, about the announcement of the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

To many in the United States, Sami Al-Arian was the victim of a U.S. government conspiring with Israel to punish him for his pro-Palestinian views. To those of us who have suffered the loss of loved ones because of his support—financial and moral—of terror, he is an unrepentant murderer.

America’s attention was first called to Al-Arian in 1994 by Steven Emerson in his documentary, “Jihad in America,” where Al-Arian’s links to Islamic Jihad were outlined. But it was 1995 that would be the terror group’s defining year. It was in that year that Islamic Jihad conducted a series of deadly suicide bomb attacks in Israel, one of the victims being my 20-year-old daughter, Alisa.

Following the October 1995 death of Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Shikaki, an associate of Al-Arian—Ramadan Abdullah Shallah—surfaced in Damascus as new the leader of Islamic Jihad. A month later, Al-Arian’s business records were seized by the FBI in a raid on his home and office at the University of South Florida, where he was working as a computer-science teacher.

Al-Arian used his role at the university to establish two organizations: the Islamic Committee for Palestine (ICP), and the World and Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE). According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, both of these “think tanks” were nothing more than fronts used by Al-Arian to assist terrorists such as Abdullah Shallah to enter the United States.

Like many Americans at the time, the raids on Al-Arian’s home and office surprised me. Although Islamic Jihad had murdered my daughter just a few months earlier, no one in the Israeli or American governments made any assertion at the time that fundraising and moral support was coming from within America.

Despite my own meetings with U.S. Justice Department officials in the Clinton administration urging that something be done, the case against Al-Arian, if there was one, languished.

Al-Arian would continue to have photo ops with prominent politicians, including presidents Clinton and Bush; receive invitations to the White House and meet with Justice Department officials; and go about his business defending his right to free speech—all the time denying any link to Islamic Jihad or terrorism in the Middle East.

Justice Department officials told me that the delays in the prosecution were due to difficulties translating faxes and other documents from Arabic to English, the fact that the Israelis were not providing information, and that they did not have the staff resources to pursue the case. All the while, President Clinton was trying to breathe life into a moribund Middle East peace process. I wondered, could the delay be attributable to a calculation that a prosecution of Al-Arian would embarrass the Palestinian leadership? I do not know.

What I do know is that in the summer of 2001, there was a new administration in the White House and a new attorney general at the Justice Department. In July, my attorney and I met with the FBI and Justice Department team working on the links between Al-Arian and Islamic Jihad in this country. The goal, I was told, was to bring Al-Arian to trial.

Many have subsequently ascribed the indictment of Al-Arian in February 2003 as a test of the Patriot Act. But the time line is clear to me that and the Justice Department was on his trail long before the law came into existence, and while the Patriot Act might have made the gathering of information against Al-Arian easier, it was not the impetus or the reason for his indictment. The fact of the matter remains that Al-Arian was accused of working for Islamic Jihad, which had killed Americans, and the crime could be addressed here.

I welcomed the idea of putting Al-Arian on trial. Let Americans and the world see the lengths that terror’s supporters go in order to murder civilians riding a public bus. But the trial turned out to be a disaster.

Experts arguing over the interpretations of Arabic words used in intercepted fax transmissions to Al-Arian from Islamic jihad headquarters in Gaza and Damascus asking for money and announcing terror attacks confused the jury. The jury acquitted Al-Arian on most charges and deadlocked on several others.

He eventually entered a guilty plea to supporting terrorism, and after serving a short prison sentence, he was to be deported from the United States. Denied access to Egypt, which has its own problems dealing with terror organizations, Turkey welcomed him and provided him with a platform to lambaste anything positive coming out of the Middle East when it involves Israel.

News of the breakthrough quickly brought Al-Arian’s condemnation. According to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency, Al-Arian says the move to normalization “grants Israel the keys to Al-Aqsa [mosque] and Jerusalem,” and “[T]his is betrayal, not only of the trust that has been given to the Muslim world over 1,400 years ago, but also of the Palestinian cause and people.”

“Despite the deal, the Palestinian people will remain defiant and vigilant against such attempts” and “will never give up their secret (sic) right, not only in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa, but across Palestine,” said Al-Arian.

Always eager to burn his bridges, he now claims that the “United Arab Emirates has been involved in every aspect of evil doing across the region” and calls for “another wave of an Arab Spring movement in which the people will have their final say.”

There’s nothing like a call for revolution to make friends and influence people. But Al-Arian is never interested in building bridges, just destroying them. And his Turkish hosts give him the forum to do so.

Stephen M. Flatow is a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, an attorney in New Jersey and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. His book, “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror,” is now available on Kindle.  He divides his time between Jerusalem and New Jersey.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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