Small World

Jewish World Review June 19, 2000 / 29 Sivan, 5761

Usama bin Ladin and Herndon, Virginia

By Daniel Pipes -- ISLAMIST terrorism has afflicted nearly every Western country and is likely to get worse. One reason is the radicals' aggressiveness; another is the feeble Western response. I personally experienced both of these problems just this past week.

This story began in early 1998, when John Miller of ABC News sought an interview with Usama bin Ladin in Afghanistan. Needing an intermediary, his producers found Tarik Hamdi of Herndon, Virginia, a self-described journalist who helped make contacts and then accompanied the ABC news team to Afghanistan.

Hamdi, it turned out, had his own purposes for traveling there; he was to bring Bin Ladin a replacement battery for Bin Ladin's vital link with the outside world, his satellite telephone. From the remoteness of Afghanistan, Bin Ladin could not simply order a battery himself and have it overnighted to him. He needed someone unsuspected to bring it. So, one of Bin Ladin's top aides ordered a replacement battery on May 11, 1998, and arranged for it to be shipped to Hamdi at his home in Herndon. Hamdi took off for Afghanistan with Miller on May 17 and shortly afterwards personally delivered the battery.

Just over two months later, two bombs went off nearly simultaneously at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 and wounding thousands.

When the U.S. government brought four of the embassy bombers to trial in New York City this year, it focused on the phone powered by the battery from Herndon; Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Karas called it "the phone that bin Laden and the others will use to carry out their war against the United States."

The trial also established Hamdi's centrality to Bin Ladin. Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism specialist at St. Andrews University, described him as seeming "to serve important functions" for him.

After five months, a jury found all four bombers guilty of all 302 charges against them, validating the prosecutor's interpretation of Hamdi's role.

WHICH IS where I come in.

Explaining this guilty verdict in the Wall Street Journal on May 31, I co-authored an article with Steven Emerson arguing in favor of this outcome but pointing out that it did little to protect American lives; defeating Usama bin Ladin and his murderous gang will require the U.S. government to deploy armed forces, not policemen and lawyers.

The article then focused on the huge body of evidence made public in the trial proceedings, noting that Bin Ladin had "set up a tightly organized system of cells" in six American cities, including the small town of Herndon, Virginia - an allusion to Tarik Hamdi.

Picking up on this reference, Jeannie Baumann, a reporter at The Herndon Observer, contacted us to learn more. Mr. Emerson explained to her Hamdi's role and several times referred her to the complete court transcripts (at But Ms Baumann spurned his offers, replying that her newspaper is "not equipped to handle such information."

Instead of doing research, Baumann turned to Herndon's police chief, Toussaint E. Summers Jr., for an opinion. He in turn called the F.B.I., which told him nothing. From this lack of information, Summers blithely concluded that "there appears to be no truth "at all" to a Bin Ladin-Herndon connection.

Baumann then cited this opinion to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), for a statement. Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for this Islamist organization (and sometime Bin Ladin apologist), pounced on the police chief's statement and declared our Wall Street Journal article inaccurate and prejudicial against Muslims. "It's like the assumption is that Muslims are genetically predisposed to violence and the peaceful Muslims are the exception."

Baumann's article, published on June 15, then carried the title "Police, Muslims Refute Herndon Link to Terrorism."

This episode clearly demonstrates three problematic Western responses to Islamist violence: Law enforcement officials resist the fact that this scourge exists in their jurisdictions. Reporters fail to do the spadework needed to dig out stories in their own backyards. And the most prominent Islamic organizations shamelessly talk away Islamist terrorism and smear anyone who points out the realities of this hideous phenomenon.

If Usama bin Ladin and his band of killers are to be stopped, it will take more vigilance from law enforcement officers like Police Chief Summers, better journalism from reporters like Ms Baumann, and the rise of moderate Muslims who will take the microphone out of the hands of extremists like Mr. Hooper.

JWR contributor Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and the author of several books, most recently Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes from. Let him know what you think by clicking here.


© 2001, Daniel Pipes