Islamist terrorism has afflicted nearly every Western country and is likely to get worse. One reason is the radicals' aggressiveness; another is the feeble Western response. I personally experienced both of these problems just this past week.
This story began in early 1998, when John Miller of ABC News sought an interview with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Needing an intermediary, his producers found Tarik Hamdi of Herndon, Virginia, a self-described journalist who helped make contacts and then accompanied the ABC news team to Afghanistan.
Hamdi, it turned out, had his own purposes for traveling there; he was to bring Bin Laden a replacement battery for his vital link with the outside world, his satellite telephone. From the remoteness of Afghanistan, Bin Laden could not simply order a battery himself and have it overnighted to him. He needed someone unsuspected to bring it. So, one of Bin Laden's top aides ordered a replacement battery on May 11, 1998, and arranged for it to be shipped to Hamdi at his home in Herndon. Hamdi took off for Afghanistan with Miller on May 17 and shortly afterward personally delivered the battery.
Just over two months later, two bombs went off nearly simultaneously at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 and wounding thousands.
When the US government brought four of the embassy bombers to trial in New York City this year, it focused on the phone powered by the battery from Herndon; assistant US attorney Kenneth Karas called it "the phone that Bin Laden and the others will use to carry out their war against the United States." The trial also established Hamdi's centrality to Bin Laden.
After five months, a jury found all four bombers guilty of all 302 charges against them, validating the prosecutor's interpretation of Hamdi's role.
Which is where I come in.
Explaining this guilty verdict in The Wall Street Journal on May 31, I co-authored an article with Steven Emerson arguing in favor of this outcome, but pointing out that it did little to protect American lives; defeating Bin Ladin and his murderous gang will require the US government to deploy armed forces, not policemen and lawyers.
The article then focused on the huge body of evidence made public in the trial proceedings, noting that Bin Laden had "set up a tightly organized system of cells" in six American cities, including the small town of Herndon - an allusion to Hamdi.
Picking up on this reference, Jeannie Baumann, a reporter at The Herndon Observer, contacted us to learn more. Emerson explained to her Hamdi's role and several times referred her to the complete court transcripts available in the Internet. But Baumann spurned his offers, replying that her newspaper is "not equipped to handle such information." Instead of doing research, Baumann turned to Herndon's police chief, Toussaint E. Summers Jr., for an opinion. He in turn called the FBI, which told him nothing. From this lack of information, Summers blithely concluded that "there appears to be no truth... at all" to a Bin Laden-Herndon connection.
Baumann then cited this opinion to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), for a statement. Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for this Islamist organization (and sometime Bin Laden apologist), pounced on the police chief's statement and declared our Wall Street Journal article inaccurate and prejudicial against Muslims. Baumann's article, published on June 15, then carried the title "Police, Muslims Refute Herndon Link to Terrorism."
This episode clearly demonstrates three problematic Western responses to Islamist violence: Law enforcement officials resist the fact that this scourge exists in their jurisdictions. Reporters fail to do the spadework needed to dig out stories in their own backyards. And the most prominent Islamic organizations shamelessly talk away Islamist terrorism and smear anyone who points out the realities of this hideous phenomenon.
If Bin Laden and his band of killers are to be stopped, it will take more vigilance from law enforcement officers like Summers, better journalism from reporters like Baumann, and the rise of moderate Muslims who will take the microphone out of the hands of extremists like Hooper.
Web extra: The Transcripts
Here are the two relevant passages form the New York trial:
Trial Transcript Day 23, March 27, 2001, pp. 3480-3481, tells about a satellite phone battery that was purchased by one Ziyad Khaleel and shipped to Tarik Hamdi's address in Herndon, Va.:
6 And below "customer, Mr. Ziyad Khalil, and to the
7 right, "ship to." Below that, Tarik Hamdi, 933 Park Ave.,
8 Herndon, VA 20170, and that's dated on the right there, May
9 11, 19988. If we could put that on the left side of the
10 screen, and then if we could display on the right side
11 Government Exhibit 1621, one of the documents found at
12 Dewsbury Road.
Trial Transcript Day 37, May 1, 2001, pp. 5292-5294, presents in detail Hamdi's role in the Al-Qaeda network, as explained by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald:
6 So Khalid purchases the [toll] minutes [on the satellite phone] on May 7, he sends
7 the invoice to al Fawwaz, al Fawwaz reimburses him on May 27,
8 and he's telling Ziyad Khalil, I sent you the money, you'll
9 get it.
10 How else do you know that this is the phone that is
11 used by Bin Laden and others in Afghanistan? Well, at some
12 point in 1998 Ziyad Khalil puts a purchase order in for a
13 battery pack to Ogara. If we pull up Government Exhibit 593,
14 this is one of the documents that Marilyn Morelli testified
16 This is an invoice from Ogara, and you see on the top
17 left there, "Customer: Ziyad Khalil," and you see that what
18 he is purchasing is the ultra light power supply and the 12VDC
19 mini battery charger. Only Ziyad Khalil does not have it sent
20 to him, he asked, ship to, Tariq Hamdi in Herndon, Virginia.
21 Now, if we pull up Government Exhibit 1621, this is
22 another document found in Khalid al Fawwaz' house in London.
23 By the way, his address is 94 Dewsbury Road, London, England.
24 We'll talk about that a little later on.
25 This is a letter from ABC News from Christopher
1 Isham, a senior producer at ABC News, to Mr. S. Rashid. This
2 is found in Khalid al Fawwaz's house. The first line of the
3 letter reads, "As per our conversations with Tarik Hamdi in
4 Washington, I am confirming our interest in interviewing Mr.
5 Bin Laden for ABC News." So the person to whom the battery
6 pack is getting shipped is working with ABC News to arrange an
7 interview with Bin Laden.
8 And you see the date by the way of the letter, they
9 are trying to arrange to interview April 2, 1998, and the
10 battery pack request comes in on May 11, 1998. So what
11 happens? Government Exhibit 1612 -- maybe we can try the
12 left/right thing again and put this on the left and on the
13 right, if we can try the translation.
14 What you have here is another document found in
15 Khalid al Fawwaz's house in London, and what you see is the
16 document on the left is a fax page from the Islamabad Marriott
17 Hotel, Islamabad City in Pakistan. That's not too far from
18 Afghanistan. It's in the northwest part of Pakistan.
19 And Tariq Hamdi, see it says "a message to Khalid,"
20 and that number 441812084423, that's Khalid al Fawwaz' fax
21 number. And you know that from the telephone records that are
22 in evidence. And it's from Tariq and you see the date on the
23 fax at the top, 17 May 1998. Actually he writes it there, May
24 17, 1998. And what he says is, "Brother Khalid: Peace be
25 upon you. We arrived safely and now we are in the Marriott
1 Hotel and its address is," and he gives the address.
2 So here is the chronology: Ziyad Khalil requests the
3 battery pack on May 11, 1998, on May 17, 1998, and he asks
4 that it be sent to Tariq Hamdi. On May 11, 1998, Tariq Hamdi
5 is getting the battery pack for the telephone number
6 6825053316789. That's May 11. May 17, Tariq Hamdi is in
7 Islamabad on behalf of ABC News and he tells Khalid al Fawwaz
8 we are in Islamabad and we are fine.
9 And you know from a stipulation that on May 28, 1998,
10 ABC News interviewed Bin Laden in Afghanistan. So the battery
11 pack goes from Ziyad Khalil requesting it to shipping it to
12 Tariq Hamdi, to Tariq Hamdi going to Pakistan, and then
13 Afghanistan, where he delivers the battery pack for the phone.
14 And the intermediary in all of this is Khalid al
15 Fawwaz, because he's the guy whose paying Ziyad Khalil for the
16 minutes and he's the guy who arranges for the interview with
17 ABC News and he is the guy getting the message from Tariq
18 Hamdi, the person who delivers the packet.
Prosecutor Fitzgerald's indictment was fully accepted; the jury convicted the defendants on all 302 counts.
Aug. 9, 2005 update: Hamdi was indicted on charges of immigration and mortgage-loan fraud, according to recently unsealed court documents. He is also "Unindicted Co-Conspirator Nine" in two overt acts in the indictment of Sami Al-Arian charging conspiracy and material support for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group.
Aug. 10, 2005 update: In a March 2002 affidavit unsealed last week, David Kane, a U.S. customs agent accuses Hamdi of providing "material support" to bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The affidavit also states that Hamdi "is still the American contact for at least one bin Laden front organization." The new news is that Hamdi appears to be an Iraqi diplomat accredited to Turkey.
Aug. 17, 2005 update: Hamdi is now confirmed as the third-ranking member of the Iraqi diplomatic mission in Ankara. Newsweek also caught him out on his supposed opposition to the Saddam Hussein regime, finding a 1991 quote from him supporting the regime against the coalition forces.