As chief of facilities for D.C. public schools, Kifah W. Jayyousi oversaw painting, toilet repairs and other mundane upgrades to aging buildings. But federal agents now say the engineer had a secret life, as a member of a nationwide network that raised money and recruited Islamic militants for conflicts in Bosnia, Chechnya and other places.
Jayyousi, 43, was ordered held without bond yesterday in U.S. District Court in Detroit on charges of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and to commit violent acts abroad, officials said. His attorney, William Swor, said Jayyousi simply raised money for charitable activities and plans to plead innocent to the charges.
Kifah W. Jayyousi, right, former chief of facilities for the District's public schools, attends a meeting in 2001. He is accused of supporting terrorists.
(Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
Jayyousi, who held the D.C. schools job from 1999 to 2001, was arrested Sunday at Detroit's airport when he arrived on an overseas flight, according to FBI officials. An FBI affidavit suggests that the Jordanian-born U.S. citizen had been under surveillance by federal agents since the mid-1990s, including at least part of the time he worked for the school system.
D.C. officials hired Jayyousi from the Detroit school system. There is no indication that federal authorities shared their suspicions about him with District officials, and those who worked with the former facilities chief said yesterday they were shocked by the allegations.
"He played things close to the vest. But I could never fathom he'd have this kind of clandestine activity going on while he was managing the school facilities," said former D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), who oversaw the council's education committee at the time.
According to the FBI affidavit signed by John T. Kavanaugh, an agent involved with the Miami-based investigation, Jayyousi was a vigorous supporter of Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind sheik convicted in 1995 of directing followers to bomb New York City landmarks. From about 1994 to 1996, Jayyousi published a newsletter, Islam Report, that provided updates on Rahman's legal case and promoted "jihad" overseas, the affidavit said.
Jayyousi also ran two charities, the American Islamic Group and American Worldwide Relief, which were described in the affidavit as vehicles to raise money and find fighters for foreign Muslim causes. In 1995 and 1996, Jayyousi allegedly recruited at least two people to fight in Chechnya and arranged for equipment to be sent to Chechen rebels, including satellite phones and a Global Positioning System device, the affidavit said.
Jayyousi's attorney said yesterday that his client had done nothing illegal.
"He's really being prosecuted for his constitutionally protected speech," Swor said. He noted that most of the allegations about Jayyousi involved activities that occurred a decade ago, when some of the organizations cited were operating legally and had not been formally linked to terrorism by the U.S. government.
Swor also noted that the U.S. government had protested the actions of Russian troops in Chechnya, where rebels advocating independence have been battling for a decade.
"Which groups are terrorist groups?" he asked.
The FBI affidavit said Jayyousi was part of a North American network that supported Islamic fighters in Kosovo, Bosnia, Chechnya and Somalia from 1994 to about 2002.
Also accused of belonging to the alleged network are Kassem Daher, a Canadian resident who is charged in the criminal complaint, and Adham Amin Hassoun, a Palestinian national living in Florida who has been indicted on similar charges.
The charge of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in jail, and the second charge -- conspiring to commit murder, kidnapping or maiming overseas -- could be punished by up to life in prison, federal officials said.
Jayyousi was fired from his school job in April 2001 by then-Superintendent Paul L. Vance, who accused him of failing to properly manage his department. Jayyousi had been criticized for an expensive no-bid contract given to Washington Gas to oversee school maintenance work and for a botched repair job at a Capitol Hill school during which asbestos spilled from a ceiling.
The FBI affidavit said Jayyousi had been living in Egypt in recent years. His attorney, however, said that Jayyousi maintained a home in Detroit and had been working temporarily outside the country for a U.S. company, which he declined to identify.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.