Alleged Terrorist Met With Bush Adviser
Al-Arian Part of Muslim Outreach
By Mike Allen and Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 22, 2003; Page A10
A former university professor indicted this week as a terrorist leader attended a 2001 group meeting in the White House complex with President Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove, administration officials said yesterday.
Sami Al-Arian, a former computer engineering professor at the University of South Florida, had been under investigation by the FBI for at least six years at the time of the June 2001 briefing for a Muslim organization. Numerous news accounts also had said federal agents suspected Al-Arian of links to terrorism.
Al-Arian was indicted Thursday on charges that he conspired to aid suicide bombings in Israel and the Palestinian territories and has served for years as a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization. Seven others in the United States and abroad were also indicted on a variety of charges.
Al-Arian, 45, a Kuwaiti native, was suspended by the University of South Florida after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks when his appearance on a television show drew attention to previous speeches in which he condemned Israel and the United States.
Al-Arian and his family also were photographed with Bush during a March 2000 campaign stop near Al-Arian's suburban Tampa home.
And Bush sent a letter of apology to the suspect's wife after the Secret Service ejected their son -- who was then a congressional intern -- from the White House complex during a separate June 2001 meeting of Muslims interested in the president's faith-based initiative.
Al-Arian's appearance at the White House came six days earlier, also as part of the administration's outreach to Muslims, officials said.
Al-Arian was one of 160 members of the American Muslim Council who were briefed on Bush's faith-based agenda and other issues by Rove and others in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is adjacent to the White House, on June 22, 2001. The visitors were in Washington for the group's annual convention, and the group organized a delegation that accepted an invitation to visit the White House.
The Secret Service requires any potential visitor to the White House complex to submit a Social Security number and birth date to enable a security check.
Al-Arian told The Washington Post in an interview last year that being cleared into the White House gave him confidence that he was no longer suspected of being a terrorist supporter or sympathizer.
The meeting was controversial within the White House even before it took place. The group that included Al-Arian was scheduled to be briefed by Vice President Cheney, but Cheney canceled. That morning, the Jerusalem Post had run a front-page article headlined, "Cheney to host pro-terrorist Muslim group."
Several pro-Israel and conservative activists had warned administration officials not to meet with the American Muslim Council contingent because the group had courted controversy for years, knowledgeable sources said.
Abduraham Alamoudi, a member of the organization also at the meeting with Rove, said at a White House demonstration in October 2000, "We are all supporters of Hamas," the popular name of the Islamic Resistance Movement, a main sponsor of suicide bombings in Israel.
Rove, according to Al-Arian and other attendees, used the meeting to talk of White House efforts to embrace the Muslim community. Al-Arian said he sat in the front row.
A White House official was unable to say who else spoke to the group. Records showed that Al-Arian was admitted to the White House at least once during the Clinton administration, the official said.
A Republican official said Bush "is committed to outreach to all religions and ethnic minorities, and will continue to be. . . . You can't move thousands of people through the White House without having some guilt-by-association problems," the official said.
Al-Arian has told The Post that he and wife Nahla campaigned for Bush in Florida mosques and elsewhere because they thought him the candidate most likely to fight discrimination against Arab Americans.
But before that, Al-Arian posed with Bush and his wife, Laura, at the Florida Strawberry Festival on March 12, 2000, a moment captured in an Al-Arian family photo.
Nahla Al-Arian said Bush noticed her traditional headscarf and asked to meet her family. "The Muslim people support you," she recalled telling him. The family said that Bush gave their lanky son, Abdullah, the nickname "Big Dude."
The White House official said officials did not know the circumstances of the photo but said a list of Florida volunteers for Bush's campaign shows that that Al-Arian "wasn't a volunteer."
Six days after Al-Arian's meeting with Rove, a delegation of Muslim community activists stormed out of the White House complex after the Secret Service ejected Al-Arian's son, an intern for then-Rep. David E. Bonior (D-Mich.).
The Secret Service sent the son an apology on Aug. 13, 2001, calling the incident "a Secret Service error in processing visitors." Bush signed an Aug. 2, 2001, letter to Al-Arian's wife, thanking her for a book she sent him and expressing "regret" about how her son was treated. "I have been assured that everything possible is being done to ensure that nothing like this happens again," Bush wrote.
Staff writer John Mintz contributed to this report.