CHAPTER 5 ~ OKLAHOMA AND RADICAL ISLAM
1979 Iranian student protests
I was a student at the University of Oklahoma in 1979 when the Shah of Iran was deposed and Khomeini established the Iranian Revolutionary Islamic Republic. Bearded Iranian students wearing green fatigue jackets demonstrated on the South Oval of the campus supporting Khomeini while condemning the United States support for the Shah. When some of those students burned an American flag some of us decided we must make our own statement!
My friends and I responded the next day with our own“anti-Iranian” protest and burned an Iranian flag. 3 Our protest was marked by apathy until the local television stations rolled up to film the event. As soon as the cameras began to record our lame protest the Oval swelled with students! The red light of a TV camera attracted folks like moths to a light bulb. This was a lesson on the power of the media.
3 We had no idea about the new Iranian flag being ignorant of Middle East issues. My girlfriend, now an English professor at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Brockport drew up a Persian flag from my 1960 Encyclopedia Britannica. We called local media outlets and stated the “Americans in Defense of America” (ADA) would stage a counter-protest the next day. ADA consisted of me, my roommate and my reluctant girlfriend. I later joked that ADA was the first organized U.S. response to Islamic terrorism!
Suddenly students were rushing about and shouts were exchanged among differing factions. A group of black students jeered us. When I ignited the Iranian flag a female professor chastised me for burning the flag. That night in my Walker Tower dormitory room my friends and I predicted war with Iran and over beers we all vowed to join.For the first time we heard the word “jihad.” I was the only one who did serve however as when the beer buzz wore off most decided to remain civilians for life!
But President Carter did not commit us to combat. Instead, we suffered for over a year as American hostages suffered in Iran. In my opinion, it was not until the U.S. hockey team in 1980 shocked the Soviets in the Olympics and Ronald Reagan was elected that American pride began to return from the malaise of Vietnam, Watergate and the “Carter” years.
After 9/11, the best-selling book Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi, an Iranian-American professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore Maryland, confirmed my memories of these events. She had been a student at the University of Oklahoma and described the Iranian students who protested on the South Oval, a long elliptical with grass, flower gardens and an outdoor mini amphitheater flanked on each side by various halls and classroom buildings.4
Nafisi writes, “These are my memories of Norman: red earth and fireflies, singing and demonstrating on the Oval, reading Melville, Poe, Lenin and Mao Tse Tung, reading Ovid and Shakespeare on warm spring mornings with a favorite professor, of conservative political leaning, and accompanying another in the late afternoons, singing revolutionary songs.”
Concerning the Iranian student groups at the Norman campus, Nafisi writes, “The Iranian student group at the University of Oklahoma was a chapter of the World Confederation of Iranian Students, which had members and chapters in most major cities in Europe and the United States. In Oklahoma, it was responsible for the introduction on campus of the RSB, the militant student branch of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and the creation of the Third World Committee Against Imperialism, composed of radical students from different nationalities.”
Recall that in 1979 the political situation was shifting away from a Cold War model with the introduction of political Islam. But the existing cell structure for groups like the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) would remain in place as the ideology migrated from secular to religious. These cells provide logistics, safe houses, fund raising, training, addresses of convenience, transportation and other support needed to complete operations.5
4 Joel Hinrichs III accidentally blew himself up while fidgeting with his explosives vest sitting on a bench on the east side of the South Oval near a packed Memorial stadium on October 1, 2005.
5 The PLO is an umbrella organization consisting of many groups. Yasser Arafat had his own group called Al-Fatah that became the dominant group in the PLO. The PLO became the recognized entity by the UN to speak for Palestinians. But the Islamic groups distrusted the PLO as corrupt and to secular. Arafat noticed these changes and began to move AL-Fatah into a more Islamic direction. The Arabs like Arafat are Muslims and they saw the power of Islam after events in 1979 in Iran.
Since 9/11 organizations like Al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hizballah have emphasized Islam. But Americans should not forget that there are historical grievances that motivate these groups such as our support for Israel and the fact that America is the successor to traditional British interests in the Middle East where the legacy of colonialism, oil domination and suzerainty left bitter memories.
The Islamic groups did not invent terrorism but it as a tactic in their asymmetrical war against the United States. The goal is not to be terrorists but to win the ideological, cultural and religious war. The weapons include faith, public relations, social media, infiltration, and control of the narrative and an abundance of patience. The imposition of stricter state security measures and overseas military operations by the United States are not obstacles to achieving the goals of an Islamic Caliphate.
Sheikh Abdullah Azzam
When Sheikh Abdullah Azzam rallied Muslims in Oklahoma City in December, 1988 it was recorded by federal authorities. During the trial of El-Sayyid Nossair, an Egyptian who was tried for murder of radical Jewish Rabbi Meier Kahane at a New York City Hotel, the tape of Azzam speaking in Oklahoma City was introduced as an exhibit by the government that was represented by United States Attorneys for the Southern District of New York such as Patrick Fitzgerald, Mary White and Andrew McCarthy.
Why was Azzam in Oklahoma City? The answer must be that there was a sufficient infrastructure present to facilitate this visit. Oklahoma City and Norman were part of the Maktab Al-Khidmat network that existed in at least 30 U.S. cities. This is similar to a Congressman coming home to address his constituency.
As noted, Al-Qaeda networks attended the 1988 Oklahoma City conference including terror luminaries such as Mahmoud Abouhalima, Wadih El Hage and others united in the cause of Jihad. This conference was followed up in 1992 with Hamas operatives taking the lead. Sheikh Azzam is also a co-founder of Hamas linking Al-Qaeda and Hamas from their inception and Oklahoma City was an original franchise along with thirty other U.S. cities. The Muslim Brotherhood fathered many sons so do not be confused by all these group names.
Al-Qaeda trains at Oklahoma Flight Schools
In 1993, as Hamas members congregated in Oklahoma City, Ihab Ali Nawawi enrolled and trained at the Airman Flight Academy in Norman, Oklahoma. But this is not an isolated example and an Oklahoma City FBI pilot on May 18, 1998, sent an internal memo titled weapons of mass destruction stating he had observed “large numbers of Middle Eastern males “receiving flight training in Oklahoma airports in recent months. He noted light planes were ideal to spread chemical or biological agents and the activities might be related to terrorist activity.
This is not the last FBI memo from a field agent that FBI headquarters received prior to 9/11 expressing concerns over the possibility of Islamic terrorists using flight schools to prepare for terror activities. The famous Phoenix memo in 2000 warned of Al-Qaeda affiliates training in Arizona flight schools and supporting violent jihad against the United States.
The Norman, Oklahoma flight school
Airman Flight Academy in Norman, Oklahoma is located on land owned by the University of Oklahoma at an area called the North Base. The North Base was a naval aviation base during World War II. The same flight school would later be visited by hijackers from the Hamburg cell such as Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi. Zacarias Moussaoui attended the Airman Flight Academy during his six month stay in Norman, Oklahoma and Bin Laden pilot Ihab Ali graduated from there in the early 1990’s.
Airman Flight Academy filed for bankruptcy in 2006 and is out of business. But there are flight schools in Oklahoma City and the University of Oklahoma has an aviation department. There are reports, including by CNN, that still at-large terrorist Adnan Shukrijuma6may have trained at the Airman Flight Academy in Norman under an assumed name.
We now know that Islamic terror groups are well aware of the aviation assets in the Oklahoma City and Norman area and are not opposed to utilizing these assets for their own goals including violent operations.
6 The 9/11 Commission describes Shukrijuma as potentially the “next Mohamed Atta.” See the CNN Washington Bureau account of March 22, 2003, “Link Between Wanted Saudi Man and ‘Dirty Bomb’ Suspect” by Kelli Arena and Kevin Bohn
April 19, 1995 Murrah building bombing
The April 19, 1995 terror attack in Oklahoma City concluded with convictions of Army veteran and anti-government terrorist Timothy McVeigh and his chief accomplice Terry Nichols. 7 The conspiracy also involved Michael Fortier and his wife and possibly others. There is no doubt these two terrorists are guilty. While some try to characterize McVeigh as a right wing nut or a “Christian” and a white supremacist the record more accurately reveals this terrorists motives were political and directed at an increasingly powerful federal government that was not respecting fundamental rights as guaranteed by our Constitution. Very few Americans agree with McVeigh’s terror tactics that killed innocent men, women in children.
1995: The FBI is not an expert on Al-Qaeda
What must be kept in mind is that in 1995 the lead agency investigating the OKC bombing was the FBI and in 1995 they possessed only limited knowledge of Al-Qaeda and related entities. Any citizen can read the Joint Inquiry by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees after 9/11 examining the FBI’s intelligence capabilities as well as the report on the same issue after 9/11 by the Office