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In Search Of Friends Among The Foes

The indictment alleges that the Holy Land Foundation and its Brotherhood allies performed services for Hamas -- fundraising, banking, producing videos and distributing literature. The Brotherhood network, according to the indictment, also hosted conferences -- featuring Hamas officials and radical sheiks -- that glorified extremism and included "violent dramatic skits depicting the killing of Jewish people." But the Brotherhood was not charged with any crimes.

One alleged Brotherhood figure is Soliman S. Biheiri, a Northern Virginia finance company executive convicted last year of lying to obtain U.S. citizenship. Biheiri, who federal documents say invested money for years in this country for Hamas officials, is "the Muslim Brotherhood's financial toehold in the U.S.," federal prosecutor Steven Ward said last year in court.

The Egyptian Ikhwan is opposed to violence against the nation's government but is still considered a terrorist front. (AP)

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.

_____From This Series_____
Impervious Shield Elusive Against Drive-By Terrorists (The Washington Post, Aug 8, 2004)
U.S. Eyes Money Trails of Saudi-Backed Charities (The Washington Post, Aug 19, 2004)

For law enforcement, the Brotherhood remains a worrisome enigma.

"The complication is they are a political movement, an economic cadre and in some cases terrorist supporters," said Juan Zarate, chief of the Treasury Department's terrorist finance unit. "They operate business empires in the Western world, but their philosophy and ultimate objectives are radical Islamist goals that in many ways are antithetical to our interests. They have one foot in our world and one foot in a world hostile to us. How to decipher what is good, bad or suspect is a severe complication."

Until recently "there wasn't a recognition of the logistical and financial ties to terrorism through the Muslim Brotherhood," Zarate added.

A senior U.S. law enforcement official said the FBI studied the Brotherhood -- or the Ikhwan -- from afar for a decade, but "we are more actively aware of them now." One worrisome feature of the network, he said, is the secret bond among Brotherhood activists. "We are very interested in relations among people and entities," he said. "People know each other for 20 years and will do anything for them because they are all 'brothers.' "

The Brotherhood has been connected to many Islamic extremists worldwide. Two Egyptian Brotherhood members went on to found split-off terrorist groups: Ayman Zawahiri, now Osama bin Laden's deputy, and blind sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted in 1995 of plotting to blow up New York landmarks.

One top movement leader is Nada, who was jailed in Egypt in the 1950s for Brotherhood activities. He later became wealthy selling construction materials in Saudi Arabia, where he was called the "cement king," and now lives in a sprawling Italian villa.

With "significant backing from the Muslim Brotherhood," Nada set up a complex global banking network in the 1980s, the Treasury Department said when it recently designated Nada and two other Brotherhood officials as terrorist financiers. U.S. and European officials say the network has funded al Qaeda, Hamas and Algeria's Armed Islamic Group -- assertions that Nada denies. Although the network was supposedly shut down, U.S. and European officials say they still find Nada moving funds under new corporate names.

One of Nada's key aides has been a Holocaust revisionist from Switzerland, Ahmed Huber -- one of many neo-Nazis who helped the Ikhwan set up its financial structure.

Muslim activists who know current and former Brotherhood sympathizers in this country say bitter opposition to Israel is a key part of Brotherhood beliefs. Law enforcement sources say hundreds of current and former Ikhwan supporters nationwide are under federal investigation for alleged financial support of Hamas and other Palestinian groups deemed terrorists by the U.S. government.

But some Brotherhood experts say most wings of the movement are moderate and no threat to the United States. Ahmad Sakr, who has known Brotherhood activists in his native Lebanon and in this country, said U.S. officials are "100 percent wrong" to treat the Ikhwan with suspicion.

"They're not military men or terrorists," said Sakr, a Muslim activist in California. "They're educated and contribute to the success of America. The Muslim Brothers want to practice Islam in their families and in themselves, to show Islam is for every human being. . . . I never saw humble people like them. They give everything for the honor of God."

The Saudi Connection

The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by a 22-year-old schoolteacher named Hassan Banna in his house in the Egyptian city of Ismailiyya. Banna railed against the colonial powers' humiliation of Muslims, and preached that governments should be ruled by Islamic law, or sharia.

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