A 2005 reporting trip to Birmingham, England (long before the township was noted for Islamic extremism) showed that a radical Islamist web magazine published there was hosted by a North Texas Internet company owned by three Palestinian brothers on trial in Dallas. A story at odds with defense claims that the brothers were never sympathetic to Islamic extremism
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – A radical Islamist web magazine published here, which has encouraged suicide attacks against American forces in Iraq, is hosted by a North Texas Internet company linked to three Palestinian brothers about to be tried on federal terrorism charges in Dallas, CBS-11 News has learned.
The monthly journal and its publisher in Birmingham, England, the Centre for Islamic Studies, have come under international condemnation and investigation for allegedly soliciting suicide bombers to attack American and coalition troops in Iraq, as well as Israelis. The magazine, banned in some countries, including Saudi Arabia, routinely carries vitriolic anti-American articles that have cited the need for violent Jihad to replace Judeo-Christian civilization with a global Islamic state, according to translations commissioned by CBS-11.
One London counter-terrorism research organization attributes a 2002 suicide bombing attack, which left three dead and 50 wounded in a popular Tel Aviv bar, to two British Muslim adherents of the Center who were inspired by Alsunnah Magazine. A 2003 British investigation into whether the Centre for Islamic Studies illegally incited violence proved inconclusive. No one from the Centre for Islamic Studies would agree to be interviewed.
But since 2002, the Alsunnah Magazine web site has been hosted by a Richardson-based internet services company called Synaptix Corp. Records show the local company’s directors are close immediate relatives and former employees of Ghassan, Basman and Bayan Elashi. Bayan is listed as the monthly journal’s main administrative contact.
The three brothers face a trial set to begin March 28 in Dallas on federal charges that they funneled laundered money to the U.S.-designated global terrorist group Hamas through Infocom, Inc., a Richardson computer parts company the brothers controlled during the 1990s. The brothers have denied the federal charges, although a jury last summer convicted them and two other brothers of illegally exporting computers through Infocom to Libya and Syria.
Among the directors listed for Synaptix is the mother of the Elashi brothers, Fadwa Elafranji, and the wife of Ghassan Elashi, Majida Salem. In July, Ghassan Elashi was named with six other men in a separate federal indictment for his activities as an officer of the Holy Land Foundation, a Richardson charity with close ties to Infocom. The foundation, also named in the July indictment, was closed by the government after the 9-11 attacks for allegedly funneling money to Hamas. A trial on those charges has not yet been set.
Other Synaptix directors include several people who worked for the Elashis as employees of Infocom and the Holy Land Foundation. Synaptix’s articles of incorporation, for instance, listed frequent Holy Land Foundation spokesman and Infocom operations manager John M. Janney as a director.
No one at Synaptix would respond to multiple interview requests, and Janney did not respond to an emailed interview request. A relative said the brothers’ mother, Fadwa Elafranji, does not speak English. Neither the Elashi brothers nor their defense attorneys would respond to multiple interview requests.
Terrorism specialists say the Internet now reigns as the single most powerful tool in the arsenal of Islamic extremist groups bent on taking their organizations and violent messages global, but that the U.S. government has not yet arrived at this realization. Synaptix has not been part of any of the federal cases against the Elashi brothers. Government officials were unaware that their relatives and former employees have been listed as Synaptix directors or that the firm is hosting such a hotly controversial Internet journal that has provoked protests from the Israeli government and a British investigation.
Its publisher, the Centre for Islamic Studies, has been registered with the British government since 1994 as a charitable Islamic education foundation that seeks to spread the Islamic religion throughout the world with publications and seminars. It also claims to raise funds to aid needy Muslims, reporting nearly $500,000 in donations in 2003. Experts in Great Britain describe the Alsunnah journal and its articles justifying violence as influential among young militant Muslims in Europe, where the Internet version on Synaptix’s Richardson servers is well-read in large immigrant communities.
Sajjan Gohel, Director of International Security for the London-based Asia Pacific Foundation, a counter-terrorism think tank that researches security issues for international businesses, said two Birmingham-area suicide bombers responsible for a bloody 2002 attack on an Israeli pub are believed to have been adherents of the Centre for Islamic Studies and readers of its magazine.
“Its openly aggressive attitude towards Israel has encouraged British Muslims, British Pakistanis, to go off to far away lands to carry out activities of militancy,” he said. “Two British suicide bombers were found in Israel at one point. It’s largely believed that they had read the Alsunnah publication.”
The Alsunnah magazine, published for at least a decade and physically distributed in parts of Europe and the Middle East, has been banned in Saudi Arabia because of articles calling for the overthrow of its U.S.-allied government. Despite warnings by Saudi religious leaders in Friday sermons not to read Alsunnah in the mid-1990s, the magazine would be clandestinely faxed into the country; now a link to the Synaptix-hosted web site is more commonly emailed.
But one of two more recent controversies over the Centre for Islamic Studies surfaced in early 2003, as America was preparing to invade Iraq. During a raid in the West Bank, Israeli military forces seized stacks of leaflets that had been produced by the Center. The Arabic-language leaflet, one of which has been obtained by CBS-11 and translated, said martyrs had no choice but to kill the invading Americans in Iraq. The leaflets also solicited funds to a bank account that was later traced to the Center.
The pamphlets describe the U.S. military plans as a Christian crusade akin to two Christian Europe pushes into Muslim lands during the Middle Ages that were eventually reversed after bloody wars.
“When the Zionist-American rush aims to uproot a nation and destroy its vitality and the center of resistance and decision-making in it, the youths of this nation have no path to take other than martyrdom operations,” the pamphlet reads. “It seems that the new line of confrontation will extend from Afghanistan to Iraq and Palestine to put a stop to the terrorist Zionist Crusade against Islam and Muslims.”
The Israeli embassy in London demanded the British government investigate the Center for terrorist incitement. Local police authorities in Birmingham, declining to elaborate, told CBS-11 they did investigate but did not bring any charges against the Center.
A second controversy erupted in late 2003 after the Iraq invasion, over articles published on the Al-Sunnah Magazine web site. The articles called explicitly for suicide bombers to attack American forces, according to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, an Israel-based think tank that collects and compiles intelligence material about terrorism groups.
The terrorism information center conducted a study of the Centre for Islamic Studies and the magazine after the articles surfaced.
The Birmingham organization, according to the study, subscribes to an extremist ideology that places Islam in conflict with ostensibly invading Christian and Jewish forces, and calls for martyrs to help establish a global Islamic state. The ideology of global Islamic domination has been taken up by top Hamas leaders since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, who have called for armies of suicide bombers to confront American forces, the study said.
“A journal of fundamentalist Muslim nature called Alsunnah portrays the American offensive in Iraq as a war between Western Civilization and the Muslim Nation, aimed at ‘eradicating Islam,'” the ITIC report states. “In reaction to the challenge presented by the Americans Crusaders…Muslim youths are called upon to carry out ‘suicide operations’ and to present a front against the U.S. that will extend ‘from Afghanistan via Iraq up to Palestine.’
Editions of the journal from late 2004 through last month, translated by CBS-11, indicate the Al-Sunnah has toned down explicitly violent rhetoric. The articles, however, did depict the world as living in the throes of an epic conflict between Muslims on one side and Christians and Jews on the other.
In an article, entitled “The Third American Crusade,” Dr. Abdel Aziz El Qarei calls for resistance against what he called a broad new crusaders’ war against Islam.
“We must be certain that the outcome of this new Jewish Crusade will be for Islam,” he wrote. “Our prophet, Muhammad…has told us that the conflict will end in victory for Muslims and Islam over all other religions, the annihilation of the Jews and the breaking of the cross.”
Another article celebrates the prospect of armed Jihad against “the evil Crusaders” who invaded Iraq and likened the invasion to crusades of the Middle Ages.
“Just like that age opened the doors for Jihad and just resistance…so will every aggression against this nation open the doors of Jihad and just resistance, which will end in the defeat of the assaulting forces of evil, whether it be Crusaders or Zionist forces, God willing.”
Abu-Khadeejah Waheed, a trustee of a politically moderate Islamic bookstore down the street from the Centre for Islamic Studies, described the Egyptians, Syrians and Libyans who run it as an insular bunch who try to keep their activities secret.
The Center’s ideological roots, reflected in its magazine, can be traced to a global network known as The Muslim Brotherhood established in Egypt in 1928, Waheed said. The Brotherhood, through its cells all over the world, has always nurtured the idea of achieving an Islamist global government based on the Koran and has spawned multitudes of clandestine militant groups, including Hamas, to use violent revolt to work toward that goal.
Waheed said the Center follows an ideology that traces more specifically to the deceased scholar Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader who became a modern-day philosopher of using terror to achieve religious and political domination. This school of thought is cited as the major influence on Osama bin Ladin.
Counterterrorism experts in both the U.S. and Great Britain say the fact that Synaptix can host such a site as the Elashi brothers move toward their trial underscores a significant new development in the War on Terror that federal authorities have largely overlooked. The Internet, some specialists say, now reigns as the single most powerful tool in the arsenal of Islamic extremist groups bent on taking their organizations and violent messages global. Since 9-11, extremist web sites calling for violence have exploded from a handful to untold thousands that operate virtually unmolested by western governments.
“It has become a very powerful outlet for the terrorists to conduct their activities, and it’s been used very successfully, whether we’re looking at the Madrid train bombings or the situation in Iraq, or the Bali terrorist attack,” said Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation.
The Internet, he added, “is their oxygen. It has to be taken very seriously. As we can see it’s become a very active tool for the terrorists, one that they will continue to use and exploit.”
Sajjan is not alone in saying government investigators, not only in the U.S., have been caught far behind the curve on the Internet issue. British laws that would allow authorities there to prosecute speech encouraging violent incitement are so porous, and thresholds for evidence so high, that authorities are unable to crack down, Sajjan said.
Aaron Weisburd, a Carbondale, Ill. resident runs an organization called Internet Hagannah, which identifies Islamist web sites and pressures server companies to drop them. He said many of these web sites are nestled on more plentiful, inexpensive American servers, where they recruit suicide bombers, raise funds for Jihad operations, grow their constituencies, pass along encrypted messages and attempt to establish legitimacy.
Weisburd’s organization has exposed that 22 out of 25 primary sites for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah are hosted by U.S. companies, including one in Bedford.
The services Weisburd provides are needed, he said, because federal authorities either claim the First Amendment limits how they can combat the Internet incitement speech, or believe they should be kept online for surveillance purposes, despite a lack of evidence that such monitoring is effective.
In November, CBS-11 first exposed the presence of radical Islamist web sites on another Dallas-area company that hosts web sites. The Planet Internet Services, Inc. was found to be hosting sites by U.S.-outlawed groups such as Hamas, with which it is now criminal for American companies to do business.
Federal authorities did not move to intervene, even though one site found on The Planet servers was playing fresh suicide bombing videos of American troops whose deaths were filmed in Iraq by the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The sites were only removed after the news reports generated an angry public backlash, but have popped up elsewhere.
The Israeli government expressed frustration that Western governments weren’t doing more to suppress the Alsunnah web site and many others operating out of Great Britain that openly incite violence against Jews.
“The issue of inflammatory statements or publications is being raised by us from time to time with our British counterparts,” said Shuli Davidovic, a spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy in London. “We feel that a country that believes in peace in the Middle East and is so active in promoting it should not tolerate these kinds of dangerous ideas.”