Skip to comments.Terror arrest roils small town in Idaho: Muslim residents feel sudden chill
Posted on 03/12/2003 1:54:23 AM PST by sarcasm
Wednesday, March 12, 2003 - MOSCOW, Idaho - This was supposed to be the safe place, the Idaho town that fought the state's stereotype as a haven for white- supremacist and anti-government groups.
For sure, that's how Marwan Mossaad felt about Moscow, home to the University of Idaho, where the 25-year-old Egyptian national is majoring in economics and architecture. It's hard to imagine the disconnect between the chaotic streets of Cairo, a city of 16 million people, and Moscow, where the grain elevator at the south end of Main Street is the tallest building in town.
Until now, said Mossaad, head of the school's Muslim Students Association, Moscow was "a very moderate place compared to what it could be, being in the middle of nowhere."
Mossaad quit feeling safe in this town of 22,000 people late last month with the arrest of a Saudi graduate student accused of funneling $300,000 to a group instigating terror. Now, the Muslims in Moscow's sizable international community feel singled out in a way that exceeds even the fearful, suspicious days after Sept. 11, 2001.
And some of Moscow's other residents, until now nearly smug in their advocacy of diversity and tolerance, are wondering if maybe they were a little too trusting.
Meredith Csenscits, 21, who is majoring in human resources management, said of the foreign students, "We feel sympathy for them. But if we're honest with ourselves, we're a little more nervous about them."
Certainly, the allegations against Sami Omar al-Hussayen are worrisome. He was among 20 people arrested nationwide Feb. 26 as part of an FBI investigation into networks financing terrorism. A federal indictment lists seven counts of visa fraud and four of making false statements: specifically, that al-Hussayen lied to the Immigration and Naturalization Service when he said he was here solely as a student.
In fact, according to the indictment, he operated websites for a charity, incorporated in Colorado in 1993 and headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich., that was involved in the "dissemination of radical Islamic ideology ... and the instigation of acts of violence and terrorism."
One website contained an article, posted in June 2001, advocating suicide attacks, including "bombing or bringing down an airplane or an important location that will cause the enemy great losses."
The indictment also alleges that al-Hussayen moved $300,000 through six bank accounts in Idaho, Indiana, Texas and Michigan to the charity, the Islamic Assembly of North America, and that he made wire transfers to people in Egypt, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Pakistan.
On Tuesday, FBI agent Michael Gneckow testified that photographs in a computer used by al- Hussayen include shots of the World Trade Center before and after the 2001 terrorism attacks, as well as thousands of photographs of airplane crashes, drawings of planes hitting buildings, the Empire State Building and the Pentagon.
Gnekow's testimony came at a detention hearing in federal court in Boise. The hearing continues this morning.
University administrators were notified months ago that federal agents were investigating certain students but had heard nothing since and assumed the probe was routine, said interim president Brian Pitcher. He found out about al-Hussayen's arrest in a 5 a.m. telephone call from the FBI.
"I was asked to come in and be briefed," Pitcher said. "There were police cars and (crime scene) tape ... and media exposure. All of a sudden here, we're on CNN and the evening news."
Idaho has had its share of bad press, mostly from the radical right wing: Groups like The Order, responsible for the 1984 murder of Denver talk show host Alan Berg, and the Phineas Priesthood carried out bombings and bank robberies in Idaho and eastern Washington in the late 1980s and early 1990s; there was the FBI standoff at Ruby Ridge in 1992; and a lawsuit finally broke the Aryan Nations, headquartered 90 miles north of here, in 2000. But those groups weren't part of the Idaho mainstream. To most, they were a bunch of yahoos with swastikas stitched to their sleeves and revolvers on their hips.
It's different here. For one thing, Moscow is well south of the thickly forested mountainous panhandle of northern Idaho where those groups were active. This region, known as the Palouse, is one of rolling, treeless hills and sweeping vistas punctuated by grain elevators.
Idaho's license plate boasts "Famous Potatoes," but the Palouse touts itself as the lentil capital of the world and annually elects a Little Lentil King and Queen. The Palouse is also, thanks to the presence of the university, and Washington State University 10 miles away in Pullman, Wash., one of the most highly educated regions in the state.
Like many foreigners here, al-Hussayen occupied a respected position at the university, as a doctoral candidate studying computer security at the Center for Secure and Dependable Systems. He was among 645 foreigners, from everywhere from Albania to Zimbabwe, among the 10,000-member student body.
Al-Hussayen, his wife, Maha, and their three young children live in a townhouse on the edge of campus. A small bike and in-line skates litter their yard; kids romp noisily in a playground next door.
As law professor Elizabeth Brandt pointed out, Moscow is so small that, instead of being insulated, "the university is the town."
After Sept. 11, 2001, al-Hussayen, a former head of the Muslim Student Association, publicly condemned the attacks along with other members of Moscow's international community and participated in a peace vigil.
In turn, his friends and even some people who have never met him rushed to his defense last week. A petition asking that he be released on bail is being circulated. A peace march Wednesday at Washington State University included pleas for the rights of foreign students. And his adviser wrote a letter praising his work to the Idaho Statesman in Boise.
"I sincerely believe he is innocent of any serious charges," wrote retired computer science professor John Dickinson.
Mossaad, a close friend of al-Hussayen's, called the charges ludicrous.
"I wouldn't say he funneled money," Mossaad said, repeating the Islamic mandate to give to charity. "It's his duty" to help people contribute, Mossaad added. "He's a leader in the community."
Al-Hussayen's accounts were frozen after his arrest, so Muslims and non-Muslims alike organized grocery runs for his family, said Cynthia Miller, the lawyer representing Maha al-Hussayen.
"I'm really proud of Moscow," said Mossaad's wife, Mary Ellen Siegford, 26.
But Mossaad added that many of his Muslim friends are practically in hiding after being interrogated by the FBI.
"Some of them are terrified," he said, "especially the ones who have kids."
Nadia Rehman, a Boise native who converted to Islam 10 years ago and wears the traditional hijab, or head scarf, in public, said the women's group she heads at the mosque in nearby Pullman canceled its regular Friday meeting after al-Hussayen's arrest because members were uncomfortable leaving their homes.
"We're afraid people are going to label us," she said. "They think we're raising little terrorists."
Al-Hussayen's trial is scheduled for April 15. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years each on the visa fraud counts and five years each on the others.
After that, Mossaad said, things may settle down - unless people continue to be questioned or there are more arrests.
"What is this, the tip of an avalanche?" he asked.
Meanwhile, the rest of Moscow is adjusting to realities that caught up to the rest of the country some time ago. The immediate reaction to al-Hussayen's arrest "on campus was, 'Are we in danger?"' said Pitcher, the interim president.
Security procedures, especially in the school's highly regarded laboratories, are being tightened, he said: "Our way of life has changed."
Indeed. Brandt is haunted by a comment she made as she tried to console her young twins on Sept. 11: "These most recent incidents have convinced me that I can't say to my 12-year-olds anymore, 'Don't worry, nobody knows where Moscow, Idaho, is."'
Why do they always send in stupid female reporters for these ethnic sob stories? And this buffoon calls herself a war correspondent?
One of the hardest parts of being a war correspondent is not being able to relax, said Gwen Florio, national correspondent for the Denver Post. Florio spoke to UM journalism students in February about her assignment to cover the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Africa.
I live in Eastern Washington and I can tell you that Pullman-Moscow area is very safe, secure....crime is very low, and if you are looking for a peaceful place to live and teach, you couldn't find a better place, no matter who you are....
it always astounds me the way people "rush" to defend people when in reality they don't have a clue what's going on....
They don't need "incidents" to start whining.
Here's a quarter. Call somebody who cares.
"a very moderate place compared to what it could be, being in the middle of nowhere."
Although I'm not from Idaho I am from a town where the tallest building is the grain elevator. I am very offended and intimidated by these stereotypical statements in this hatchet job on a piece of fly-over country. When will a reporterette come to Iowa and do a sobby piece on how I feel threatened because the local rednecks are intolerant of anyone who may look different. (Of course, I am intolerant of those who funnel money to terrorist organizations , but that's just me.) What this Denver doofus doesn't realize is that she's in fly-over country too. I do wonder though why the Muslim's in this community feel threatened. When a white man is arrested in my neighborhood, I don't immediately get my panties in a bunch thinking that its some witch hunt.
What does she mean by that? Do they ever qualify Rhyad as the Saudi town that fought America's sterotype as a haven for muslim racist materialist power hungry Jihadists?
Can't anyone connect these dots? Attitudes like that quoted and the unwitting harboring of a suspected terrorist?
SEATTLE PI.com (AP): "FOUR CHARGED IN SENDING MILLIONS TO IRAQ" (ARTICLE SNIPPETS: "The four men are accused of using the charity to solicit contributions from people in the United States, depositing money in central New York banks and laundering much of it through the Jordan Islamic Bank in Amman. Charged were oncologist Dr. Rafil Dhafir, 55, of Fayetteville, N.Y., a U.S. citizen born in Iraq; Maher Zagha, 34, a Jordanian who attended college locally; Ayman Jarwan, 33, of Syracuse, a Jordanian citizen born in Saudi Arabia who worked as the executive director of Help the Needy; Osameh Al Wahaidy, 41, of Fayetteville, a Jordanian citizen employed as a spiritual leader at the Auburn Correctional Facility and a math instructor at the State University of New York at Oswego." ... "The separate indictment involves Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a citizen of Saudi Arabia who is a graduate student at the University of Idaho. He was arrested Wednesday in Moscow, Idaho, and charged with supporting the Michigan-based Islamic Assembly of North America. Al-Hussayen allegedly supplied money from overseas sources and computer expertise. He is charged with failing to disclose his relationship with the group, which, if revealed, would have resulted in the government rejecting his visa application, prosecutors said. Web sites operated by the Islamic Assembly praise suicide bombings and tout the use of airplanes as terror weapons, the government said.") (February 26, 2003)
US DOJ.gov Press Release: "INDICTMENTS ALLEGE ILLEGAL FINANCIAL TRANSFER TO IRAQ; VISA FRAUD INVOLVING ASSISTANCE TO GROUPS THAT ADVOCATE VIOLENCE" (ARTICLE SNIPPET: "Al-Hussayen was arrested this morning in Moscow, Idaho. According to the 11-count indictment, Al-Hussayen received and renewed student visas to pursue computer studies at the University of Idaho, certifying in the applications that his requested U.S. entry and presence was solely for the purpose of pursuing graduate studies. The indictment alleges that from October 1998 through the present, Al-Hussayen routed thousands of dollars he received from overseas sources to the Michigan-based Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA), and provided computer expertise and website services to IANA. The indictment alleges some of these websites promoted terrorism through suicide bombings and using airplanes as weapons. In one example, the website www.alasr.ws, registered by Al-Hussayen posted an article which read in part: The second part is the rule that the Mujahid (warrior) must kill himself if he knows that this will lead to killing a great number of the enemies, and that he will not be able to kill them without killing himself first, or demolishing a center vital to the enemy or its military force, and so on. This is not possible except by involving the human element in the operation. In this new era, this can be accomplished with the modern means of bombing or bringing down an airplane on an important location that will cause the enemy great losses.") (February 26, 2003)
SEATTLE PI.com - SEATTLE POST INTELLIGENCER: "ANTI-TERROR FORCES ARREST IDAHO STUDENT" (ARTICLE SNIPPETS: "The investigation of Al-Hussayen began around Sept. 11, said Burrus. It began not as a criminal investigation, but an intelligence inquiry. Its objective was nothing less than to remove the veil of secrecy on al-Qaida's complex financial network. And, sources say, that the FBI used many of the means of electronic surveillance at its disposal including wiretaps and intercepts of e-mails." ... "The investigation is far from over. "We are not at the end of the trail, we are at the beginning of the trail," Burrus said to a packed news conference yesterday in Moscow's 100-year-old City Council chambers. "You can't imagine the flow charts" depicting the flow of so-called charitable funds, he said. In the center box of a flow chart is Al-Hussayen, the nexus of millions of dollars flowing from Saudi Arabia to the United States and from Al-Hussayen to individuals and Islamic organizations in the United States as well as Egypt, Canada, Jordan and Pakistan, according to sources, court documents and public statements made yesterday.") (February 27, 2003)
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