MIT Muslim Cleric Hate
AL QAEDA’S BASE AT MIT
by ILYA FEOKTISTOV & CHARLES JACOBS
11 May 2015
At the end of April, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology unveiled
a permanent memorial to MIT Police Officer Sean Collier. Officer
Collier was gunned down by the Boston Marathon bombers, Chechen
refugees Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, three days after they blew up
It is painful to learn that in the late 1990s, there were students at
MIT who helped recruit for the Chechen jihad and raised funds for Al
Qaeda-affiliated groups operating in the Tsarnaevs’ homeland. It is
even more painful that the man who led this fundraising effort was
still on MIT’s staff when Officer Collier was gunned down.
Suheil Laher had been MIT’s Muslim chaplain for almost 20 years. Today
he continues to preach at the Islamic Society of Boston, the extremist
mosque founded by MIT students near campus, where the Tsarnaevs
worshipped during their radicalization.
Americans for Peace and Tolerance have just released a
mini-documentary, “Al Qaeda’s Base at MIT,” showing how MIT Muslim
chaplain Suheil Laher used his leadership of the MIT Muslim Students
Association as a vehicle for raising money for Al Qaeda causes around
the world. We especially focus on the Al Qaeda affiliate in Chechnya,
which Laher and his associates lionized, even as MIT trusted him to be
its Muslim students’ spiritual guide.
Suheil Laher came to MIT as a student in 1990 and by 1998, he became
the MIT Muslim chaplain. By the year 2000, he also became president of
a Muslim charity based in Boston called Care International, which was
founded by Osama Bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam and was originally
called “Al Kifah Refugee Center.” Care International was, in essence, a
fundraising vehicle for mujahideen. After the leader of Al Kifah in
Brooklyn, “the Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rehman, was convicted for his
role in the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, Boston’s Care
International took over as Al Qaeda’s main base in the United States.
Laher, then, was quite an important figure in Al Qaeda’s leadership
here. His perch at MIT meant that he had easy access to the best
American Muslim minds – and their world-class technical skills.
As a religious scholar and an engineer, Laher was both the spiritual
and technological leader of Care International. He pioneered the
Jihadist use of the new Internet medium to fundraise and recruit for Al
Qaeda causes online. Laher’s personal website prominently featured
Abdullah Azzam’s notorious call to Jihad, a tract called “Join the
Beloved brother! Draw your sword, climb onto the back of your horse,
and wipe the blemish off your ummah. If you do not take the
responsibility, who then will?
That same Jihadist tract was found on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s computer.
Laher’s website contained a large collection of his writings and of
sermons he gave in the Boston area. These sermons are replete with
calls for Jihad, such as this passage:
When the Muslim lands are being attacked, and the Muslims are being
raped and killed, the only solution prescribed by Allah is jihad. Jihad
is for all times. […] Jihad does not stop. Those of us who have not yet
managed to go and physically help our brothers and sisters should
support […] our mujahidin brethren with prayer, with money, with
clothes, by taking care of their families, and at some point in person.
Otherwise, we must face the wrath of Allah.
One of the MIT students who answered Laher’s call to join the Jihad in
person was a bright young biologist named Aafia Siddiqui. She started
out as a passionate and prolific fundraiser for Care International, but
by the time she was arrested by the FBI in Afghanistan in 2008, she was
known as “Lady Al Qaeda” and had become the most wanted woman in the
world. She is now serving an 86-year prison sentence for attempting to
kill the FBI agents arresting her. Her belongings upon arrest included
two pounds of cyanide and plans for mass casualty attacks on New York
using chemical and biological weapons, as well as literature about the
While Laher’s sermons preached the general Islamic obligation to do
Jihad, Care International’s website along with its newsletter “Al
Hussam” (“The Sword”) promoted what Laher and his fellow Care leaders
saw as the concrete performance of that responsibility. In the late
1990s, Care International focused its fundraising activity on the
Russian breakaway republic of Chechnya. Specifically, Care
International backed the Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists under the
leadership of Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev.
Basayev can arguably be described as one of the cruelest Islamic
terrorists in modern Jihadist history. Our documentary recounts one of
his cruelest acts: the Beslan School Massacre. On September 1, 2004,
during a ceremony marking the first day of school, Basayev’s men
surrounded the school in the town of Beslan in southern Russia and took
over 1,100 people hostage, nearly eight hundred of them children. They
murdered several people on the spot in front of the children and herded
everyone into a sweltering gymnasium, where the hostages were kept
without food or water for three days as bombs were hung up from the
rafters and basketball hoops above them. On the third day, the
terrorists started setting off the bombs and Russian security forces
stormed the school as shell-shocked children ran the other way and were
shot in the back by the terrorists. Three hundred and eighty five
people were murdered, among them one hundred and eighty six children.
Subsequently, Shamil Basayev bragged about his “success” at Beslan and
the fact that the attack only cost him 8,000 Euros to launch. He was
killed by Russian security forces in 2006.
Care International raised huge amounts of money for jihad around
Boston, $1.7 million according to Federal authorities. A large portion
of this money came through checks that were specifically earmarked for
“Chechen Muslim fighters.” Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s,
Care International hosted dispatches and communiques from Basayev and
his forces in the field. A Care International “Al Hussam” newsletter
praised a previous Basayev hostage operation against a Russian
hospital’s maternity ward:
Minute by minute the whole world watched with agony, as some of the
Mujahideen (not exceeding 80), under the leadership of Mujahid Shamil
Basyev took 1500 Russians […] We cannot depend on anybody’s help; we
have to fight evil with evil. The operation of the Mujahid Shamil
Basayev is perfect proof.
How could MIT’s Muslim chaplain have led a group that applauded and funded such a savage?
In 2003, the FBI began investigating Care International for terrorism
financing. At the same time, Basayev and his organization were
designated as foreign terrorists. The flow of money from Boston to
Chechnya stopped. After the Beslan Massacre, Basayev complained that
the lack of funding prevented him from seizing more schools in Moscow
and Leningrad. Because Basayev was not officially considered a
terrorist before 2003, there was little the FBI could do to prosecute
Laher and his fellow activists. Three Care leaders, including the
group’s treasurer, received minor sentences for tax evasion. After
being questioned by the FBI, Laher walked free and continued to
influence students at MIT for more than another decade. His successor
as MIT’s Muslim Chaplain, Hoda Elsharkawy, is herself closely linked
through her husband to Laher and to Islamic extremism in Boston, which
will be the focus of our future reporting.
While Laher officially stepped down from his post as MIT chaplain in
2014, he continues to preach at mosques in the Boston area, including
the Tsarnaev’s own mosque, the Islamic Society of Boston – giving a
sermon there as recently as May 1, 2015. The ISB was founded by MIT
students who purchased a building just down the street from campus and
Laher regularly preached there. Beyond this, there is no evidence to
indicate that Laher influenced the Tsarnaevs directly. Nevertheless,
the legacy of radicalism at the Tsarnaevs’ mosque is very much tied to
MIT and the Jihadist ideology that Laher preached as its Muslim
We hope that our documentary will serve as a warning to moderate Muslim
parents of students at MIT and other Boston universities, as well as
the moderate Muslims who attend ISB and other mosques throughout the
Hub. Jihadists like Laher prey on Muslim youths, and even prestigious
and seemingly immune institutions like MIT cannot guarantee a safe
space from their influence.
Ilya Feoktistov is research director and Charles Jacobs is president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance.
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