It all began one day a fairly short time after beginning work as the Middle East Instructor at the John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School as the Middle East seminar director. I had joined as the old Foreign Area Officer course was ushered out to become the Regional Studies Course, one of the best courses offered by the US Army. Msgt Daniels, our acting 1st/Sgt of the detachment came in with Sgt E-5 Ali Mohamed and asked whether I could use him. I jumped at the chance. Ali was a former Egyptian commando officer, and had spent time with the US Special Forces ( but he was not special forces) . He had been in a support company and apparently was more of a pain in the ass than a help so they were anxious to get rid of him. I put him to work briefing our special operations officers on Arab culture, Ali was energetic, ambitious and very intelligent. He was also very well read and a vocal proponent of Islam as the “only true religion” He was also boastful, disdainful of US special forces which he claimed only cleaned the areas and wasted time. As a former Egyptian officer he especially hated grass cutting details!!! Ali was sure the Egyptian commandos were better. Ali was also a great hawakati ( story teller) I never knew which story was really true. He left the Egyptian army after the assassination of Sadat when there was a cleansing of officers with Islamist leanings. Apparently he went to Afghanistan as a Muhjahadin and even gave the boss a Russian belt he said he took off a dead Russian soldier. He told stories of his time in Beirut where he had some sort of relationship with the Iranian ambassador and chief terrorist Ali Akhbar Mohtashemipour. He met him at a Mosque is one story. That’s strange because Ali is a strong Sunni and Ali Akhbar is a Shi’a but Ali Mohamed did admire Shi’a radicals. He mentioned the lack of fingers on Ali Akhbar’s hands, supposedly blown off by a CIA bomb. He told many stories. I never knew what was true and was not.
His anti-western/US diatribes were fairly common to my ears. I had heard them a thousand times during my time in the Arab world. It was the common refrain. After the entire Ali saga came out I was amused to know how many US officers knew he was a terrorist all along!!!! I was sort of depicted as a bit of a dimwit in books like the Triple Cross and some other ones by Peter Bergen for not understanding that he was indeed a terrorist. This is what Bergen wrote in a blog some years ago…..
“One of his(ali) supervisors is Col. Norvell De Atkine, who later will say of Mohamed, “I don’t think he was anti-American. He was what I would call a Muslim fundamentalist, which isn’t a bomb thrower. I would not put him in that category.” [NEW YORK TIMES, 10/30/1998] De Atkine is an expert on the Middle East and on the political aspects of military operations. In one of his articles he will praise the propaganda preparation for the Gulf War. [AMERICAN DIPLOMACY, 1999] De Atkine will also contribute articles to Middle East Forum, an aggressively neoconservative and pro-Israeli journal edited by Daniel Pipes. One of these, a denunciation of leftist and Arab influences in academia, will be written together with Pipes. [ACADEMIC QUESTIONS, 1995]
Peter Bergen, seems like a nice gentleman personally .Some of my students and I were invited to his upscale apartment in Washington DC one time some years ago. Unfortunately he is ignorant of the real Mohamed Ali story and his mealy mouth subservience to the Middle East scholarly group thinkers is obvious. (neo conservative? I was a conservative long before it became popular)….. And of course he is one of the leading benefactors of the terrorist industry. The “experts” on terrorism have proliferated at an amazing rate since the 1990’s I’m not sure of the “propaganda” article , Maybe he meant my “Why Arabs Lose wars:” The article is absolutely on target as time would prove…. and it is still circulating on line. At some point I”ll write further about the many idiots who inhabit the Middle East scholarly academic centers of “learning” in the U.S. our safe.. It is all about how you think about Palestine and Israel.
Before going on just want to mention a couple of things. Bergen says Ali Mohamed took top secret documents from safe. Not true. He had some top secret for training documents…as any military guy knows it is not at all the same thing…after a training exercise they are not even classified. We did not have a classified safe in our detachment as we were just instructors. Ali also took some Soviet equipment recognition guides, which apparently would help the mujahadeen kill more Soviets. They were not classified.
I was not wrong on Ali . He was not a “bomb thrower”. Actually he was an adventurer who would never put himself in the line of fire. He loved the game of being a James Bond. He wanted to be an Al Qaeda operative and a mole for the CIA at the same time. He was an avid reader and often I found his anal compulsive neat little notes in the margins of books in the JFK library. He lived vicariously. I found references to incidents he said he witnessed in books. One in particular….. he said he witnessed a man being tied to a lamp post and planted with explosives and then detonated. I found a reference to that in a book about the civil war in Beirut. He never saw that. He lied about a lot of things.
I had my 40 minutes of fame because of Ali.Suddenly media people wanted to talk to me. Many years later two French film crews came to interview me about Ali and Muslims in the US. I never saw the completed program. Listening to their pitch I had the feeling that their prime objective was to prove how badly Muslims are treated in the US. I advised both crews to go to the Galleria in Tysons Corners and view the hordes of Muslim women, some in Hijab, some in tight jeans, buying designer clothes, and tons of gold, When they questioned me on why I did not recognize Ali as a terrorist I countered the question by asking…” what does at terrorist look like?”
In any event some how Ali came to the U.S. Joined the US army and returned to Afghanistan even though at the time it was forbidden for a soldier to simply take leave and go to a war zone. One can smell CIA in there somewhere.
Ali left the army and I received one phone call from him after he left. he asked me to write a recommendation for him to join the FBI. I did not write it.
My next involvement with Ali was when a couple of FBI agents showed up at my classroom wanting to know about Ali. That confiscated everything that had to do with him, including a number of tapes that he made before he left. My Fellow instructor at the time thought it would he good to have his viewpoints on tape for instruction of later classes. I never used them. They were deathly boring. Ali in his somewhat high-pitched voice droning on about Islam and culture would turn off any student wishing to learn about the Middle East. I d0 have a few seconds on a tape left on a DVD that I somehow retained and also a short briefing sheet on Shi’a Islam that he did. Mostly right out of the Encyclopedia of Islam I think.
It seems that the documents he took from the cabinets turned up in the Jersey City mosque of the “blind sheikh” Omar Abdul Rahman. Ali was never indicted for his involvement with the World trade Center Bombing conspiracy ( the first attempt to blow it up) but the Sheikh and a number of others were convicted of attempting to blow up a number of NYC landmarks and vital infrastructures, .eg., Holland tunnel, etc. including El Sayyid Nosair. It was this connection that brought me to the trial of the Omar Abdul Rahman and the others.
El Sayyid Nosair was the killer of radical jewish Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1990, in front of hundreds of witnesses on a street in Brooklyn NY. In a jury verdict that points out the weakness of a jury trial, he was acquitted of murder and convicted of a related gun charge. Nosair was an American citizen born in Egypt. He had an American wife. he hated everything about this country.
The blind sheikh, El Nosair and 8 others were brought to trial in 1995. I was summoned as a defense witness by Nosair’s attorney Roger Stavis who sought to prove that the case was on of entrapment…that the FBI has set it up just to build a case against the defendants.
Roger Stavis had previously acquired some public recognition for his defense( 1986) of the “rough Sex” defendant ( with another attorney) Roger Chambers, who claimed that he killed the 18 year old Jennifer Levin during rough sex. He was convicted of a lesser charge but is today in jail for narcotics charges.
Roger has become my friend over the years and I invited him to talk to my class several times on terrorism. Roger, as the great attorney he is had made a thorough study of the culture and mind set of terrorism in order to better defend his client.
I learned much from him during preparation for the trial. Of course I did n’t even kn ow El Nosair but Stavis defense strategy was simply to ask me to identify some of the unclassified documents as authentic as part of an effort to somehow link the government for an entrapment case. It was a long shot and it didn’t for. El Nosair got life. I remember looking at the jury to my left and that a number of them seemed to be sleeping or at least inattentive. The judge was a non sense guy and he asked me a couple of questions in a rather brusque manner.
In a made for television sequel to the trial the attorney for Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, Lynne Stewart, cried when she heard his life sentence. She was later convicted in 2005 for passing notes from the Sheikh in prison to his radiocal pals in Egypt. The sheikh has been back in the news lately because the radicals of Egypt, have been making speeches about releasing him from prison.
As I mentioned Ali was not indicted in this trial although his fingerprints were all over it in the Jersey city mosque.
Act Two with Ali came when he was indicted for involvement in the bombing of our embassies in Africa in 1998. He, in typical Ali fashion, was close to the action but not in any physical danger. He was the reconnaissance man for the terror gang. It is typical of the ambiguity of this case that Ali Mohamed was arrested when he was called by the FBI to come back to the US from Sudan where he was apparently close to Ben Laden ( other stories have it that Al Qaeda did not trust him either). He voluntarily came and was arrested. In the trial he was found guilty but in another one of those weird factors in this case, has never been sentenced. Supposedly he is singing every thing he knows…and probably a lot he doesn’t know….. to the FBI/CIA.
He is a case of a terrorist who worked in plain sight. He never disguised his views of the U.S. or his Islamist beliefs. I believe it was Ali who wrote a great deal of the so called Al Qaeda training manual found, as I remember, in London. If he did, Ali violated much of what he wrote, because in the manual, Ali wrote that the terrorist in the Western environment must not bring attention to himself and live below the public visibility..
So Ali wherever you are ….you will be happy to know that you got what you wanted…lots of attention and you are instrumental in building the cottage industry of antiterrorism.