Lashkar-e-Taiba in America
by Stephen Schwartz
The coincidence can best be described as macabre: The terrorist assault on Mumbai occurred just as a House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, headed by Democratic Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey, initiated an inquiry into the conviction of a radical Muslim hatemonger, Ali Al-Timimi, for recruiting to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) or Army of the Righteous, the group considered responsible for the latest atrocities in India. Purportedly, Al-Timimi, when he was tried, may have been a "victim" of anti-terror measures introduced by the Bush administration.
The review of the Al-Timimi case would be the Holt panel's first formal action against the Bush administration's record in this field. The panel was established last year by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But let us take our own look at the movements, incidents, and characters involved. Congressional and media attitudes toward Islamist extremism are in fact more deserving of criticism here than are Bush policies.
LET is a powerful fundamentalist militia financed by the Pakistani government in its fight with India over Kashmir. The group has a close relationship with al Qaeda; prominent Guantánamo captive Abu Zubayda, a top al Qaeda operative, was arrested in a LET safehouse in Pakistan in 2002. The group is committed to terror in the West as well as in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Indeed LET is present wherever Pakistani radicals are found, and was involved in the 2006 plot at Heathrow airport that changed airline policies on passengers carrying liquids.
Two years before the Heathrow affair, LET veteran Dhiren Barot, a Hindu convert to Islam who graduated to al Qaeda, was arrested in Britain and charged with planning a variety of chemical and radioactive attacks on financial offices in the United States, which he had surveilled extensively. Barot, heading a network of Kashmiri radical recruits, was sentenced to life imprisonment in the UK. LET's other exploits outside the Indian subcontinent included the training of "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, currently serving a life sentence in the U.S.
But one of the most notable setbacks suffered by LET involved the so-called "Virginia paintball jihad" case. Notwithstanding the light-hearted nickname bestowed on the conspiracy by media, the "paintball jihad" was much more than a weekend diversion involving a paramilitary sport. The Virginia group of Islamists, including American Muslim convert Randall "Ismail" Royer, was convicted of training for and participating in LET's military campaign against India. From his base in the United States, Royer sent recruits to an LET camp in Pakistan for instruction in the use of small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and other military resources. Royer admitted he had formed his group within a week of the horrors of September 11, 2001, to swell the ranks of mujahideen fighting against the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. In practice, however, the paintball convicts fired their weapons against Indian forces in Kashmir. Royer was sent to prison for 20 years, and eight of his cohort received similar sentences.
And thus to the present contretemps. Al-Timimi, a Washington, D.C.-born biologist when he was not engaged in inciting violence, was convicted in the Virginia case of soliciting participation in LET's armed jihad. Indeed, he was the Royer group's "spiritual mentor." Al-Timimi was a prominent figure in Washington jihadist circles; he delivered Friday sermons at the Saudi-run Washington Islamic Center, the "big mosque" dedicated to the cult of Wahhabism (see "The Mosque and the Imam").
In the Virginia circle, Al-Timimi directed his exhortations against India, and there is an undeniable link between his da'wa, or Islamic outreach, and the carnage in Mumbai. Al-Timimi had spoken by telephone with Suliman Al-Buthe, a Saudi subject born in Egypt and designated a terror financier by the U.S. Treasury. Al-Buthe was a high official of the Saudi-based Al-Haramain Foundation, a major support network for al Qaeda. Al-Timimi gloated to Al-Buthe about the crash of the space shuttle Columbia, among other tasteful comments. Al-Timimi received a sentence of life plus 70 years without parole.
Critics of the Bush administration have homed in on the Al-Timimi case as an alleged example of U.S. legal misconduct in pursuit of terrorist suspects. Al-Timimi challenged his conviction because use of National Security Agency electronic surveillance against him had not been fully disclosed in his trial. "Domestic spying," at least at this point, apparently trumps "international plotting of mass murder" as a matter for congressional scrutiny.
The New York Times in mid-November identified the Al-Timimi case as an "early test" for President-elect Barack Obama, regarding whether he will continue surveillance of well-known extremists (since Al-Timimi hardly concealed his views) or discontinue it. Between the consequences at Mumbai and the posturing of his fellow-politicians, Obama indeed faces a test. But the campaign against NSA and related law-enforcement activities in cases like that of Al-Timimi has nothing to do with maintaining American justice as a pristine example for the world, nor with saving lives. Rather, it is a purely political matter aimed at President Bush and seeking to discredit the framework of anti-terror measures adopted during his tenure.
Smart money says Obama will recognize the greater threat and keep NSA and related practices in place, if not extend them. But the Times has continued its posturing on the Al-Timimi case, euphemistically describing him as "a Muslim scholar" and offering a distinction between training for and firing weapons in war against India, and "terrorist actions." According to the Times's definition of terrorism, the Virginia group was innocent. According to Al-Timimi, his attorneys, and the Times, his trial should be treated as free speech case.
The moral is clear: Rep. Holt and his panel should take a good, long look at LET and its global activities, especially their consequences in Mumbai, before rushing to the aid of Ali Al-Timimi, jihadist extraordinaire.