Counterterrorism in the U.S. is traditionally the job of the FBI. But since 9/11, increasing numbers of state and local police have undergone training in spotting and catching terrorists, often funded by federal grants. Muslim groups are now concerned that some of the counterterrorism experts instructing our nation's police are unqualified and bigoted, spreading stereotypes about Muslims that ultimately make our country less safe.
One of those experts is Sam Kharoba, president of the Florida-based Counter Terrorism Operations Center. Through an open information request, the Council on American-Islam Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization, found that Kharoba had conducted at least 21 separate trainings in Florida between 2005 and 2011, many of them sponsored and advertised by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
A letter sent Wednesday, co-signed by 18 other Muslim organizations and a half-dozen Florida mosques, as well as non-Muslim advocacy groups, asked FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey to sever the department's ties with Kharoba; to hire "someone with appropriate credentials and accurate subject matter content" to re-educate the officers who received his training; and to adopt a vetting procedure for counterterrorism experts who train police.
The Washington Monthly noted some of Kharoba's particular views about Islam in an investigative story last year. "Islam is a highly violent radical religion that mandates that all of Earth must be Muslim," he told about 60 officers in a lecture at Broward College in Davie, Fla. "When I look at the life of Muhammad, I get a very nasty image," he said at a later point. "I am talking about a pedophile, a serial killer, a rapist. And that is just to start off with.
"Anyone who says that Islam is a religion of peace," he added, "is either ignorant or flat-out lying."
In a statement, Kharoba said the authors of the article had "hand-selected statements without context to slander law enforcement trainers." But Kharoba's handbook, "A Law Enforcement Guide to Understanding Islamist Terrorism," also contains statements that some advocates find false and disturbing.
Kharoba writes that Americans incorrectly believe that Islam is a "moderate and peaceful religion capable of co-existing with other religions." He further asserts that "... Muhammad lived a diabolical life as a Prophet where initially the Qur'anic revelations were peaceful and tolerant but later became radical and militant."
"Usama bin Laden is simply following the path and the mission that Prophet Muhammad started 1429 years ago," he also claims.
Several years ago, the Washington Monthly says, Kharoba ran into some trouble with the federal government when an attendee of one of his classes filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Eleven out of the 15 people in that class at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center signed a letter protesting comments that Kharoba had made. The alleged comments included describing "fundamentalist Muslims" as people with "long beards and head coverings," and an assertion that although "we call them radicals" they are actually "practicing true Islam." The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sided with the students.
CAIR and other Muslim rights groups don't think Kharoba is qualified to share his views on Islam at all. He has no academic background in the subject but spent the bulk of his career as a computer programmer. After 9/11, he started compiling a database of jihadist websites and names in the hope of selling it for a few million to the CIA or FBI. That never happened, but a policing services program invited him to give a speech, and his new career took off.
Kharoba is a Christian, but was born in majority Muslim Jordan. "That's like saying any American who lives in America is qualified to teach about Christianity," says Hassan Shibly, the executive director of CAIR's Florida chapter.
Shibly believes that Kharoba's teachings result in more police profiling of Muslims. "We've had so many complaints from local Muslims who've been praying, and stopped and questioned," he says. "and asked what hand he wears his watch on. This guy teaches that if you wear a watch on your right hand you're a jihadist."
FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger confirmed that Kharoba had taught counterterrorism, reports The Associated Press, and said that students' response had been positive. She added that the FDLE "does not have authority for all law enforcement training in Florida," but that the agency would look into CAIR's concerns.
It's not clear whether taxpayer dollars funded all of Kharoba's training sessions in Florida. Although the St. Petersburg Times reported in November 2010 that the sheriff in Pasco County planned to spend $45,000 on a series of sessions conducted by Kharoba.
"It's presumably taxpayer money," Shibly says. "And even if it isn't, it's taxpayer resources: facilities, advertising, officers' time."
Two Kharoba training sessions were canceled earlier this year in Florida, and Shibly suspects that's because CAIR's open information request put the FDLE on warning. He hopes more public awareness and pressure will force the FDLE to divorce itself from Kharoba for good.
Senators and homeland security officials have recently spoken out publicly against this kind of training. "These comments, of course, are neither factually accurate nor consistent with our nation's fundamental values and are not made by adequately trained personnel," Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins wrote in a letter last March to Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, after quoting Kharoba.
The FBI ran into its own trouble earlier this year when a federal investigation revealed that agent training materials included 876 pages and 392 presentations that were offensive to Muslims. Sen. Richard Durbin said that he was "disturbed" by the findings, while Sen. Al Franken called them "bigoted and inflammatory."
Critics of the training fear that it will discourage American Muslims from coming to police officers and agents with valuable leads, and cooperating with investigations.
FBI Director Robert Mueller has said on record that the cooperation of Muslim communities is "tremendously important" and that revelations, such as the one about offensive training materials, "set us back."
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