December 20, 2007
Briefs: Three plead guilty in SoCal terror plot; Report says UCI acted properly
Three members of an Islamic terrorist cell who were on the verge of attacking the Israeli consulate, an El Al ticket counter and two synagogues, face up to 20 to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty in federal court to conspiring to levy war against the United States.
The carefully planned plot was discovered by chance in July 2005. Authorities say it was closer to going operational than any other terrorist plan since Sept. 11 and engaged a joint task force of 350 federal, state and local investigators.
Kevin Lamar James, 31, and Levar Haley Washington, 28, entered guilty pleas in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana last week, and a third defendant, Gregory Vernon Patterson, 27, entered his plea with the court on Monday.
A fourth cell member, Hammad Riaz Samana, was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial and is undergoing psychiatric care at a federal prison, federal prosecutors say.
James founded the cell as Jamiyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS), translated as Assembly of Authentic Islam, from his jail cell in 1997 and then recruited fellow Black Muslim converts at the New Folsom prison near Sacramento.
Torrance police stumbled on the cell when they arrested Washington and Patterson in a string of gas station robberies intended to raise money for the planned attacks.
A search of Washington's apartment yielded "jihadist" literature, a cache of weapons, a target list and a lead to James as the JIS leader. A search of the latter's cell produced the draft of a press release to be issued after the first attack, which included a warning to "sincere Muslims" to avoid potential targets, including "Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of an Israeli state."
Listed as planned targets were National Guard and military installations and a range of Jewish targets, such as the "Headquarters of Zion," followed by the address of the Israeli consulate, an unexplained "Camp site of Zion," and the El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles International Airport -- the site of a murderous rampage in 2002, which killed two Israeli Americans -- and two synagogues.
Ehud Danoch, Israeli consul general here in 2005, recalled the threatened attack on his office and staff as the tensest days in his three-year tenure during a recent farewell interview.
The two synagogues, which were likely to be assaulted during Yom Kippur services, have never been officially identified, but are located in the heavily Orthodox Pico-Robertson neighborhood of the city.
Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Regional Director Amanda Susskind praised the work of law enforcement agencies in the case and reaffirmed that ADL will continue to monitor extremism in prisons, the radicalization of Islam, and domestic terrorist threats.
The successful conclusion of the case reversed a string of setbacks by the U.S. Justice Department in trying to convict alleged terrorists in American courts, such as last week's refusal by a federal jury in Miami to convict seven indigent men, who allegedly plotted to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago.
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Report Finds UCI Acted Appropriately
A federal civil rights investigation has cleared University of California, Irvine administrators of allegations that they systematically turned a blind eye to intimidation and harassment of Jewish students over a four-year period.
The ruling by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights in San Francisco, made public Dec. 12, was in response to a complaint filed by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).
The complaint cited a long series of incidents in which Muslim and Arab students and extremist Muslim speakers had vilified Jews and incited against "Zionists" and Israel, without appropriate response by campus administrators.
Among the cited incidents were threats against students wearing Star of David and pro-Israel T-shirts, vandalism of a Holocaust memorial exhibit and a one-hour speech in which a Muslim cleric attacked "the apartheid state of Israel" and its "Nazi behavior," as well as "American imperialism" and "the Zionist-controlled media."
The federal ruling, which closed a three-year probe, found that while such acts were "offensive to Jewish students," the incidents were "based on opposition to the policies of Israel," and not on the "national origin" of the Jewish students.
UCI Chancellor Michael Clark welcomed the report and asserted that "we remain firmly committed to freedom of speech and open discourse ... and equally committed to maintaining a safe, non-threatening environment for all members of our community."
Manuel Gomez, who as UCI vice chancellor for student affairs dealt with the issue on an ongoing basis, said that he was particularly pleased by the report's finding that the "university responded in a prompt and effective manner" to campus incidents.
A different reaction came from Susan B. Tuchman, director of ZOA's Center for Law and Justice in New York, who said that she was "obviously disappointed and outraged.
"This was a difficult case, but the evidence was clear that Jewish students had been harassed and that the university had not responded adequately," she said.
Tuchman had drafted the ZOA complaint under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, she said, defined Jews not only as a religious but also an ethnic group under the "national origin" clause.
She blamed a change in leadership at the Office of Civil Rights, shortly after she filed the complaint in October 2004, for narrowing the protection afforded Jewish plaintiffs.
Tuchman warned that the federal decision "sent a very depressing message that the agency will not afford protection to Jewish students and this will embolden the perpetrators of hate actions on campuses."
She added that ZOA was now weighing its options to pursue the matter.
At the time ZOA filed the complaint, some local Jewish officials characterized it as a misguided effort by outsiders.
Kevin O'Grady, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League for Orange County/Long Beach, said that he remained skeptical that the ZOA action had been an effective way to deal with the campus administration.