Friday, February 25, 2005

Saudis Funding "Terror High School" in Virginia

Philadelphia Daily News: -
THE SCHOOL'S 1999 valedictorian has just been charged with having joined an al Qaeda chapter in Saudi Arabia four years ago and is now accused of plotting to kill President Bush, either with a car bomb or by shooting him.

The school's former comptroller, arrested last year after videotaping the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland, has been labeled by federal agents as a high- ranking member of the terrorist group Hamas.

And the school itself has been accused of teaching students to shun or dislike Christians and Jews, and once used an 11th-grade textbook that claimed trees will say on the Day of Judgment, "Here is a Jew hiding behind me. Come here and kill him."

You could call it Terror High - the Islamic Saudi Academy in suburban Alexandria, Va., near Washington - a more- than-1,000-student high school at the center of these high-profile incidents. The academy is funded by the Saudi government, a supposed ally of the United States in the fight against terrorism.

Daniel Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and a well-known advocate of aggressive anti-terror policies, said the school is like "having a little piece of Saudi Arabia" in northern Virginia. He claimed the Islamic Saudi Academy is a classic case of pitting free speech against protection from future attacks.

"It's like the Nazis having little Hitler schools in America during the 1930s," Pipes said last night. Fifteen of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudi, although the oil-rich nation is a close ally of the Bush administration.

Officials from the high school and the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not return calls yesterday from the Daily News for comment about either the school or the alleged assassination plot. A woman in the embassy's public-affairs office said "of course" the Saudis continued to finance the controversial academy, but her boss did not call back as promised.

The alleged presidential assassination plot by Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 23, who was the school's valedictorian six years ago, has thrust the Islamic Saudi Academy back in the news. Abu Ali is in federal custody in Virginia.

However, the specific facts of Abu Ali's case - and whether he is indeed tied to the al Qaeda terror network headed by Osama bin Laden - remained very murky last night.

A six-count indictment against Abu Ali, an American citizen who was born in Houston and raised in Falls Church, Va., said that while he was studying at the University of Medina in Saudi Arabia, he had received a "religious blessing" to assassinate Bush.

Prosecutors claimed yesterday that Abu Ali wanted to get close to the president to either shoot him or somehow attack with a car bomb. But Abu Ali is not specifically charged with plotting an assassination, which is a separate federal offense.

Abu Ali is charged with conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda, contributing services to al Qaeda, receiving funds and services from al Qaeda, and providing material support to terrorists. He faces up to 80 years in prison under federal law. Prosecutors say he admired Sept. 11 plot leaders Mohamad Atta and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, and wanted to run a U.S.-based terror cell.

But friends, family and attorneys for Abu Ali paint a radically different picture of the defendent and how he came to be charged in the case.

Supporters reportedly laughed when the allegations were read aloud in the courtroom. His father, Omar, a computer programmer at the Saudi Embassy, told journalists outside that "the government has lied to us from the first day.'" Abu Ali's mother is a pharmacist.

Lawyers for Abu Ali, a student at the University of Medina when he was arrested by Saudi authorities in June 2003, say their client was handcuffed for days at a time and whipped while in custody abroad. They offered yesterday to show his injuries to a federal magistrate, who declined the offer.

One defense attorney, Salim Ali, filed an affidavit last fall stating that when he asked an assistant U.S. attorney about bringing Abu Ali back to America, he was told: "He's no good for us here; he has no fingernails left."

The one thing that was clear yesterday is that the Islamic Saudi Academy, based on two lavish campuses in northern Virginia, is becoming something of a focal point in the war on terror.

David Kovalik, the academy's director of education, who did not return a phone call from the Daily News, told the Washington Post last year that Abu Ali was "an exceptional student" who was "very strong in science and math and just very personable; he helped others and was respectful to teachers."

Last August, a former comptroller of the school, Ismael Selim Elbarasse, was arrested as a material witness by federal authorities who called him a high-level operative for Hamas, the Palestinian terror group.

In March 2002, another graduate of the school, Mohammad Usman Idris, then 24, was charged with lying to a grand jury probing plots against Israel.

Pipes said last night that the fact that the school is funded by the Saudis does not seem to give the United States much leverage in dealing with it.

He noted that the oil kingdom "is not really a friend and not really an enemy" and that "we need to sort it all out."