hunting bin laden
The Story of Imam Moataz Al Hallak
who is bin laden
trail of evidence
two terrorists
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 Laden's organization.

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 Nairobi.

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 bombing case.

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 bombing.

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