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|03-31-2003, 06:30 PM||#1|
Join Date: Jun 09, 2002
Uncle Sam's Jihadists
What's the U.S. military doing about radical Muslim soldiers? Not
By Deanne Stillman
Posted Thursday, March 27, 2003, at 11:39 AM PT
The most disturbing story of the war so far is the fragging at Camp
Pennsylvania in Kuwait. According to news reports, on March 23, Sgt.
Asan Akbar rolled a grenade into each of three tents of sleeping
officers and senior NCOs of the 101st Airborne Division. Then he
allegedly shot the soldiers with an automatic weapon as they fled
from their tents. Two of them, a major and a captain, died, and 14
others were injured.
The episode is unsettling for a number of reasons, most of all
because it exposes a fact about our military that commanders have
tried their best to ignore: the presence of radical, anti-American
Muslims in the ranks. Akbar, a convert to Islam, reportedly said
when he was captured: "You guys are coming into our countries and
you're going to rape our women and kill our children." It's
increasingly clear that there is a small group of soldiers for whom
anti-American fatwas issued in mosques around the world supercede
the oath of loyalty they took to their nation.
Almost nothing is known about radical Islam in the ranks. Very
little is known about Islam in the ranks, period. Today, there are
somewhere between 4,000 and 15,000 Muslims in the U.S. military. The
estimates are so vague because Muslims, like Jews, often prefer not
to declare their religion, and the armed services don't require that
declaration. Some American servicemen and women are Muslim by birth.
Many are converts, and most of the converts are black Americans. It
was during the first Gulf War that the U.S. military first grappled
with the issues raised by Muslim conversion in the ranks: As many as
3,000 U.S. soldiers may have embraced Islam since then.
For most of the Muslims in today's military—as for most of the Jews
or Catholics or Baptists—religion poses no problem for service. They
worship at different times and in different places than Christians
or Jews do and have different dietary restrictions, but they're
simply loyal American soldiers. The military does whatever it can to
accommodate this growing group. In 1997, it opened its first
permanent Islamic prayer center, the Masjid al Da'awah, at the
Norfolk, Va., Naval Air Station. At least two dozen sailors attend
weekly. In 1998, Fort Lewis turned a space that had been used for
Catholic and Protestant services into a Muslim center.
Do some soldiers visit radical mosques? Do some follow the teachings
of anti-American imams? There are no studies to answer this, and the
military doesn't talk about it. But Akbar's alleged fragging and
other recent incidents suggest that some Muslim soldiers have been
radicalized. There are even indications that some may be
infiltrating the military in order to undermine it.
At best, military monitoring of radical black Muslims has been
sloppy. The last year has witnessed three incidents, including
Akbar's, suggesting the radicalization of Muslim soldiers. Beltway
sniper suspect and former Army Sgt. John Allen Muhammad converted to
Islam in 1985, around the same time he moved from the National Guard
into the regular Army, according to news reports. During the first
Gulf War, Muhammad may have been involved in a fragging incident
very similar to last week's. Muhammad allegedly pulled the pin on an
incendiary grenade in a crowded tent near the Iraqi border, setting
a sergeant's sleeping bag on fire. No one was injured, but Muhammad
was removed from the 84th Engineering company by MPs. "We assumed he
was locked up," recalls a Marine who serviced with him. "Evidently
that wasn't the case." It is not clear what, if any, punishment
followed. Like Timothy McVeigh, another domestic terrorist who
graduated from the Gulf War, Muhammad soon slipped back into the
population and ultimately introduced the deadly combo platter of his
military training, politico-religious views, and psychosis to the
taxpayers who paid him to serve his country.
Shortly before Muhammad's murder spree, a black American Muslim
named Jeffrey Leon Battle was among those arrested in Oregon, one of
a group called the Portland Six accused of ties to al-Qaida. Battle
was a former Army Reservist. According to the Justice Department, he
planned to wage war against Americans in Afghanistan and may have
joined the Army Reserves in order to learn how to kill American
soldiers. And in May 2002, the feds arrested a Seattle-based Muslim
cleric named Semi Osman as part of an investigation of a terrorist
training camp in Oregon. Osman, a mechanic in the Navy Reserves, had
access to fuel trucks similar to the type used in the 1996 bombing
of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. airmen.
In January, he pleaded guilty to a weapons charge.
One of the weirdest stories of a radical Muslim is that of Ali
Mohamed. According to various reports that surfaced after 9/11,
Mohamed came to the United States in 1986 while he was a major in
the Egyptian army, and secretly, a member of Islamic Jihad. After
marrying an American, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and rose to the
rank of sergeant. A busy soldier, he taught a class on Islamic
fundamentalist perceptions of America to special forces at Fort
Bragg, N.C., and also taught at the JFK Special Operations Warfare
School where he stole classified military documents. After he was
discharged from the Army in 1989, he hooked up with Osama Bin
Laden's nascent al-Qaida operation. Using his new American passport
and connections, he spent the '90s traveling around the world
helping plot terror operations. The FBI finally arrested him in
1998, and he eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring with Osama Bin
Laden to attack Western targets.
Even after the arrests of John Allen Muhammad, Jeffrey Leon Battle,
and Semi Osman, alarm over jihadists with American military
backgrounds has not been not widely sounded. "I'm shocked," former
Gen. Wesley Clark told CNN after news of Akbar's alleged fragging
broke. "I'm shocked," said the other military commentators on all
the other networks.
Were they really? I hope not; as military men, they should have
known what was going down in the ranks. But as high-profile members
of the media, they were probably afraid to risk offense by speaking
the truth, which is that a small number of anti-American Muslim
soldiers endanger their brothers-in-arms and tarnish the reputation
of Muslim soldiers generally.
Does the existence of a few poisonous soldiers mean that all Muslims
in the military should be deployed to the sidelines? Of course not:
That kind of silly response is exactly the prejudice that radical
Islamists would like the United States to practice. It does mean
that radical Muslims in the service, to the degree that they make
themselves known or can be found out, should be treated differently.
Civilians don't have to sign loyalty oaths, but servicemen and women
do. And they should be held accountable. At the first sign of a
problem, they should be told to step away from the weapons.
Certainly, the military can do a better job screening its recruits.
Sgt. Akbar is a vivid example of this. He evidently had ties to the
Wahhabi sect of Islam that has been the breeding ground for so many
anti-American Islamic terrorists. Akbar attended the University of
California at Davis, a school that has a very active chapter of the
Wahhabi-sponsored Muslim Students Association. According to reports,
Akbar's mosque in Los Angeles is partially funded by Saudi Arabia's
Islamic Development Bank, which promotes Wahhabism. A college
professor described Akbar as having a "chip on his shoulder" about
Islam, and according to the news reports, he was permitted to guard
a munitions depot even after he had displayed a so-called "attitude
problem." Now, at least, recruiters and commanding officers should
realize that these are signals they should heed.
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