Influence in the United States
(Testimony of Stephen Schwartz - director, Islam and Democracy
Program at the
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies before the Congress sub
in the wake of 9/11. )
Chairman Kyl, other distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you
for your invitation to appear here today. I come before this body to
describe how adherents of Wahhabism, the most extreme, separatist, and
violent form of Islam, and the official sect in the kingdom of Saudi
Arabia, have come to dominate Islam in the U.S. Islam is a fairly new
participant at the "big table" of American religions. The Muslim
community only became a significant element in our country's life in the
1980s. Most "born Muslims," as opposed to those who
"converted" — a term Muslims avoid, preferring "new
Muslims" — had historically been immigrants
from Pakistan and India who followed traditional, peaceful, mainstream
Islam. With the growth of the Islamic community in America, there was no
"Islamic establishment" in the U.S. — in contrast with
Britain, France, and Germany, the main Western countries with significant
Islamic minorities. Historically, traditional scholars have been a buffer
against extremism in Islam, and for various sociological and demographic
reasons, American Islam lacked a stratum of such scholars. The Wahhabi
ideological structure in Saudi Arabia perceived this as an opportunity to
fill a gap — to gain dominance over an Islamic community in the West
with immense potential for political and social influence. But the goals
of this operation, which was largely successful, were multiple.
First, to control a significant group of Muslim believers.
Second, to use the Muslim community in the U.S. to pressure U.S.
government and media, in the formulation of policy and in perceptions
about Islam. This has included liaison meetings, "sensitivity"
sessions and other public activities with high-level administration
officials, including the FBI director, that we have seen since September
Third, to advance the overall Wahhabi agenda of "jihad
against the world" — an extremist campaign to impose the Wahhabi
dispensation on the global Islamic community, as well as to confront the
other religions. This effort has included the establishment in the U.S. of
a base for funding, recruitment, and strategic/tactical support of terror
operations in the U.S. and abroad. Wahhabi-Saudi policy has always been
two-faced: that is, at the same time as the Wahhabis preach hostility and
violence against non-Wahhabi Muslims, they maintain a policy of alliance
with Western military powers — first Britain, then the U.S. and France
— to assure their control over the Arabian Peninsula. At the present
time, Shia and other non-Wahhabi Muslim community leaders estimate that 80
percent of American mosques are under Wahhabi control. This does
not mean 80 percent of American Muslims support Wahhabism, although the
main Wahhabi ideological agency in America, the so-called Council on
American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has claimed that some 70 percent of
American Muslims want Wahhabi teaching in their mosques.1This is a claim
we consider unfounded. Rather, Wahhabi control over mosques means control
of property, buildings, appointment of imams, training of imams, content
of preaching — including faxing of Friday sermons from Riyadh, Saudi
Arabia — and of literature distributed in mosques and mosque bookstores,
notices on bulletin boards, and
organizational solicitation. Similar influence extends to prison and
military chaplaincies, Islamic elementary and secondary schools
(academies), college campus activity, endowment of academic chairs and
programs in Middle East studies, and most notoriously, charities
ostensibly helping Muslims abroad, many of which have
been linked to or designated as sponsors of terrorism. The main
organizations that have carried out this campaign are the Islamic Society
of North America (ISNA), which originated in the Muslim Students'
Association of the U.S. and Canada (MSA), and CAIR. Support activities
have been provided by the American Muslim Council (AMC), the American
Muslim Alliance (AMA), the Muslim American Society (MAS), the Graduate
School of Islamic and Social Sciences, its sister body the International
Institute of Islamic Thought, and a number of related groups that I have
called "the Wahhabi lobby." ISNA operates at least 324 mosques
in the U.S. through the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT). These groups
operate as an interlocking directorate.
Both ISNA and CAIR, in particular, maintain open and close relations with
the Saudi government — a unique situation, in that no other foreign
government directly uses religion as a cover for its political activities
in the U.S. For example, notwithstanding support by the American Jewish
community for the state of Israel, the government of Israel does not
intervene in synagogue life or the activities of rabbinical or related
religious bodies in America. According to Saudi Embassy.net, the official
website of the Saudi government, CAIR received $250,000 from the
Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank, an official Saudi financial
institution, in 1999, for the purchase of land in Washington, D.C., to
construct a headquarters facility.2 In a particularly disturbing case, the
Islamic Development Bank also granted US$295,000 to the Masjid Bilal
Islamic Center, for the construction of the Bilal Islamic Primary and
Secondary School in California, in 1999.3 Hassan Akbar,
an American Muslim presently charged with a fatal attack on his fellow
soldiers in Kuwait during the Iraq intervention, was affiliated with this
In addition, the previously mentioned official website of the Saudi
government reported a donation in 1995 of $4 million for the construction
of a mosque complex in Los Angeles, named for Ibn Taymiyyah, a historic
Islamic figure considered the forerunner of Wahhabism.4 (It should be
noted that Ibn Taymiyyah is
viewed as a marginal, extremist, ideological personality by many
traditional Muslims. In the wake of the Riyadh bombings of 2003, the
figure of Ibn Taymiyyah symbolized, in Saudi public discourse, the inner
rot of the regime. An article in the reformist daily al-Watan was
headlined, "Who is More Important? The Nation or Ibn Taymiyyah"?
Soon after it appeared, Jamal Khashoggi, editor of al-Watan and former
deputy editor of Arab News, was dismissed from his post.) The same
official Saudi website reported a donation of $6 million, also in 1995,
for a mosque in Cincinnati, Ohio.5 The website further stated, in 2000,
"In the United States, the Kingdom has contributed to the
establishment of the Islamic Center in Washington DC; the Omer Bin Al-Khattab
Mosque in western Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Islamic Center, and the
Fresno Mosque in California; the Islamic Center in Denver, Colorado; the
Islamic center in Harrison, New York City; and the Islamic Center in
How much money, in total, is involved in this effort? If we accept a low
figure of control, i.e. NAIT ownership of 27 percent of 1,200 mosques,
stated by CAIR and cited by Mary Jacoby and Graham Brink in the St.
Petersburg Times,7 we have some 324 mosques. If we assume a relatively low
average of expenditures, e.g. $.5 million per mosque, we arrive at $162
million. But given that Saudi official sources show $6 million in
Cincinnati and $4 million in Los Angeles, we should probably raise the
average to $1 million per
mosque, resulting in $324 million as a minimum.
Our view is that the number of mosques under Wahhabi control actually
totals at least 600 out of the official total of 1,200, while, as noted,
Shia community leaders endorse the figure of 80 percent Wahhabi control.
But we also offer a number of 4-6,000 mosques overall, including small and
diverse congregations of many kinds.
A radical critic of Wahhabism stated some years ago that $25m had been
spent on Islamic Centers in the U.S. by the Saudi authorities. This now
seems a low figure. Another anti-extremist Islamic figure has estimated
Saudi expenses in the U.S., over 30 years, and including schools and free
books as well as mosques, near a billion dollars. It should also be noted
that Wahhabi mosques in the U.S. work in close
coordination with the Muslim World League (MWL) and the World Assembly of
Muslim Youth (WAMY),
Saudi state entities identified as participants in the funding of
al Qaeda. Wahhabi ideological control within Saudi Arabia is based on the
historic compact of intermarriage between the family of the sect's
originator, Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, and the family of the founding ruler, Ibn
Saud. To this day, these families divide governance of the kingdom, with
the descendants of Ibn al-Wahhab, known as ahl al-Shaykh, responsible for
religious life, and the Saudi royal family, or ahl al-Saud, running the
state. The two families also continue to marry their descendants to one
another. The supreme religious leader of Saudi Arabia is a member of the
family of Ibn al-Wahhab. The state appoints a minister of religious
affairs who controls such bodies as MWL and WAMY, and upon leaving his
ministerial post he becomes head of MWL.
The official Saudi-embassy website reported exactly one year ago, on
June 26, 2002, "The delegation of the Muslim World League (MWL) that
is on a world tour promoting goodwill arrived in New York yesterday, and
visited the Islamic Center there." The same website later reported,
on July 8, 2002, "During a visit on Friday evening to the
headquarters of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)
[Secretary-General of the MWL Dr. Abdullah bin Abdulmohsin Al-Turki]
advocated coordination among Muslim organizations in the United States.
Expressing MWL's readiness to offer assistance in the promotion and
coordination of Islamic works, he announced plans to set up a commission
for this purpose. The MWL delegation also visited the Islamic Center in
Washington DC and was briefed on its activities by its director Dr.
Abdullah bin Mohammad Fowaj."8 In a related matter, on June 22, 2003,
in a letter to the New York Post, James Zogby, president of the Arab
American Institute, a civic lobbying organization, stated that his
attendance at a press conference of WAMY in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, had been
organized by the U.S. embassy in the kingdom. If this is true, it is
extremely alarming. The U.S. embassy should not act as a supporter of WAMY,
which, as documented by FDD and the Saudi Institute, 9 teaches that Shia
Muslims, including even the followers of Ayatollah Khomeini, are Jewish
This is comparable to Nazi claims that Jewish business owners were
Communists, or Slobodan Milosevic's charge, in the media of ex-Yugoslavia,
that Tito was an agent of the Vatican. The aim is to derange people, to
separate them from reality completely, in preparation for massacres. We
fear that official Saudi anxiety their large and restive Shia minority,
aggravated by Saudi resentment over the emergence of a proto democratic
regime in Iraq led by Shias, and consolidation of popular sovereignty in
Shia Iran, may lead the Saudi regime to treat Shias as a convenient
scapegoat, making them victims of a wholesale atrocity. The history of
Wahhabism is filled with mass murder of Shia Muslims.
There is clearly a problem of Wahhabi/Saudi extremist influence in
American Islam. The time is now to face the problem squarely and find ways
to enable and support traditional, mainstream American Muslims in taking
their community back from these extremists, while employing law
enforcement to interdict the growth of Wahhabism and its financial
support by the Saudis. If we fail to do this, Wahhabi extremism continues
to endanger the whole world — Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Thank you for your attention.
ENDNOTES for Schwartz:
1 Council on American Islamic Relations, The Mosque in America: A
Portrait, A Report from the Mosque Study Project, April 26, 2001.
2 Saudi Embassy Press Archive, August 15, 1999.
3 Islamic Development Bank; also, "IDB Allocates $202 Mln to Finance
Islamic Development Ventures," Arabic News, 1/25/2000.
4 Saudi Embassy Press Archive, July 8, 1995.
5 Saudi Embassy Press Archive, November 10, 1995.
6 Saudi Embassy Press Archive, March 5, 2000.
7 "Saudi Form of Islam Wars With Moderates," St. Petersburg
Times, March 11, 2003.
8 Saudi Embassy Press Archive.
9 Ali al-Ahmed and Stephen Schwartz, "Saudis Spread Hate Speech in
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Washington, copublished with
Testimony of Larry Mefford - Assistant Director of the FBI's Counter terrorism
Good afternoon, Senator Kyl and other members of the Subcommittee.
Thank you for inviting me here today to testify regarding the state of
the terrorist threat to the United States. The Subcommittee's work in this
area is an important part of improving the security of our Nation. The
Federal Bureau of Investigation greatly appreciates your leadership, and
that of your colleagues in other
committees dealing with the security of our country. I would like to
briefly discuss for the Subcommittee the FBI's assessment of the current
threats facing the United States.
First, let me emphasize the commitment of the FBI to investigating and
disrupting terrorist activity both in this country and against U.S.
interests overseas. There is no more important mission within the FBI. We
are dedicating tremendous resources to this effort and will continue to do
so as long as the threat exists.
Since September 11, 2001, the FBI has investigated more than 4,000
terrorist threats to the U.S. and the number of active FBI investigations
into potential terrorist activity has quadrupled . Working with our
partners in local and state law enforcement and with the U.S. Intelligence
community, we have also disrupted terrorist activities in over 35
instances inside the United States since September 11, 2001. These include
both domestic and international terrorism matters and consist of a variety
of preventive actions, including arrests,
seizure of funds, and disruption of recruiting and training efforts. No
threat or investigative lead goes unanswered today. At headquarters, in
our field offices, and through our offices overseas, we run every lead to
ground until we either find evidence of terrorist activity, which we
pursue, or determine that the information is not substantiated. While we
have disrupted terrorist plots since 9/11, we remain constantly vigilant
as a result of the ongoing nature of the threat. The greatest danger to
our safety and security comes not from what
we know and can prevent, but from what we do not know.
We know this: The Al Qaeda terrorist network remains the most serious
threat to U.S. interests both here and overseas. That network includes
groups committed to the "international jihad movement,” and it has
demonstrated the ability to survive setbacks. Since September 11, 2001, we
believe that Al Qaeda has
been involved in at least twelve terrorist attacks against the United
States and our allies around the world. This fact requires that we
continue to work closely with our partners to fight Al-Qaeda in all its
forms both here and overseas.
On March 1, 2003, counterterrorism forces in Pakistan captured Al Qaeda
operational commander Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and financier Mustafa Ahmed
al-Hawsawi. In early 2002, another high ranking Al Qaeda operational
commander, Mohamed Atef, was killed in a U.S. bombing raid. Many more
suspected Al Qaeda
operatives have been arrested in the United States and abroad.
Despite these strikes against the leadership of Al Qaeda, it remains a
potent, highly capable and extremely dangerous terrorist network -- the
number one terrorist threat to the U.S. today. The very recent attacks in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and in Casablanca, Morocco -- which we believe to be
either sponsored or inspired by Al Qaeda – clearly demonstrate that
network's continued ability to kill and injure innocent, unsuspecting
In Riyadh on May 12, 2003, the simultaneous strikes on three foreign
compounds were carried out by 12 to 15 individuals, nine of whom were
The overall death toll rose to 34, including at least seven Americans and
the nine attackers. Nearly 200 people were wounded. Forty of those were
In Casablanca on May 16, 2003, as many as 12 suicide bombers orchestrated
the simultaneous bombing of 5 targets. A targeted Jewish center was closed
and unoccupied when one of the bombs was detonated. The deadliest attack
occurred inside a Spanish restaurant where 19 were killed. Outside one
targeted hotel, a
security guard and a bellboy scuffled with bombers intent on entering the
hotel. They prevented them from entering but lost their lives, along with
those of their terrorist attackers, when the bombs were detonated outside.
The terrorists even targeted a Jewish cemetery.
We know that the Al Qaeda network maintains a presence in dozens of
countries around the world, including the United States. Audiotaped
messages released in early October 2002 from Usama bin Laden and his
senior deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged renewed attacks on U.S. and
Western interests. Intelligence
analysis indicates that subsequent attacks against Western targets may
have been carried out in response to these audiotaped appeals that were
broadcast on the al-Jazeera network beginning on October 6, 2002.
Two subsequent audiotapes attributed to bin Laden, released on February 11
and February 14, 2003, linked a call for terrorist attacks against Western
targets with the pending war in Iraq. In the latter of these audiotaped
messages, bin Laden appeared to express his desire to die in an attack
against the United
States. The most recent audio tape attributed to bin Laden, released on
April 9, 2003, urged jihadists to carry out suicide attacks against those
countries supporting the war in Iraq. And while individual suicide attacks
have the potential to cause significant destruction and loss of life, we
remain concerned about Al Qaeda’s ability to mount simultaneous and
large-scale terrorist attacks.
While large-scale, coordinated attacks remain an Al Qaeda objective,
disruptions to the network’s command and logistics structures during the
past 20 months increase the possibility that operatives will attempt to
carry out smaller scale, random attacks, as evidenced by Richard Reid’s
failed attempt to detonate a shoe-bomb on board a trans-Atlantic flight in
December 2001. Such attacks, particularly against softer or lightly
secured targets, may be easier to execute and less likely to require
centralized control. We remain vigilant to the
ability and willingness of individual terrorists, acting on their own in
the name of "jihad", to carry out random acts of terror wherever
and whenever they can.
We also know that jihadists tend to focus on returning to "unfinished
projects,” such as the destruction of the World Trade Center and attacks
on U.S. Navy vessels. Consequently, a continuing threat exists to high
profile targets previously selected by Al Qaeda. These include high
profile government buildings, and encompass the possibility of more
terrorist attacks on major U.S. cities and infrastructures. While we know
that Al Qaeda has focused on attacks that have economic impact, we believe
that its goals still include the infliction of mass casualties.
As I mentioned earlier, we have made significant progress in disrupting
terrorist activities and planning; and this includes Islamic extremist
activities within the United States. For example:
• Between October 3, 2002, and May 2, 2003, six men and one woman were
indicted in Portland, Oregon, for conspiracy to levy war against the
United States, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to a
terrorist organization, and conspiracy to contribute services to Al Qaeda
and the Taliban. Six of the individuals have been arrested. The seventh
remains at large.
• On September 13, 2002, five members of a suspected Al Qaeda cell were
arrested in Lackawanna, New York. They were charged with “providing,
attempting to provide, and conspiring to provide material support and
resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.” In addition,
a sixth member was rendered
to the United States from Bahrain in mid-September 2002, pursuant to an
arrest warrant, and was charged with providing material support to Al-Qaeda.
• FBI information indicates that in the spring and summer of 2001, these
subjects attended religious Tablighi Jamaat training in Pakistan. They
also attended an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan where they received
training in mountain climbing, and were instructed in the use of firearms,
including assault rifles, handguns, and long range rifles. During their
training, Usama bin Laden visited the camp and gave a speech to all of the
trainees. At the guest houses where members stayed, some received lectures
on jihad and justification
for using suicide as an operational tactic.
• All six defendants have pled guilty to providing material support to
• On December 22, 2001, Richard C. Reid was arrested after flight
attendants on American Airlines Flight 63 observed him attempting to
ignite an improvised explosive in his sneakers while onboard the
Paris-to-Miami flight. Aided by passengers, the attendants overpowered and
subdued Reid. The flight was diverted to Logan International Airport in
Boston, Massachusetts. Reid, who was traveling on a valid British
passport, was indicted on eight counts, including placing an explosive
device on an aircraft and attempted murder.
• FBI investigation has determined that the explosives in Reid's shoes,
if detonated in certain areas of the passenger cabin, could have blown a
hole in the fuselage of the aircraft.
• Reid's indictment charged that he, too, trained in camps operated by
Al-Qaeda. Investigators continue to work to determine the extent of Reid's
possible links to others in this plot.
• On October 4, 2002, Reid pled guilty to all of the counts against him.
On January 30, 2003, he was sentenced to life in prison.
• On December 11, 2001, Zacarias Moussaoui was indicted in the Eastern
District of Virginia for his alleged role in the September 11, 2001
attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Moussaoui is charged with
six counts, including conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism
transcending national boundaries and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass
destruction. He is awaiting trial.
• Last week, the Attorney General announced the guilty plea of Imyan
Faris, an Ohio truck driver, who -- as a key operative for Al Qaeda --
conspired to provide, and did in fact provide, material support to a
terrorist organization. We believe he was tasked by Al Qaeda to assist in
the identification of possible terrorist targets inside the United States
and provided other logistical support to that organization.
• On Monday of this week, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, was designated an
enemy combatant and transferred to the control of the Department of
Defense. Al-Marri is a Qatari national who was initially arrested on a
material witness warrant following the September 11 attacks. He was
subsequently indicted for credit card fraud and making false statements.
Recent information from an Al Qaeda detainee identified Al-Marri as an Al
Qaeda "sleeper" operative who was tasked with providing support
to newly arriving Al Qaeda operatives inside the U.S. Two separate
Al Qaeda detainees have confirmed that Al-Marri has been to Al Qaeda's
Farook camp in Afghanistan where he pledged his service to bin Laden. The
decision to designate Al-Marri as an enemy combatant has disrupted his
involvement in terrorist planning and taken another Al Qaeda operative out
• The FBI is also actively looking for suspected Al Qaeda operative
Adnan G. El Shukrijumah. El Shukrijumah has been identified by detainees
as a key Al Qaeda operative who was sent to the United States to plan and
carry out acts of terrorism against the U.S. El Shukrijumah was in the
United States prior to
September 11th and his current whereabouts are unknown. The FBI has put
out a "be on the look out" alert to law enforcement both inside
the U.S. and overseas to locate and interview him regarding these reports.
Additionally, the FBI has aggressively pursued the individuals and
networks that provide financing for terrorism worldwide. Since September
11, 2001, our Terrorist Financing Operations Section (TFOS) has been
involved in the financial investigations of over 3,195 individuals and
groups suspected in financially
supporting terrorist organizations. The FBI has also worked closely with
the Treasury Department in developing targets for designation and blocking
orders. This has resulted in the terrorist designation of some 250
individuals or entities by Executive Order, and the blocking or freezing
of approximately $124.5
million in assets since September 11, 2001.
As I said at the outset, finding and rooting out Al Qaeda members and
adherents, once they have entered the U.S., is our most serious
intelligence and law enforcement challenge. In addition to our focus on
directly involved in launching terrorist attacks, we are also very
concerned with identifying and locating persons engaged in terrorist
support activities, such as fund raising, recruiting, training and other
logistical responsibilities. This is very important since these
individuals are vital to the operations of terrorist networks. We also
remain deeply concerned about Al Qaeda’s efforts to recruit U.S.
citizens to support its terrorist goals and, perhaps, to carry out attacks
on American soil.
Al Qaeda is not our only concern. We know that many Islamic extremists are
tied to terrorist activities. Islamic Shiite extremists, represented by
such groups as Hizballah, have been launching terrorist attacks against
the U.S. and its allies for more than twenty years. Islamic Sunni
extremism, spearheaded by Al Qaeda, but which also includes HAMAS and
other groups, continue to inflict casualties on innocent people worldwide.
Hizballah and HAMAS in particular, also maintain a sizable presence in the
U.S. While the activities of these U.S. cells have not involved actual
attacks within the United States, we know that
Hizballah and HAMAS have been involved in activities that support
terrorism, such as fund-raising, recruiting and spreading propaganda
inside our country. Since they have been responsible for the deaths of
Americans and our allies overseas, we continue to be concerned about their
In conclusion, the United States faces threats from a wide range of
international terrorist groups, although we assess Al Qaeda to be the
greatest threat today. Their potential attacks could be large-scale, or
smaller and more isolated. Since our understanding of terrorist groups and
the underlying philosophy behind these movements continue to develop, the
FBI's assessment of the overall threat continues to evolve. We remain,
however, concerned about Al Qaeda's efforts to launch another major attack
inside the U.S. Consequently, we continually work with the U.S.
intelligence community and our foreign partners to assess Al Qaeda's
intentions and capabilities, including their use of weapons of mass
destruction in future attack scenarios.
That is why we remain as focused as we are on detecting and preventing
terrorism. We will not stray from this purpose and will work closely with
State and Local law enforcement and other federal agencies to improve our
preventive capabilities. We sincerely appreciate your guidance and support
as we carry out our mission.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have to the extent I am