In the early months of 1999, a new figure was introduced into the East African
U.S. embassy bombings story. Moataz Al Hallak, a Muslim religious leader
(imam) from Arlington, Texas, was mentioned in court during a hearing for
defendant Wadih El Hage.|
El Hage was a personal secretary to Osama bin Laden and has been charged with
conspiracy in the embassy bombings case. El Hage's lawyer had requested the
hearing to discuss bail for El Hage. El Hage has not been allowed phone
calls to anyone except his family since his arrest in September 1998. The
lawyer asked that El Hage be allowed to make a phone call to Imam Al Hallak in
order to ask that members of the Muslim community in Arlington raise bail. It
is customary in the Muslim religion to support members of the community who are
experiencing hardship. Prosecutors opposed the phone call, saying that they had
"specific concerns" about the imam and did not want the two to communicate.
Al Hallak is the imam at the Central Arlington Mosque in Texas, where El Hage
and his family worshipped for many years. At another hearing several days
later, prosecutors said in open court that the imam had "served as a contact"
between members of the bin Laden organization.
Prosecutors did not elaborate on the specifics of the contacts. In court papers
that have been released in the case, FRONTLINE found evidence of a phone call
between Al Hallak's mosque and another defendant in the case, Khalid Al Fawaz,
who has been accused of running a "public relations" office in London for Bin
FRONTLINE also found Al Hallak's name on registry papers for the
non-governmental organization (NGO), Help Africa People, which El Hage was
running in Nairobi, Kenya. Specifically, El Hage sent a copy of the official
name change of the organization to Al Hallak. Prosecutors have said they
believe the NGO was a front for the activities of a Bin Laden terrorist "cell"
In addition, Al Hallak has some ties to the Afghan war in the 1980s, where many
members of bin Laden's organization first came together. The Dallas Morning
News reported that Al Hallak had encouraged young men from Arlington to go
to Afghanistan to fight in the holy jihad against the Soviets. The Central
Arlington Mosque and Al Hallak were also listed on a contact list for the
Alkifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, which was an organization designed to help
veterans from the Afghan war. But the Alkifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn was
also headed by several men who have been convicted in the World Trade Center
Al Hallak says the links between him and the bombing case are circumstantial
and meaningless. FRONTLINE spoke with Al Hallak in person at an Islamic
conference in Arlington in February 1999. He denied any connection to bin Laden
and asserted that any contact between himself and El Hage was the ordinary
contact between a religious leader and a member of his congregation. Members of
his community agree.
"I have known the imam for the last ten years, since I came back here from
Pakistan" said Syed Ahsani, a community leader in Arlington and former
Ambassador from Pakistan to the Sudan. "He is a very nice, good person. So if
this gentleman wants to talk to him on the telephone, what's the harm? To raise
money is a just and legitimate function of the imam. To help this man."
The issue of raising bail quickly lost its importance, as Judge Leonard B. Sand
denied the possibility of bail for El Hage, as he has for all the defendants in
the bombing case.
Members of the Arlington Muslim community were shocked by the accusations
against their imam, especially coming so close to the recent arrest of El Hage.
"There is the creation of a climate of fear," said Tony Cooper, Political
Science Professor at the University of Texas. "People will not speak out.
People will not challenge what is manifestly unlawful according to positive law
in the United States."
Al Hallak himself expressed his fear and shock at being drawn into the
controversy. He hired a lawyer, Stanley L. Cohen, who wrote a firm letter to
prosecutors accusing them of slandering Al Hallak. FRONTLINE discussed the
case with many members of the Arlington Muslim community who felt
attacked by the mention of their religious leader in connection with the