When U.S. immigration officers in New York City whisked away Ishaq Farhan as he stepped off an incoming international flight in May 2000, his Jordanian diplomatic passport was no help to him. Federal agents questioned him for hours before barring his entry into the country. Then they made him pay for the flight back to Jordan.
The U.S. Embassy in Jordan lost no time making amends to Farhan, a leading opposition politician who has been closely affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, a worldwide movement opposed to Western influences. A State Department official visited his home, issued him an immediate visa and passed on the United States' "deep regret for the difficulties Dr. Farhan experienced."
The Egyptian Ikhwan is opposed to violence against the nation's government but is still considered a terrorist front.
About This Series|
Three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. government has undertaken extensive efforts to root out Islamic terrorists around the world and to defend the U.S. homeland. Articles today and tomorrow are part of a series looking at the elusive nature of the threat and the problems authorities confront in battling it. Today's story examines a worldwide Islamic movement that has been linked to terrorist groups but also has produced some of the most influential and moderate Islamic institutions in the United States. Tomorrow's report looks at how a mosque that grew out of that movement fares in the world after Sept. 11. Previous parts of this series can be found at www.washingtonpost.com/nation.
The episode demonstrates the U.S. government's dilemma. Some federal agents worry that the Muslim Brotherhood has dangerous links to terrorism. But some U.S. diplomats and intelligence officials believe its influence offers an opportunity for political engagement that could help isolate violent jihadists.
"It is the preeminent movement in the Muslim world," said Graham E. Fuller, a former CIA official specializing in the Middle East. "It's something we can work with." Demonizing the Brotherhood "would be foolhardy in the extreme," he warned.
The Brotherhood's history and the challenges it poses to U.S. officials illustrate the complexity of the political front in the campaign against terrorism three years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. FBI agents and financial investigators probe the group for terrorist ties and legal violations, while diplomats simultaneously discuss strategies for co-opting at least its moderate wings. In both sectors of the U.S. government, the Brotherhood often remains a mystery.
The Brotherhood -- or al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, as it is known in Arabic -- is a sprawling and secretive society with followers in more than 70 countries. It is dedicated to creating an Islamic civilization that harks back to the caliphates of the 7th and 8th centuries, one that would segregate women from public life and scorn nonbelievers.
In some nations -- Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Sudan -- the Brotherhood has fomented Islamic revolution. In the Palestinian territories, the Brotherhood created the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, which has become known for its suicide bombings of Israelis. Yet it is also a sophisticated and diverse organization that appeals to many Muslims worldwide and sometimes advocates peaceful persuasion, not violent revolt. Some of its supporters went on to help found al Qaeda, while others launched one of the largest college student groups in the United States.
For decades, the Brotherhood enjoyed the support of the government of Saudi Arabia and its oil billions, which helped the group expand in the United States.
Past and present Muslim Brotherhood supporters make up the U.S. Islamic community's most organized force. They run hundreds of mosques and dozens of businesses engaging in ventures such as real estate development and banking. They also helped set up some of the leading American Islamic organizations that defend the rights of Muslims, promote Muslim civic activism and seek to spread Islam.
For years federal agents paid little heed to the Brotherhood, but after Sept. 11 they noticed that many leads went back to the Brotherhood. "We see some sort of nexus, direct or indirect, to the Brotherhood, in ongoing cases," said Dennis Lormel, until recently a top FBI counterterrorism official.
The architect of the Sept. 11 strikes, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, told U.S. interrogators that he was drawn to violent jihad after joining the Brotherhood in Kuwait at age 16 and attending its desert youth camps, according to the report released in July by the national commission that investigated the attacks.
Brotherhood radicals in Germany and Spain are suspected of organizing logistical support for the al Qaeda cell that carried out the attacks. Western governments subsequently shut down a huge banking network in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the Bahamas that was set up by a leading Brotherhood figure, citing its numerous financial ties to al Qaeda and other terrorists. The founder, Youssef Nada, denies wrongdoing.
In March 2002, federal agents in Northern Virginia raided a cluster of Muslim think tanks, companies and foundations run mostly by men who sympathized with the Brotherhood in Iraq and elsewhere in the 1960s. No charges have resulted, but U.S. officials stated in court earlier this year that they are pursuing terrorist financing allegations. Members of the group, known for their relative political moderation, say they ended Brotherhood ties years ago and deny wrongdoing.
In a 42-count indictment in July, the government alleged that an Islamic charity, the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, funneled $12.4 million to a designated terrorist group, Hamas. The indictment said the Holy Land Foundation was "deeply involved with a network of Muslim Brotherhood organizations dedicated to furthering the Islamic fundamentalist agenda espoused by Hamas." The Holy Land Foundation denies wrongdoing.