Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Is There a Local Connection to Arab Terrorists?

By - Sep 14th, 2001 08:59 pm

For years, some experts have asserted that the United States is harboring Muslim terrorists, and it appears that even Milwaukee may have connections to this network. Testimony by Sharif Alwan, a Palestinian who once confessed to being a member of the terrorist group Hamas, revealed that he received weapons training at a place just outside Milwaukee. The training included the use of Kalishnikov and M-16 rifles as well as explosives, and included instructions in how to booby trap a car.

Alwan was asked to testify about this before a federal grand jury in Chicago last fall and was eventually found guilty of criminal contempt of court for refusing to cooperate. His earlier confession was obtained by Israeli investigators, which Alwan claimed had been coerced.

Federal prosecutors believed Alwan had ties to Mohammed Salah of Bridgeport, a suburb of Chicago, who is under investigation for funneling money to fund Hamas. Prosecutors suspect Salah of recruiting and training terrorists, and believe he recruited Alwan to join Hamas.

Prosecutors went to court to confiscate $1.4 million of money controlled by Salah that they believe was intended to fund Hamas. “That case is still pending,” says Randall Samborn, a spokesperson for the US Attorney’s office. “The money is still frozen.”

As for the Milwaukee training place for terrorists, have investigators tried to locate it? “I can’t answer that,” Samborn says, emphasizing that he can’t discuss any investigations by his office.

Another Milwaukeean, a businessman named Jamil Salim Suliman Sarsour, was charged two years ago by a court in Israel with transferring $35,000 to the military wing of Hamas. And a Milwaukee resident named Tawfiq Musa was one of four defendants indicted by a federal grand jury in St. Louis in 1993, and accused of racketeering and conspiring to murder Jews.

Does Hamas and other anti-Israel terrorist groups have anything to do with Osama bin Laden, who is presumed to be behind the recent attack on America? For years, security experts had seen bin Laden as separate from these groups, but considerable evidence has arisen showing clear connections.

Israeli security agents have found connections between bin Laden and groups like Hamas, including terrorists who received their training at bin Laden’s bases in Afghanistan. They also believe bin Laden tried to carry out a terrorist attack against Israel. Last June, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told the press that “bin Laden is attempting to penetrate into Israel with the aid of local residents and by attempts to infiltrate his own people into the country.”

Bin Laden has been cultivating ties with groups like Hamas, which also uses suicide bombers, for years. Evidence shows that conspirators in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center made calls to the Islamic Association for Palestine, which is considered the American front office for Hamas.

If there was any doubt that bin Laden is forging a connection with other Arab terrorists, you might consider the history involved in his attack on America. The attack echoes the famed “Black September” operation of 1970, when terrorist members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked four airliners departing to New York from Zurich, Frankfurt and other cities. Two years later, a Palestinian group calling itself “Black September” took hostages at the Munich Olympics and killed 11 Israeli athletes. This action occurred on September 11, the exact date the attack on America occurred.

The Wall Street Journal estimated that militant Islamic movements, including Hamas and bin Laden, have raised tens of millions of dollars – much of it through tax-exempt organizations – in the US. According to one source close to the Milwaukee police department, police here have suspected some local Arab Americans of laundering money that is sent overseas to militant Islamic groups.

Curiously, on the morning of the attack on America, students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee discovered the words “Black September” written on an erasable board in a classroom in Bolton Hall. Campus police detective Art Koch, who responded to their calls, says it was just a coincidence. “It turned out to be real bad timing by a student.”

Koch says he checked the computer records in the room and found that a student had been researching Middle East history on Monday night. Koch says he contacted this student, who was not an Arab American, and the student confirmed that he had written the words “Black September” on the board after reading accounts of it.

As news accounts have suggested, Arab Americans and others have been taunted, shot at and attacked in many cities, in response to anger about the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. There are an estimated six million Muslims in this country, and an infinitesimal percentage of them are likely to be connected to terrorists. In 1998, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) claimed that there are 1,500 to 2.000 “known terrorists” in the US.

His language echoes the “known Communists” line of former Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy, and the current concern over terrorists already has the feel of the old Red Scare, with conservatives charging that we are being soft on terrorists, and liberals arguing that we must not violate people’s civil rights in the rush to protect America.

The evidence suggests that the terrorist network of bin Laden has made inroads in America, and may include the Chicago and even the Milwaukee area. That’s a cause for concern, but is not a license to discriminate against Arab Americans.

Short Takes

By Friday, three days after the attack on America, even the New York Times, whose city was the major victim, was nonetheless back to covering regular news in a second section. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was sticking strictly to the Big Story, and will reportedly continue in that mode for several more days.

And where was Crocker Stephenson, the MJS feature story writer who normally covers the Big Stories. Surprisingly, he hasn’t been sent to New York to cover such a major human-interest story. Meanwhile, Eugene Kane wrote an entire column about his chutzpah in choosing to be one of the first Milwaukeeans to fly to New York. He might have gotten to the story a lot sooner if he simply drove a car there. It only takes twelve hours or so.

In recent months, MJS publisher Keith Spore has complained to a number of people about the newspaper’s declining circulation and classified ad sales and the general decline in the size of the Milwaukee market. The paper may get a short-term boost from this tragedy, as it put out both morning and afternoon dailies for the first time since the merger of the old Journal and Sentinel. Reportedly, a number of newspaper employees were asked to strap on a bag and hit the street to sell newspapers. But we’re doubting that Spore was one of them.

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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