Some network figures had dealings with activists who ran two vehemently anti-Israel groups out of the University of South Florida in Tampa, federal documents said. One of the activists, USF professor Sami al-Arian, was indicted last year on charges of conspiracy to commit murder via suicide attacks in Israel. Officials said he was secretly a top leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization. Al-Arian denies the charges.
The network's lawyers say that its ties to Al-Arian were fleeting. The government is looking into whether the network engaged in tax violations and "suspected terrorism-related money laundering activities," a U.S. customs agent stated in a report on the probe filed in federal court a year ago.
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.
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Luque said her clients abhor terrorism, including against Israelis.
But an IIIT book called "Violence," published in 2001, said Israel is a "foreign usurper" that must be confronted with "fear, terror and lack of security." The book, by IIIT official AbdulHamid AbuSulayman, says, "Fighting is a duty of the oppressed people." Palestinian fighters must choose their targets "whether the targets are civilian or military," it said, adding that any such attacks should not be "excessive." The book said such attacks are justified acts of a liberation struggle, not terrorism.
The life story of one of the IIIT network's leaders illustrates the key role it has played in the global politics of the Ikhwan. Jamal M. Barzinji fled his native Iraq in 1969 when the Baathist regime started executing fellow Islamists. An engineering student and top MSA leader, he joined MSA associates in 1971 to host the top leaders of the Egyptian Brotherhood, just released from 16 years in prison, for two weeks of meetings in Indiana.
He and other then-MSA leaders helped persuade the Egyptian brothers to try participating in Egyptian elections as an alternative to underground struggle, he said. "It was one of our main contributions to the Ikhwan movement worldwide," he said. He and his associates likewise have hosted many other Islamist leaders here over the years to "show them how wrong they are in being anti-American," Barzinji said.
But the government's current probe of the IIIT network undercuts their efforts toward moderation, he said. "The extremists say: 'See? All American society is corrupt.' "
Beyond U.S. Shores
Some U.S. Islam experts say law enforcement investigations of Ikhwan-tied activists complicate U.S. diplomatic dialogues with Brotherhood members overseas. For years, State Department and CIA officials have met with Brotherhood activists in Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere to track currents within Islamic politics.
"We want to know where they're coming from, to influence them," said Edward P. Djerejian, a former top State Department official who now runs Rice University's James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.
At the same time, host governments in Cairo, Tunis and elsewhere warn that the Brotherhood is dangerous. So do many in U.S. law enforcement. "There were debates all the time about meeting with them," Djerejian said.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, pockets in the government -- including officials in State's Near East bureau and diplomats posted overseas -- have quietly advocated that the government reach out to the Brotherhood and its allies. These officials and some in U.S. think tanks hope the Brotherhood can temper its anti-U.S. stance and become a barrier against jihadists worldwide.
"Bin Laden-ism can only be gutted by fundamentalists" such as the Ikhwan, said Reuel Gerecht, a former CIA officer in the Middle East who is tracking pro-democracy activism in the region for the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
As U.S. officials try to promote democracy in Muslim countries, he said, "it's inevitable the U.S. will engage the fundamentalists" because of their popularity in those societies. Indeed, many Arab experts say the Ikhwan or its allies could win open elections in countries such as Egypt and Algeria.
But many in the government oppose engagement because it runs counter to the wishes of close U.S. allies in the Egyptian and Moroccan governments, which feel threatened by the Brotherhood.
"At high levels of the government, there's no desire to go in the direction of dialogue," said Fuller, the former CIA official. "It's still seen as fairly way out." But he warns against a litmus test for talking to Islamists -- such as eliminating those who embrace anti-Israel terrorism or make anti-American statements. "There's hardly an Islamic group anywhere that hasn't done that," he said.
Leslie Campbell, who runs Middle East affairs for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, supports the outreach idea. Campbell, who trains Arab politicians including Islamists, hosted a delegation in July from a Brotherhood-tied political party in Yemen to the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
"They appreciated that the U.S. had reached out to them," he said. "If they're empowered, they'd serve as a bulwark against those who want to destroy."
Research editor Margot Williams contributed to this report.