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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2002, page 16

Special Report

Freeze on Jewish Defense League Assets Called for After JDL Bomb Plot Foiled

By Delinda C. Hanley

At a Dec. 13 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) called on the Justice Department to freeze the assets of the Jewish Defense League (JDL). The previous day two JDL leaders, chairman Irv Rubin, 56, and his associate Earl Krugel, 59, had been arrested in California and charged with plotting to blow up a mosque, along with Muslim-American organizations, including MPAC offices, and the office of a congressman. According to U.S. Attorney John S. Gordon the militants were arrested after the last component needed to make the bombs—explosive powder—was delivered to Krugel’s home.

The terrorist cell at first had targeted the San Clemente offices of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is the grandson of Lebanese immigrants; the Islamic Center of Southern California; and MPAC, which works to educate the media, the public and elected officials about Islam. In one of their last planning sessions, JDL members decided against bombing MPAC, targeting instead the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City.

The JDL leaders had been under investigation by the Los Angeles Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) since Oct. 18, 2001, when an unnamed JDL member who was approached to help in the attack informed authorities of the plot. The confidential source, who claimed to have committed previous crimes for the JDL, including planting a bomb at a mosque, reported that he had been asked to help bomb Arab and Muslim buildings in Los Angeles.

The FBI used wiretaps and recordings to tape conversations between the informant and Rubin and Krugel in which the two discussed their plans and motivations. They instructed the informant to locate and photograph the MPAC offices and purchase some of the bomb components. The source told authorities that MPAC was taken off the hit list in one of the final meetings.

Krugel was arrested at his home as the police informant was delivering five pounds of gunpowder of the type used in cannons. Inside Krugel’s home FBI officers discovered two foot-long drilled pipes, end caps, fuses, a dozen rifles and handguns.

Rubin was arrested while driving to his Monrovia home after meeting at a deli with Krugel and the informant.

The complaint against the pair quotes wiretapped conversations, including comments by Rubin that the JDL needed to let people know they are “alive in a militant way.” Krugel was recorded as saying that Arabs “need a wakeup call” and that the JDL needed to do something to one of their “filthy” mosques, according to an affidavit. Investigators also said that Rubin wanted to “blow up an entire building,” but lacked the technology.

In the wiretaps Krugel and Rubin tell the informant that the bombings should strike buildings and not human targets—because they “still had not heard the end of the Alex Odeh incident,” a reference to the unsolved 1985 murder of the regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Odeh was killed when a bomb exploded as he opened the door to his office. The previous night he had appeared on television defending the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Rubin denied JDL involvement, but said he shed “no tears” over the slaying. A $1 million reward was offered in 1996 for information leading to the discovery of Odeh’s killers.

Arab Americans and other peace activists needed no new reminders of the JDL. Irv Rubin’s radical group has spent 33 years confronting those they consider enemies of Israel and the Jewish people, including Arabs, neo-Nazis, evangelizing Christians and fellow Jews. The JDL was founded in 1968 by Rabbi Meir Kahane. In the 1980s Kahane left the JDL and started the extremist KACH party in Israel, which advocated the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel and Israel-occupied territories. Kahane was shot to death in New York in 1990 by an Egyptian-born Muslim.

The JDL claims 13,000 members nationwide, but in fact probably has only a few dozen members, according to Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino, which lists the JDL as a hate group. MPAC, on the other hand, said the JDL operates chapters in Arizona, California, Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. There also are JDL cells in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Eastern Europe, Finland, Pakistan, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

The JDL symbol is a raised fist inside a Star of David, and its motto is “Never Again,” referring to the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust.

Rubin, the JDL leader since 1985, has been arrested more than 40 times. His organization gained notoriety when its members were linked to bombings, many of them aimed at Soviet targets in the U.S. in retaliation for the treatment of Soviet Jews. After a bomb exploded in the New York offices of the Russian airline Aeroflot, an anonymous caller claimed responsibility and proclaimed the JDL slogan, “Never Again.” Another JDL caller claimed responsibility for the 1981 bombing of the Bank Melli Iran building in San Francisco. In 1980, Rubin was tried and acquitted of soliciting the murders of Nazis in the United States.

MPAC’s national political director Mahdi Bray told journalists at the National Press Club, “We are not intimidated by terrorist organizations that aim to destabilize and silence the voices of reconciliation and moderation in our communities. This group must be stopped in its tracks.”

Bray said that MPAC has requested a meeting with the FBI to ask that it place the JDL on its list of terrorist organizations. He also warned that the United States needs to strike a careful balance between national security and Americans’ civil liberties.

After describing the JDL’s plans for the attack and praising the FBI’s quick response, MPAC communications director Sarah Eltantawi told listeners the JDL had posted on its Internet site the driving directions to the home of MPAC senior adviser Dr. Maher Hathout, along with a note that to commit violence against this activist would somehow save the Jewish community. She also relayed MPAC executive director Salam Marayati’s hopes that the media would not link Judaism to terrorism as many have done with Islam. MPAC called upon the Justice Department to freeze JDL assets as soon as the FBI places the organization on its list of terrorist groups.

Dr. Hassan Ibrahim, MPAC’s national director, said the Muslim community was alarmed by the planned attack, and thanked the FBI for saving American lives, property and pluralism in America. He expressed the hope that Americans would turn toward and not against each other, and foil JDL plans to create fear and hatred. “Religious tolerance and the moderation of Islamic organizations like MPAC threaten the very existence of groups like the JDL,” Ibrahim said.

Dr. Agha Saeed, national director of the American Muslim Alliance, found it no coincidence that this bomb plot occurred just as the post-Sept. 11 backlash against Muslim-Americans was beginning to subside. The JDL figured, he theorized, that “if you can’t have a violent backlash you create your own violence.”

Saeed condemned groups that import violence from elsewhere into the United States. While the FBI listed the JDL in its annual report on terror in 1984, it later dropped the organization, which never lost its U.S. tax-exemption for donations.

When asked to comment on MPAC’s call to freeze JDL assets, ADC spokesman Hussain Ibish responded that people can’t complain about Bush freezing Islamic charities’ assets and then turn around and request the same treatment for a Jewish group. “We can’t have it both ways,” he said, noting that all targeted organizations need their day in court.

Omar Ahmad, chairman of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that a number of extremist and pro-Israel groups and individuals are waging an orchestrated campaign to marginalize Muslim Americans (see “Activism,” p. 82). The smear campaign was launched by groups that apparently are alarmed at the growing prominence of American Muslims, he said, and warned that, “For the safety of our community, this malicious campaign must stop.”

Tajuddin Shuaib, director of the King Fahd Mosque, said he was astonished by the alleged plot to blow up his mosque during Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims. “As many as 1,000 people attend the mosque to pray there during the Ramadan season,” Shuaib said. “I can’t understand why people would do such a thing. We are not against Jews. We are not against anybody. We are like any church or synagogue or temple.”

Rubin and Krugel were booked for conspiracy to destroy a building by means of an explosive, which carries a maximum five year sentence, and possession of a destructive device related to a crime of violence, which carries a mandatory 30-year sentence. According to U.S. Attorney Gordon, “When you target innocents based on religious or political affiliation or belief, we consider that terrorist activity.”

Delinda C. Hanley is the news editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.