Monday, November 08, 2004

Al Qaeda in Arizona?

The November issue of Arizona Monthy contains a fascinating article probing the unsettling idea that Islamic militants have been using the Grand Canyon State as an international nexus for decades. The article notes that the 9/11 Commission report cites Arizona 59 times and that the CIA and FBI collaborated on a still-classified report titled Arizona: Long Range Nexus for Islamic Extremists. What exactly has drawn Islamists to Arizona remains a topic of speculation, but terrorist experts appear confident that they have taken root in the state:
It’s not clear quite how or why the state has attracted what seems to be more than its fair share of individuals linked to terrorist organizations over the years. Experts have posited that the familiar desert climate; the anonymity provided by life in cities outside New York, California, and D.C.; and the easy access to a wealth of flight-training schools all played a role. But the most ominous explanation came from FBI agent Kenneth Williams, the author of the now infamous “Phoenix Memo.” In his testimony to a congressional committee in 2003, he said, “These people don’t continue to come back to Arizona because they like the sunshine or they like the state. I believe that something was established there, and I think it’s been there for a long time.”
According to the article, the focus of Islamist activities in Arizona may be the Islamic Center of Tucson, located close to the University of Tucson, one of the nation's leading academic institutions, with a strong focus in the hard sciences.
The Center’s current leadership says the terrorists who have indisputably found their way to its gold-domed mosque across the street from a U of A dormitory and next to a Carl’s Jr. have nothing to do with the 8,000 or so Muslims living in Tucson. But that assessment is not universally shared. State law-enforcement agencies and the FBI have conducted numerous investigations in Arizona since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and many of those centered on Tucson and the ICT’s well-documented, sordid history of attracting extremists.
The article details the movement of a number of Al Qaeda-associated individuals in Arizona prior to the September 11th attacks and raises troubling questions about the number of such individuals still residing covertly within the state. More disturbing is the thought that these individuals were allowed to immigrate freely, without any oversight or question, to the U.S. and establish themselves within America's borders. If Americans find themselves stunned to read about the ease with which Islamic extremists have moved around their country, sowing the seeds of jihad, they might want to ask their government why immigration standards were lowered and enforcement of immigration laws all but abandoned. In the wake of the atrocities of September 11th, they might also want to ask why immigration controls have only been marginally tightened and why defense of the southern border (on which Arizona sits) has been so pointedly ignored in Washington. If there's a murderer running loose in town (or a pack of hungry wolves, to use a Bush-campaign metaphor) isn't closing and locking one's doors the first logical step?


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