Established in 1990 and formally incorporated in 1991, the World & Islam Studies Enterprise (WISE) was an “Islamic think tank” created “to promote scholarly research and dialogue between Muslim and Western scholars.” The organization was headquartered in Tampa, near the University of South Florida (USF) campus where WISE’s founder, Sami Al-Arian, was a tenured professor of computer science. Al-Arian was also the covert North American leader of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
In addition to Al-Arian, key officials of the nascent WISE included: (a) its managing editor of periodicals and publications, Mazen al Najjar, who also served on PIJ’s governing board; (b) senior research fellow Khalil Shikaki, the brother of PIJ co-founder Fathi Shikaki; (c) acting director Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who went on to become PIJ’s Secretary General in the mid-1990s; (d) research assistant Tarik Hamdi, who in May 1998 met with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, where he gave the al-Qaeda leader a battery pack for the very same satellite phone that bin Laden would use to orchestrate the deadly U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania three months later; (e) board member Hisham Sharabi, who encouraged Palestinians to drive Israeli personnel from the West Bank and Gaza via “armed struggle”; and (f) board chairman Taha Jabir Al-Alwani, who has also served as an officer and/or member of such organizations as the Fiqh Council of North America, the Graduate School of Islamic & Social Sciences, the International Institute of Islamic Thought, the Council of the Muslim World League, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference‘s Islamic Fiqh Academy.
To view a list of all of WISE’s incorporators, officers, staffers, and board members, click here.
Other noteworthy individuals who worked with WISE between 1991 and 1995 included professors John Esposito and John Voll of Georgetown University‘s Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, and University of Maryland professor Charles Butterworth, who, citing the Jewish state’s repeated “violations of international law,” has long advocated a boycott aginst Israeli academic institutions.
WISE, which in 1992 signed a cooperative agreement with USF’s Committee for Middle East Studies, published a scholarly journal that featured writings in political science, philosophy, sociology, economics, religious studies, and other social science disiplines. The think tank also co-sponsored seminars and roundtable discussions about issues pertaining to Islam and the Middle East.
Among the more notable speakers who addressed WISE-sponsored events between 1991 and 1995 were the Islamic Group leader Omar Abdel Rahman, who was later convicted in connection with numerous terror plots; Hassan Turabi, the Sudanese religious and political figure who, according to U.S. counterterrorism official Oliver Revell, was involved in terrorist activity; and Khurshid Ahmad, a longtime member of the al Qaeda-affiliated Pakistani group Jamaat-e-Islami. WISE also invited Rashid-el-Ghannoushi, the leader of Tunisia’s Islamist Al-Nahdah Movement, to speak at one of its events. But the U.S. State Department refused to grant Ghannoushi a visa, because in 1989 he had been exiled from Tunisia for conspiring to carry out violence against that country’s government.
WISE was a sister organization to the Islamic Committee for Palestine (ICP), which Sami Al-Arian had established in 1988—ostensibly to alleviate the suffering of impoverished Palestinian widows and orphans, but in fact to promote the agendas of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. As INS Special Agent William West put it, both WISE and ICP were “fronts for the purpose of fund-raising activities for the Islamic Jihad and the Hamas terrorist organizations.” They also engaged in “other support-type activities,” said West, “primarily to allow for the perceptually legitimate entry of foreign nationals, aliens into the United States who are leaders and/or operatives” of such entities.
In 1995 the FBI began to aggressively investigate WISE and ICP alike, on suspicion that they were PIJ front groups. That November, federal agents raided the offices of both organizations and seized all of their contents, among which were some 500 videotapes of past conferences they had sponsored to promote (and fundraise for) PIJ. One video of a 1991 event in Cleveland, for instance, showed Sami Al-Arian declaring: “God cursed those who are the sons of Israel … Those people, God made monkeys and pigs … Let us damn America, let us damn Israel, let us damn them and their allies until death.” In another confiscated video, Al-Arian said: “We assemble today to pay respects to the march of the martyrs and to the river of blood that gushes forth and does not extinguish, from butchery to butchery, and from martyrdom to martyrdom, from jihad to jihad.”
The federal agents who raided WISE and ICP headquarters also found a letter Al-Arian had written in 1995 to solicit money from a Kuwaiti associate: Referencing a recent pair of suicide bombings that had killed 21 Jews at a bus station in Western Israel, Al-Arian urged his acquaintance “to try to extend true [financial] support of the jihad effort in Palestine so that operations such as these can continue.”
Given the serious nature of these and other materials unearthed in the federal raids, the U.S. government permanently shut down both WISE and ICP.