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TV REVIEW : 'Jihad in America' Probes Radical Groups in U.S.

November 21, 1994|ROBERT KOEHLER

If the weapon of choice of many Islamic terrorists is the AK-47 rifle, the favored weapon of anti-terrorists seems to be the camcorder. Running through Steven Emerson's hourlong report, "Jihad in America," is a chilling string of video clips showing radical Islamic fundamentalists, organizers and terrorists urging followers to wage a holy war against Jews, Christians and America.

Nothing surprising here--only that the speeches were delivered in America, where, Emerson charges, a growing network linked with key Middle East-based terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas continues to elude U.S. law enforcement.

The safety of speech and religious freedom is the ironic reason, say law enforcement officials who speak to Emerson, that the FBI cannot round up those fomenting Jihad (or holy war) and those networked with the convicted bombers in the 1993 World Trade Center attack. Perhaps, but it seems to be a weak alibi in the light of decades' worth of very effective FBI harassment and arrests against many militants of the left and right. The real reason police don't go after Jihad's supporters in this country isn't explored here.

Emerson begins his story with a beat-by-beat explanation of the growth of Islamic militancy--with the careful caveat that this represents a fringe of the Islamic faith. CIA funding of Islamic forces against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan began a groundswell of confidence and money and arms for fundamentalists. An offshoot of this confidence was the Al-Kifah Support Network, based in Brooklyn, where such leading voices of Jihad as Abdullah Azzam would speak and organize.

It was here that the group responsible for the World Trade Center bombing often met, but it's only one of more than 30 militant Islamic groups in the United States, Emerson says. Despite denials by spokespeople, he identifies the Islamic Association for Palestine and the Islamic Committee for Palestine to be essentially the U.S. branches of terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, respectively.

Emerson's reporting is dogged and more than slightly gutsy (how in the world did he obtain that videotape?), and makes a clear case that U.S. officials will be butting heads with the Constitution before they butt heads with terrorists.

* "Jihad in America" airs 10 p.m. tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.

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