Case Against Ex-Guard Brings Scrutiny of D.C. Imam
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
The United States has a long history of public speakers given to fiery rhetoric. The question in a time of heightened concern about terrorism: When do they cross the line and become a real threat?
A debate based on that question surrounds a case to be heard this fall at the U.S. District Courthouse in Greenbelt. Submitted evidence includes public pronouncements by Abdul Alim Musa, who has served for 18 years as imam of a mosque in Southeast Washington.
Among his past statements: Zionist American agents blew up the World Trade Center; Palestinian suicide bombers are heroes; the U.S. government saturated U.S. cities with heroin in the 1960s to snuff out blacks' rebellion; white, "sissy" federal agents are best handled by the teachings of his lecture, "How to Punk the FBI."
The government hasn't charged the imam. But a longtime and devoted member of his mosque, Darrick Jackson, 37, is charged with not truthfully answering a question during a background check while working as a security guard at Andrews Air Force Base. Prosecutors say that Jackson didn't provide his Muslim name in 2005 when asked if he had ever used or been known by another name. They say that Jackson knew that a connection to the controversial imam would have lessened his chances of staying at Andrews.
Musa, 62, has been trying for years to build an Islamic community in the Benning Road area, one that he would like to see replicated nationwide until the United States becomes an Islamic state. Barrel-chested, with a graying beard offset by black robes, Musa is a showman and rambling orator who quoted Patrick Henry for nearly 11 minutes in a lecture called "The Amerikkkan Way" and who has spoken of his desire to see the Chesapeake Bay cleaned in five years.
Jackson's attorneys say the government's concern about the imam led it to overcook a guilt-by-association case against a person qualified to work at Andrews. Jackson no longer works there. If convicted of making a false statement -- in this case, a federal felony -- he could spend five years in prison.
According to court records, the government proposed showing jurors, among other things, a 17-word video snippet featuring Musa that aired this year on Fox News.
"If you don't stay out of our way and leave us alone, we're going to burn America down," Musa said from behind a podium at the University of California at Irvine on Sept. 9, 2001, according to the Fox video.
That comment was part of what for Musa was a typically wide-ranging speech -- it careened from subjects such as his visits to Pakistan to the Japanese holdout fighters of World War II but centered on Jamil Al-Amin, formerly H. Rap Brown, a prominent Black Panther in the 1960s. Musa set up the "burn America down" comment by saying that he was paraphrasing Al-Amin, which prosecutors have since acknowledged.
Musa never threatened to burn the United States down, according to a longer video and transcript of the speech posted on the Web site of the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
"His bark is worse than his bite," said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society's Freedom Foundation, which is based in Washington. Although that bark might unnerve Muslim leaders, many of whom reject Musa's strident views, Bray said he doesn't consider him a national threat. "Whether you agree or disagree or classify what he says as repugnant, he has a right to say it," Bray said.
John Miller, an assistant director and chief spokesman for the FBI, said Musa's comments about white, "sissy" and dishonest federal agents were "incorrect," "bigoted" and "stupid." And Musa knows as much, Miller said, but makes the remarks to get attention. "The FBI has gone to great lengths to reach out to the Muslim community nationwide," Miller said, adding that Musa's opinion of the FBI doesn't track with those of national Muslim leaders.