Schumer: Growing Influence of Wahhabi Islam Over Military and Prisons Pose Threat

Date: June 26, 2003
Location: Washington, DC

Schumer testimony for Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for holding this hearing and for permitting me to testify. The issue we're addressing today is tremendously important in our effort to protect America from future terrorist attacks and it's a credit to you and this Subcommittee that you've convened this hearing.

Since the Wahhabi presence in the United States is a foreboding one that has potentially harmful and far reaching consequences for our nation's mosques, schools, prisons and even our military, these hearings could not come at a more opportune moment.

Before I begin, however, let me be absolutely clear: Islam is an admirable and peaceful faith that embraces tolerance, morality and charity. Most of the Muslim world follows these tenets. Unfortunately, the increasingly influential and radical Wahhabi ideology distorts this message by preaching hate, violence, and intolerance toward the moderate Muslim and Judeo-Christian world.

Al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorists were the products of Wahhabism hateful and intolerant systems of belief. Over the past year, my office has been tracking Wahhabi activities in the US and around the world and has uncovered some disturbing information.

Wahhabism is an extremist, exclusionary form of Islam that not only denigrates other faiths but also marginalizes peaceful followers of Islam like the Shia and moderate Sunnis.

The roots of Wahhabism can be found in Saudi Arabia, where the governing regime has made an ugly deal with that nation's radical Muslim clerics. The Saudis give the Wahhabis protection and support in exchange for the Wahhabis promising not to undermine the Saudi royal family. It's nothing short of a deal with the devil.

The Wahabbis get to preach the hate and extremism that form core tenets of Wahhabism, without consequence. More importantly, they are allowed to recruit disciples who pose a tremendous threat to Americans everywhere.

I have written letter after letter to the Saudi Arabian government asking it to denounce the Wahhabi teachings of its madrassahs, or religious schools, which preach extremism, and to stop funding them. I'm sure everyone will be shocked to hear that thus far, I have not received any response from them indicating a change in policy.

As the Saudis turn a blind eye, the Wahhabi machine is becoming well-financed, politically powerful, difficult to prosecute and making dramatic inroads here in the US. Let me give you an example of how Wahhabism has wreaked havoc in my own backyard.

For 20 years, the New York State Department of Corrections employed Warith Deen Umar as one of its chaplains, eventually appointing him Administrative Chaplain of the New York Department of Correctional Services.

A strict believer in Wahhabi Islam, Umar was responsible for the hiring and firing of all chaplains in the New York State prison system, exercising complete control over personnel matters. But last year, Mr. Umar was banned from ever again entering a New York State prison after he incited prisoners against America, specifically preaching to inmates that the 9/11 hijackers should be remembered as martyrs.

Many of the clerics Umar hired during his tenure have reportedly echoed his sentiments in sermons before many of New York State's 13,000 Muslim inmates as well as impeding their freedom of religion by denying these prisoners access to materials used by more moderate forms of Islam. While it is not surprising that Umar would have hired clerics who shared his beliefs, I am terribly worried that his minions may have exposed members of New York's prison population to his extremist and toxic anti-American views.

More than preaching hate, these clerics seem to be actively opposing the US government. In March, federal prosecutors in New York indicted a chaplain at the Auburn Correctional Facility for sending millions of dollars to organizations in Iraq in violation of US sanctions. He has since pleaded guilty to the offense. When my office researched further, we discovered that New York's prisons were not the only ones that had been penetrated by Wahhabi zealotry.

The US Federal Bureau of Prisons uses two groups to select imams who minister to Muslim inmates: the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS) whose offices were right across the river in northern Virginia, and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). As experts appearing later today can testify, both of these groups appear to have disturbing connections to Wahhabism and terrorism.

The GSISS is under investigation as part of U.S. Customs' operation Green Quest for its possible role in helping to funnel $20 million to terrorists through offshore financial institutions. Meanwhile, a number of ISNA board members appear to have checkered pasts. One member, Siraj Wahhaj, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the WTC '93 bombings.
Another board member, Bassam Osman, was previously the director of the Quranic Literary Institute, an Oak Lawn, Illinois organization that had $1.4 million in assets seized by the Justice Department in June 1998 on the grounds that it was used to support Hamas terrorist activities.

To make matters worse, the GSISS, as well as another Wahhabi-influenced organization that is under investigation by Green Quest - the American Muslim Foundation - are the sole organizations credentialed to advise the Pentagon on who to choose to serve as imams to the 4,000 patriotic and valiant Muslim soldiers in the US military.

While the potential Wahhabi influence in the US armed forces is not well documented, these organizations have succeeded in ensuring that militant Wahhabism is THE ONLY form of Islam that is preached to the 12,000 Muslims in federal prisons. The imams flood the prisons with anti-American, pro-bin Laden videos, literature and sermon tapes. They destroy literature sent to prisons by more moderate Shia and Sunni organizations, and prevent imams that follow these traditions from speaking to prisoners. In addition, non-Wahhabi Muslim prisoners who seek to practice their religion often receive death threats from Wahhabi prisoners who have been instructed by Wahhabi imams.

The point of prison is to rehabilitate violent prisoners. Instead, the Wahhabi influence is inculcating them with the same kind of militant ideas that drove the 9/11 hijackers to kill thousands of Americans. Mr. Chairman, this is a dangerous situation that is essentially being ignored.

Despite this evidence, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Pentagon continue to allow these Wahhabi organizations under federal terrorist investigation to serve as their sole religious advisors when it comes to Islam. In an effort to end this practice, I have written to the Inspectors General of the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense, both of whom have responded to tell me that they are looking into the matter.

However, Mr. Chairman, their efforts are only a first step towards revealing the full picture of the Wahhabi presence in America. And please make no mistake, we need to develop that full picture if we are to prevent these extremist teachings from taking hold in this country. Now more than ever I am convinced that the process to counter this hateful ideology begins and ends with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis can and should stop the terrorist financing that goes on within their borders.
The Saudis can and should track down and arrest terrorists that hide out in their country.

But if they truly want to stop the violence that led to 9/11 and to the recent attacks in Riyadh - going beyond simple band-aid action - they must repudiate the Wahhabi extremism that is the source of this violence. This means shutting down the extremist madrassahs, purging the hate-filled textbooks that populate Saudi schools, and putting an end to the extremist Wahhabi preaching that takes place in their mosques. If the Saudis do not end the funding and teaching of extremism, the cycle of terrorist violence wracking the globe will never end.

In addition, our government - specifically the Defense Department and the Federal Bureau of Prisons - must do a better job of connecting the dots between the organizations with which they do business and Wahhabi activists - ultimately eliminating their influence. Have we not learned anything since 9/11?

Mr. Chairman, by holding these hearings, you're doing your part to show that we have - you're doing what's necessary to ensure that we don't look back after the next terrorist attack and ask, "why did we not stop it when we had the chance?"

My worry is that the Saudis and many in this Administration are not heeding the warning signs. My worry is that by not heeding these signs, we are once again letting those who hate freedom recruit disciples in our country who may potentially do us harm.

My fear is that if we don't wake up and take action now, those influenced by Wahhabism's extremist ideology will harm us in as of yet unimaginable ways.