U.S. reviews policies that led to recruitment of Wahabi chaplains

Sunday, September 28, 2003

The United States has launched a review of the recruitment of Saudi-supported Wahabi clerics to serve as chaplains in the U.S. military.

The Defense Department ordered the review in wake of the arrest of a Muslim chaplain earlier this month on charges of espionage. Capt. James Yee was accused of seizing classified files on Al Qaida and Taliban detainees at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Officials said the Pentagon review will focus on how the U.S. military recruits Muslim chaplains. They said many of the Muslim applicants were trained in Saudi-financed institutions in the United States.

The Pentagon has authorized the American Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council and the Islamic Society of North America to endorse applicants for the position of Muslim chaplain in the U.S. military, Middle East Newsline reported. Most the chaplains approved by the society have been trained at the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Studies in Leesburg, Va.

In 2002, federal agents raided both the council and school on suspicion that they were linked to Al Qaida. Neither institution has been formally charged.

Two leading U.S. senators said they would hold hearings on whether Saudi-financed Wahabi clerics have infiltrated the U.S. military. Sen. Jon Kyl, chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security, and Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, have criticized the Pentagon for its accreditation process.

"My subcommittee is continuing to examine what is clearly an ongoing and systematic effort by the radical Wahabi sect to infiltrate and recruit terrorists within the United States, focusing primarily on chaplains in the prison systems and in the U.S. military," Kyl said. "There is a real lack of understanding in this country of who the enemy is. It is remarkable that people who have known connections to terrorism are the only people to approve these chaplains."

Kyl said the hearing on Oct. 14 will seek to determine who designated the Islamic groups to approve chaplains for the military. About a dozen Muslim chaplains are on active duty and minister to an estimated 4,200 Muslim military personel.

Before Yee's arrest, the U.S. military detained Senior Airman Ahmad Al Halabi on charges of spying for Syria. Court documents submitted by the air force assert that Al Halabi, an Arabic translator for Al Qaida detainees, was under investigation in connection with what was termed "suspicious activities" during an earlier stint in Kuwait and the United States.

Pentagon officials said they did not know why Al Halabi was later approved for duty at Guantanamo.

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