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Friday, September 26

Muslim chaplains in military certified by institutions now under investigation

By Military Times

All 12 of the military's Muslim chaplains got their required religious endorsements from institutions affiliated with groups now under investigation by federal officials for ties to Islamic terrorists, the Military Times papers will report Monday.

One of the 12, Army Capt. James "Yousef" Yee, 35, is being held in a Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., after being found with information about the al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners he was ministering to at the high-security detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Yee, a West Point graduate, has not been charged with a crime.

An Air Force Arabic translator also working at Guantanamo Bay is under arrest, charged with espionage. Senior Airman Ahmad Al-Halabi is accused of trying to provide Syria with information about the prison camp and its inmates.

No accusations have been leveled against the other 11 Muslim chaplains. But Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has called for an investigation of the groups the Pentagon uses to certify Muslim chaplains for military duty.

"It is disturbing that organizations with possible terrorist connections and religious teachings contrary to American pluralistic values hold the sole responsibility for Islamic instruction in our armed forces," Schumer said in a letter to the Defense Department inspector general this week. He first sought such an inquiry in March.

Schumer joined Arizona Republican Jon Kyl, chairman of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, in announcing Thursday that the panel would hold hearings into whether Muslim extremists and terrorists had infiltrated the U.S. military. No date for the first session was set.

No one from the Pentagon was available to respond to Schumer's charge. Jim Turner, a Defense Department spokesman, said there has been an ongoing policy review regarding appointments of chaplains, including a review of the requirements for religious organizations that certify them.

Prospective military chaplains must be endorsed by a faith group recognized by the Defense Department.

The Pentagon recognizes only two Muslim groups for this purpose: the Islamic Society of North America and the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council.

Most of the chaplains endorsed by the Islamic Society of North America were educated at the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Leesburg, Va., the Pentagon says. That school was raided in March 2002 by agents of an anti-terrorist task force spearheaded by what is now called the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. No charges were filed against anyone in connection with the raid.

Taha Jabir Alalwani, the school's president, declined to discuss the raid. His lawyer, Nancy Luque, said the school was raided "because they were Muslim and it was after 9-11."

The school is "absolutely not" connected to Islamic extremists or terrorists, she said.

But the vice president of the school, Siraj Wahaj, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, according to court records.

The American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, also located in northern Virginia, is headed by a retired Marine gunnery sergeant, Qaseem Uqdah. His group endorsed Yee to become a chaplain.

Schumer alleges the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council is a "subgroup" of the American Muslim Foundation, which Schumer says is under investigation by Customs and Border Protection for its alleged role in funneling money to terrorists.

Sam Dibbley, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, said, "The investigation into all those cases is still continuing. I can't comment on any specific organization."

Uqdah says his application with defense officials to become an endorsing agency stated he was affiliated with the American Muslim Foundation because it has tax-exempt status and he doesn't. Tax-exempt status is required of all ecclesiastical endorsing agencies.

He has not yet filed for nonprofit status with the Internal Revenue Service, he said, because he doesn't have the money to hire an attorney and pay for the application.

In 1998, he and Abdurahman Alamoudi, director of the American Muslim Foundation, signed a memo of understanding that says the foundation and the council are separate entities, and their connection was for the sole purpose of establishing tax-exempt status.