Born in Saudi Arabia in 1970, Sami Omar al-Hussayen is the son of a senior Saudi Education Ministry official. Raised with six siblings in a comfortable home in Riyadh, he moved to the United States in the 1990s and earned a master’s degree at Ball State University. He and his wife moved to the rural town of Moscow, Idaho in 1999, when Mr. al-Hussayen enrolled for doctoral studies in computer security at the University of Idaho (UI). The Saudi government paid his educational expenses, plus a $2,700 monthly stipend.
Al-Hussayen soon became the leader of UI’s Muslim Students Association (MSA). On May 11, 2001, he registered with the state of Idaho as an official agent of the Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA), a Michigan organization which the U.S. government was investigating for possibly supporting terrorists in the Middle East.
Al-Hussayen helped administer several Arabic-language websites (some of which were owned by, or affiliated with, IANA) rife with violent, anti-Western rhetoric and the writings of radical Muslim religious figures who encourage suicide bombings. One website al-Hussayen allegedly helped set up carried an article justifying the use of passenger airplanes as terror weapons.
On September 11, 2000, al-Hussayen registered the Internet site www.alasr.ws, an Arabic-language, IANA-produced online magazine providing links to other IANA websites. In June 2001, alasr.ws carried an article by a Saudi-trained Kuwaiti cleric (Sheik Hamed al-Ali) titled, “Provision of Suicide Operations,” which stated: “The warrior must kill himself if he knows that this will lead to killing a great number of the enemies, and that he will not be able to kill them without killing himself first, or demolishing a center vital to the enemy or its military force. This can be accomplished with the modern means of bombing or bringing down an airplane on an important location that will cause the enemy great losses.” The Arabic-language version of this same site in June 2001 carried an article advocating suicide bombings against “unbelievers who have declared war against the Muslims.”
Al-Hussayen came to the attention of the FBI when the Bureau was contacted by an employee of a bank branch in Moscow, Idaho. After 9/11, the employee noticed an increase in deposits to al-Hussayen’s previously modest accounts and became suspicious. The FBI soon learned that al-Hussayen had communicated often with two radical clerics known as the “awakening sheiks” because of their ideological influence on young Arabs. The clerics — Salman al-Ouda and Safar al-Hawali — are widely recognized as intellectual godfathers of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network.
On February 26, 2003, FBI agents arrived before dawn in unmarked vehicles at al-Hussayen’s home to arrest him for several counts of visa fraud and making false statements. The visa fraud charges stemmed from the fact that al-Hussayen had knowingly failed to mention his affiliation with IANA on his visa application when he entered the United States; moreover, he had claimed on several visa applications that he wanted to come to the U.S. “solely” to study, when in fact he also took work as a webmaster for IANA. (Foreign students on student visas in the U.S. are not permitted to work for employers not situated on their campus).
Al-Hussayen allegedly raised at least $300,000 over five years for IANA. He used six bank accounts to collect and disburse the money and had extensive e-mail and telephone contact with the organization, the FBI said in court filings and testimony. About $100,000 of the money allegedly came in two installments from the student’s uncle, Saleh Abdel Rahman al-Hussayen.
In January 2004, Sami Omar al-Hussayen was charged with two counts of conspiracy to provide material support (via his computer skills) to terrorists. Two months later, he was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to Hamas — through donation links on various websites that he allegedly maintained. He was also charged with eight immigration violations related to his aforementioned visa fraud.
Al-Hussayen’s trial began in April 2004 and lasted six weeks. He was acquitted in early June of the terrorism charges as well as three of the immigration violations. But the jury deadlocked on the remaining immigration charges — all of which were dropped in exchange for the defendant’s agreement to be deported rather than go through a retrial. In July 2004 al-Hussayen was deported to Saudi Arabia, where he now lives with his wife and three sons. He currently works as an instructor at a technical university in Riyadh.
Portions of this profile are adapted from the article titled, “MSA Figure Seized by FBI,” written by Paul Barrett and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on May 29, 2003.