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INSIGHT

Links Between American, European Terrorist Groups

Aired March 5, 2002 - 17:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, ANCHOR (voice-over): Lessons in hate. An accused terrorist speaks his mind.

AHMED HUBER, SUSPECTED TERRORIST: Al Qaeda is a very honorable organization.

MCEDWARDS: And waxes philosophical about Hitler, Muslims, and September 11th.

HUBER: If they killed a few American generals in the Pentagon, I don't feel very sorry, because these guys have done a lot of trouble.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCEDWARDS: Hello, and welcome to INSIGHT. I'm Colleen McEdwards, sitting in for Jonathan Mann.

The United States government says Ahmed Huber is a terrorist. It's closed his bank and tried to have him arrested.

Others say Huber is part of a new and growing breed in the United States and Europe, a shady coalition of right-wing extremists and their Islamic counterparts.

On INSIGHT today, the ties that bind.

We begin with CNN's Mike Boettcher.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a typical Swiss house, complete with garden homes, on a quiet street not far from the former residence of the U.S. ambassador, lives a 75-year-old Swiss man who the U.S. government says is a terrorist.

The company he helped direct was even targeted publicly by President Bush.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: Al-Taqua was an association of offshore banks and financial management firms that have helped al Qaeda shift money around the world.

BOETTCHER: The United States has listed you basically as a terrorist. Were you surprised to see your name on that list?

HUBER: No, I was just laughing, because, first, it's absolutely stupid. It's not even a lie, it's stupid.

BOETTCHER: Ahmed Huber may have laughed, but the United States government is dead serious. It has frozen Huber's assets and is pressuring the Swiss government to arrest him for being part of the al Qaeda money network, alleging that Al-Taqua Management, later called Nada Management, funneled money to Islamic terrorist groups through a complex scheme of offshore banking.

Huber was on the company's board of directors.

HUBER: I have never seen anything which was lousy or not correct or suspicious, because, you see, I could not have afforded to be part of something doubtful.

BOETTCHER: That is because, according to critics, Huber has a very doubtful past.

HUBER: You see, here is a rumor I read...

BOETTCHER: One only has to take a tour of his study.

There is a smiling bin Laden, next to a stern Adolph Hitler, all situated below a photograph of the Ayatollah Khamenei.

And, oh, yes, there is one other bit of memorabilia.

HUBER: This piece here is a piece from the house of Hitler on (UNINTELLIGIBLE), from the kitchen.

BOETTCHER: Huber, if you haven't guessed, is an admirer of Adolf Hitler, and he is a convert to Islam, has been for 40 years.

HUBER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BOETTCHER: However, far from a simple convert, counterterrorist experts believe that Ahmed Huber is the living, breathing embodiment of a dangerous alliance of neo-Nazi and Islamic extremists, a coalition united in its hatred of America and Jews; a coalition known as the Third Position.

Author Michael Reynolds has been tracking the Third Position, and Ahmed Huber, for years.

MICHAEL REYNOLDS, AUTHOR: Herr Huber has spent the last 12 years diligently, tirelessly, moving this coalition forward, and in that sense, of course he's dangerous. Because this movement, at the end of the day, only sees violence.

BOETTCHER: Huber forged close ties to the Ayatollah Khamenei and the Iranian revolution.

What did you think of Khamenei? You met him, correct?

HUBER: Yes. He was a fantastic man.

BOETTCHER: At the same time, he worked with extreme right-wing politicians, like France's Jean Marie L'Penn (ph) and Germany's neo-Nazi party, the NPD.

Now, Huber is after a new generation of believers.

HUBER: Hitler has always said, the only religion I respect is Islam, and the only prophet I admire is Mohammed. This is very interesting.

When I tell this to young Muslims or to young, so-called, neo-Nazis, then they (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BOETTCHER: Huber's critics worry that growing numbers of Third Positionists could forge a new transnational terrorist threat.

REYNOLDS: Huber's connections go from Tehran to the United States to Germany.

BOETTCHER: Huber insists he is not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist.

However, his statements suggest otherwise.

HUBER: We say Jew-nited States of America, we say Jew York.

BOETTCHER: Huber says he admires the American people, not their government, and rejects terrorism.

But listen to what he says about the September 11th Pentagon attack.

HUBER: If they killed a few American generals in the Pentagon, I don't feel very sorry, because these guys have done a lot of trouble in the Muslim world and in the third world.

BOETTCHER: And on the subject of al Qaeda.

HUBER: Al Qaeda is a very honorable organization. I mean, apart from something's they did.

BOETTCHER: Bin Laden and Hitler, two men Huber admires. Two agendas rooted in hate and embraced as one, the Third Position, an emerging threat with dangerous potential.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): Now, the dangerous potential that United States investigators are focusing on now is how money is moved in the al Qaeda network. They are pressuring the Swiss, as we reported in the story, to file charges against Huber and the Nada Management Corporation.

They allege -- President Bush has alleged publicly, that they are moving money, have moved money for al Qaeda, but so far, no indictments, and Ahmed Huber denies that he moved anything for al Qaeda -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: Mike Boettcher -- thanks very much.

Do you know much more about how these offshore banking schemes apparently worked?

BOETTCHER: Well, it's very complex.

It's not money laundering. Money laundering is taking black money and making it white, clean money. Whereas, what we're talking about is taking clean money and making it black, so to speak, used for a bad purpose.

And banks -- Nada Management was the umbrella group that oversaw a bank, Al-Taqua Bank, in the Bahamas. Now, the allegation is that funds in that bank were used to fund terrorism by giving part of the money to charitable organizations, perhaps to some front companies, shill companies, in which the money sat there and could be used for terrorism purposes.

But it's a very complex scheme that very, very few people understand completely.

MCEDWARDS: And, Huber says he didn't have any part of this, never saw anything untoward. I mean, what were your impressions of him when you sat down with him?

BOETTCHER: Well, you know, he's a very personable guy, and, you know, I have interviewed people with similar sympathies over the years, and they have a tendency to sugarcoat what they say.

For example, he talked about the fact that he's not anti-Jewish, but then he goes on to talk about Jew York and the Jew-nited States of America.

And the more you talk, the more real feelings come out.

But he was very hospitable. He sat down to talk to us about four hours, talked our ear off.

Interesting guy.

MCEDWARDS: Now, does he actually deny that there is any kind of link between neo-Nazis and fascists and Islamic extremists?

BOETTCHER: Well, if you look at it, he in his own words, he talks about speaking to both groups and telling them, in the words of Hitler, that Mohammed was the only prophet he admired.

You know, over the years, this is something that has been rarely reported on, the Third Position, and there have been confirmed reports in the 80's of neo-Nazis from Europe training in terrorist camps in North Africa.

This is something that's not new, that didn't just come up. There are links, and investigators say they can prove those links.

MCEDWARDS: But is it fair to say that United States investigators are looking at those links more strongly now than ever before?

BOETTCHER: Absolutely. Last week, the FBI came out and said that they are indeed looking at links between domestic terror groups in the United States and Islamic radical groups.

MCEDWARDS: And what about the status of the investigation, just real quick, no Ahmed Huber?

BOETTCHER: Well, right now the Swiss have gone in to Nada Management, to their headquarters, have taken all the documents out. They're going after that. We spoke to the chief prosecutor in Switzerland. He is saying it's a very complex case. The United States is putting a lot of pressure on, that this case should be moved on and that action should be taken.

But as one intelligence source told me, this kind of case could take ten years to prove.

MCEDWARDS: Wow. Mike Boettcher -- thanks very much, appreciate it.

We have to take a break here on INSIGHT, but when we come back, new links, old agendas: the growing ties between American extremists and their European counterparts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MCEDWARDS: An unfamiliar setting: the streets of York, Pennsylvania filled with shouts of "White Power."

A normally sleepy town, York was overrun with neo-Nazi skinheads, rival anarchists and so-called antiracists, six weeks ago. A sometimes violent protest that ended with 23 arrests and many more inflammatory headlines.

Welcome back.

Well, York has had its share of racial problems in the past. 32 year ago it was swept up in race riots that led to the shooting deaths of a young black woman and a white police officer.

Today it is an example of the growing power of hate groups in the United States, a small segment of society that is becoming more vocal and more diversified, according to our next guest.

Mark Potok is the editor of the "Intelligence Report." It is published by the Southern Poverty Law Center. That's an organization that monitors hate group activity.

And in the commentary that goes along with the "Report," Mark says that there are signs of a developing alliance between American and European neo-Nazi groups and their Islamic extremist counterparts.

Mark, tell us more about this. What do you mean?

MARK POTOK, "INTELLIGENCE REPORTER": Well, I mean, what Mike Boettcher reported on earlier, the developments that have occurred over the last 30, 40 years in Europe, are starting to occur here.

I don't mean to imply that there is some plot that we've uncovered afoot in the United States, but there is no question that there is more and more interest on the part of Islamic extremists and American neo-Nazis, in both directions.

MCEDWARDS: Well, it would be a peculiar bond, though, wouldn't it? I mean, neo-Nazis are people who choose to hate based on things like skin color and religion. So, wouldn't they make rather strange bedfellows here?

POTOK: They are the strangest of bedfellows. You're absolutely right.

White supremacists in this country, neo-Nazis, commonly refer to Arabs and Muslims as, quote/unquote, "Mud People."

But, you know, fundamentally, a leading neo-Nazi in this country after the September 11th attack said, you know, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. He was talking to his men. He said, look, we don't want our daughters, you know, messing around with their sons, are vice versa, but we are both in effect united against, as Mike Boettcher mentioned earlier, the quote/unquote, "Jew-nited States." It's that whole idea of the Jew as the enemy.

MCEDWARDS: So how do you explain it, psychologically, then? On what grounds do they come together?

POTOK: Well, the Third Position, that you've discussed at some length earlier, really refers to the idea that both socialism and capitalism are, you know, wretched systems, vile systems, and these guys have really, you know, they focus on the idea of, you know, we white people want to be alone in our white-man's country.

But then Iraqis want to be in their country with their own tribe. And every little tribe needs their own racially pure country. So they see themselves, in effect, in allegiance, in alliance, with kind of the third world, the struggles of third world peoples, and in particular against the United States.

It's weird, because they sound like leftists of the 60's and 70's.

MCEDWARDS: Right.

Well, let's take a look at some of the examples you've come up with in your report.

Is Ahmed Huber the clearest one that shows a link, in your view?

POTOK: Well, you know, I think Huber is really, yeah, a perfect example of that kind of confluence in Europe, where it's quite advanced and where we've actually seen, in some cases, Arab governments, intelligence services, or freelance Muslim extremist operatives actually working with neo-Nazis in various plots in Europe.

We haven't seen that in this country. But what we have seen is things like the leading Holocaust denial outfit in the world, the Institute for Historical Review, based in California, hosting or attempting to host a big conference a year ago in Lebanon, and the whole idea was we're going to put together American Holocaust deniers with Muslim, you know, anti-Semites, basically.

So it's those kinds of connections -- connections to American black Muslims, that are really intriguing and I think important, and potentially dangerous.

MCEDWARDS: I read the "Report" and I see the connections and, you know, the examples that you've given, and another one about, you know, white supremacists in Europe and the United States applauding the September 11th attacks, toasting with champagne.

But does that make a link, or is what you're really showing, what you're really talking about here, is a sort of a meeting of the minds, a place where hate has just sort of come to roost for awhile? Does it really mean anything more than that?

POTOK: Well, I think, you know, what we're trying to say is, really, to offer a warning.

You're absolutely right. I mean, you know, we don't have any evidence of real operational alliances in this country, outside of a couple of very specific cases.

There was a black Muslim who was involved in a plot in New York to blow up buildings and so on, back around '93.

But as a general matter, no, these are groups that are more and more seeing eye-to-eye and more and more agreeing with one another that, hey, we oppose the same people, the "Jews," quote/unquote, the multi-racialists, the multi-cultureless, the American federal government.

You know, whether that really develops into an actual operational alliance, violence, terrorism, I think we have yet to wait and see. But I point out one, I think, important thing, which is, there is a lot of money in the world of Muslim extremism, and the United States, the American radical right, has been chronically under-funded.

So that one very scary possibility is the idea that money will somehow come to our people in the United States, some of whom would like nothing better than to blow up buildings full of people.

MCEDWARDS: So you end up with neo-Nazi groups, better funded, better trained, that kind of thing?

POTOK: Sure. I mean, we could see American neo-Nazis trainings in, you know, in the Middle East in secret camps, quite easily.

MCEDWARDS: Mark, we've got to leave it there. Mark Potok, thank you so much for your time -- appreciate it.

POTOK: Thanks for having me.

MCEDWARDS: All right, we've got to take another break here.

When we come back, we'll talk to someone who says the idea of an alliance between the far right and Islam is just nonsense.

Stay with us for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MCEDWARDS: Welcome back to INSIGHT.

We've been talking about links between neo-Nazi groups and Islamic radicals.

How clear are these links? And what, if anything, do they add up to?

For another point of view, we are joined by Shaker Elsayed. He is the secretary general of the Muslim-American society.

Mr. Elsayed, thanks so much for being here.

SHAKER ELSAYED, MUSLIM-AMERICAN SOCIETY: Thanks for having me.

MCEDWARDS: I'd like to get your reaction to this report, right off the bat. Do you think its credible?

ELSAYED: Well, it is quite convoluted, because the author of this report has selectively made connections that never existed.

He selectively picked some Egyptians, lining up with the Germans against the British, under the British occupation of Egypt, but he never mentions Sadat, for example, who was spying for Germany to defend his country. Selectively, because Sadat turned out to be a friend to the Jews. He dropped him off and he picked on others.

So I believe it is quite a selective memory.

He also blamed the Muslim brotherhood for killing Sadat when they were quite his friends. And the record has always proved that it is a jihad movement, which is an ardent enemy of the Muslim brotherhood.

So his records are rather shady, if not dubious, at best.

MCEDWARDS: Well, and yet there is quite a detailed list of at least contacts that have been made, and I wonder, when you look at that, does that add up to nothing to you? Something? Or something that just hasn't been proven yet and needs to be looked into?

ELSAYED: Well, let me take you to some of the large leaps that he has made.

On one page, he said a spate of articles by American neo-Nazi and white supremacists appeared in Islamic publications and Web sites, and he uses that statement next to say, although links like this illustrate the ties between Muslim extremists and Americans, such ties are far more developed in Europe.

But he doesn't tell which Muslim publications had those articles, when were they published? What titles are they? So, he uses general statements, and then he relies on those a perceived correct facts, rather than assumptions, and he builds on them.

He adds, many of those throughout the report. That's why I am saying it is dubious, at best.

MCEDWARDS: He says that the group really isn't trying to prove a firm link, firm evidence at this point, but that the group wanted to raise some alarm bells, particularly in the United States. A warning that neo-Nazi groups may be up to things there that their European counterparts have been up to. Do you see that...

ELSAYED: I do not defend the neo-Nazis. I don't know about them -- I know about them, but I don't know them. And I can't speak for their plans.

But when you read the article, for example, and Ahmed Huber, the person that the program showed in the beginning, from Germany, the German new Muslim, he was interviewed. And he said that he sees himself as a mediator between Islam and right-wing groups, and we know that right-wing groups in Germany, in particular, have been very harsh on Muslims. They killed many of them.

So for a Muslim who has a German background to come and say I am a mediator, that is appropriate. But when the author of the article uses this in the next statement to say, in accordance with his self-proclaimed mission to unite Muslim fundamentalists and extreme right-wing forces in Europe and North America, I would say that he is taking it far-fetched than reality.

He is twisting the words of Mr. Ahmed Huber -- and I don't know him and I'm not defending him -- but his words said mediator, and the author of the report uses it as a uniter between two fronts.

MCEDWARDS: OK. Well, Mr. Elsayed, let me ask you just for your thoughts on Mr. Huber. I mean, the United States is investigating him. It has frozen his assets. It's said that he has been funneling money to Islamic groups.

Does he look suspicious to you?

ELSAYED: I do not know him, and from the piece that you showed, that gives bits and pieces of his statements, I can't judge him.

But I can say this, that the Al-Taqua Bank, that has been seized, the money has been seized by the United States government all over the world, I believe that it deserves a fair trial, and a fair trial means that they go through the court system.

But prejudging them on suspicion is not good for us, and it's not good for the United States (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with the Muslim world.

MCEDWARDS: What about the claim that even before World War II you had Western fascists beginning to forge ties with Islamic extremists?

ELSAYED: Well, amazingly enough, he also reported with that that the CIA former agent Miles Copeland has also reported that the United States government, forged with Gamal Abdel Nassar, the then-president of Egypt, an agreement to have German officers, Nazi officers, come and train Egyptian officers.

I am not aware that anybody has ever written about this, except Miles Copeland, but even if this is true, it also implicates the United States government and the CIA. Do you want to say that the CIA has also Nazi ties?

MCEDWARDS: Do you accept -- I don't even want to go down that road, but do you accept that there may be something sort of odd, ideologically, going on here? That you've got two groups on either side, these extremist groups -- we're not talking about you and me, we're talking about extremists, who may, not surprisingly, find a sort of ideological ground, a way of using each other's ideas, to further their own.

ELSAYED: Well, I think Mike's word, on its face value, that he did not find any operation connection, but in his report he is saying that operational connections may be there, and that's the key word here.

He is putting the report out as if he had found it, but publicly, I find out that he came clean and he said that he is not sure if there is any operational relationship.

And I'm not defending any extremists here. I'm saying that the reports have to have integrity before they are made public, and I believe that this report lacks a great deal of integrity and connections.

MCEDWARDS: Shaker Elsayed, we've got to leave it there, but there is going to be a lot of discussion about this in the months ahead, I think. Thank you so much.

ELSAYED: Thanks for having me.

MCEDWARDS: And that is all the time we have had for today's INSIGHT.

I'm Colleen McEdwards. The news continues, for you, right here, on CNN.

END

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