Bin Laden and Herndon, Virginia
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
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.:
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:
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.
Reader comments (1) on this item
Comment on this item
You can help support Daniel Pipes' work by making a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes