The Islamic Academy of Florida (IAF) was an elementary/secondary private school for Muslims based in the Temple Terrace suburb of Tampa Bay. IAF was one of Florida’s major recipients of taxpayer-funded vouchers. (The voucher program is a statewide government initiative that seeks to improve the education of underprivileged students in underachieving schools.) As of July 2003, IAF had received more than $350,000 in vouchers, the majority of which came from Florida PRIDE, an organization that funds scholarships.
That month, however, IAF was suddenly suspended from receiving any more of these vouchers because of a 50-count indictment charging that the school was actively supporting the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). According to the indictment, IAF had helped “to raise funds and provide support for the PIJ and their operatives in the Middle East, in order to assist its engagement in, and promotion of, violent attacks designed to thwart the Middle East Peace Process.”
IAF’s former Chairman, Sami Al-Arian, was the leader of the enterprise. The school’s former Treasurer, Sameeh Hammoudeh, was using IAF as a fundraising base for Palestinian Islamic Jihad. One of IAF’s former teachers was the high-level PIJ operative Ramadan Shallah, who was also a founding member — along with Sami Al-Arian, Mazen al Najjar, and Khalil Shikaki — of the World Islam Study Enterprise. And one of IAF’s former Directors was the aforementioned Mazen al Najjar, who eventually would be deported from the United States because of his ties to PIJ.
IAF was owned by the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), a Saudi-financed organization (with roots in the Muslim Brotherhood) that controls the assets of many, if not all, of the most radical, extremist mosques and Islamic centers in the United States. IAF’s mailing address, as published by the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser, was identical to that of a NAIT office located just a few doors away from the school.
After their vouchers were cut off in July 2003, IAF’s administrators devised a way to regenerate those lost funds. Specifically, the school began doing business under a different name — the American Youth Academy, which was first incorporated as a nonprofit organization in the state of Florida shortly after the voucher payments to IAF had been discontinued. Under its new name, the American Youth Academy was soon receiving more taxpayer-funded vouchers than any other school in the Tampa Bay area. In 2005 alone, Florida taxpayers furnished AYA with $332,500 for its elementary/secondary program, and $2,500 per child for its Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program.
From its inception, AYA was set up as an Islamic elementary/secondary private school (just like IAF), and its corporate address put it directly adjacent to IAF, though it is difficult to determine exactly where one property ends and the other begins. As was reported in the Tampa Tribune, AYA “uses the same buildings, desks, books and equipment as the Islamic Academy [IAF]. Nearly half the teachers and many students are the same.” One of AYA’s Directors, Ayman Barakat, was a longtime Director of IAF. Moreover, both entities shared the same phone number.
This profile is adapted from the article, “The School That Terrorism Built,” written by Joe Kaufman and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on December 5, 2005.