Investigation clears Hilliard man
Articles accused him of supporting terrorists
Monday, August 6, 2007 3:28 AM
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Abukar Arman of Hilliard had a busy July: He cared for his four children, chaperoned Habitat for Humanity volunteers, lost his job and resigned from a Franklin County board.
He has spent most recent days denying that he is an Islamic extremist and terrorist sympathizer, and contending that fair-minded people would agree.
For the past few weeks, Arman — who served on the county’s Criminal Justice Planning Board — was under scrutiny by federal and local law enforcement.
“We did a background check and found no criminal or terrorist connections,” said county Administrator Don L. Brown. “Mr. Arman is not a person of interest.”
Before July 11, Arman was just another Somali immigrant. He taught in the Columbus Public Schools, but few at the Downtown headquarters recognized his name.
He has been a longtime volunteer on community boards, but several politicians didn’t know much about him.
They were about to learn.
Since mid-July, Arman has been the subject of three online articles at FrontPage Magazine. Edited by conservative David Horowitz, it claims 620,000 readers a month.
Arman said the articles misrepresent columns he wrote to further peace and understanding, using guilt by association to weave a tissue of suspicion.
He volunteers on the local suicide-prevention hot line but stands accused in the articles of supporting those who incite suicide bombers.
Freelance writer Patrick Poole, also of Hilliard, said his articles have exposed a terrorist-friendly network that is infiltrating central Ohio government and gaining the confidence of its leaders.
High in this plan, Poole argues, is Arman, a slight, soft-spoken 47-year-old who came to America in 1980 for an education.
Franklin County commissioners appointed Arman to the county’s Criminal Justice Planning Board in early 2005. That alarms Poole, who says that Arman, in his writings, has expressed support for the rule of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia and for Youseff Al-Qaradawi, designated as a global terrorist by the United States.
Arman counters that even U.S. government officials now are talking with the Islamic Courts Union, which, despite its harsh fundamentalist rule, did stop lawlessness for a time in Somalia. He says that his writings simply point out that Al-Qaradawi is viewed by many Muslims as a moderate.
After the articles ran, FrontPage readers started sending angry e-mails to Franklin County commissioners.
Poole notes the county Web site says that the criminal justice board oversees homeland security. County officials said that is an error: The board oversees justice grants and court programs, and handles no sensitive information.
Two commissioners, Marilyn Brown and Mary Jo Kilroy, didn’t respond to Poole. The third, Paula Brooks, sent an e-mail to Brown on July 12.
“Don, I expect this to be investigated expeditiously,” Brooks wrote. “If true, these allegations are definitely grounds for removal.”
Brooks said her wording was stronger than her intention. “In hindsight, I wish that I had used the term fact-finding,” she said.
But leaders of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, said Brooks’ reaction fed what they fear is growing into a witch hunt.
The FrontPage articles have expanded to two other central Ohio residents: Ahmad Al-Akhras, national vice chairman of CAIR and a member of the Columbus Community Relations Commission; and Asma Mobin-Uddin, a pediatrician and president of the Ohio CAIR chapter.
Brooks said she would have asked for an investigation into Arman regardless of his ethnicity or religion. Arman is Arab, African and a Muslim.
“I don’t want to see someone falsely accused,” she said. “But my concern is for the safety and security of our community. I want the facts to be reviewed. I want to make sure we have people who support our government and our way of life working for Franklin County.”
Brown said he told commissioners of his findings. A written report, he said, “isn’t appropriate due to the nature of the inquiry.”
But Arman, CAIR and Poole all had hoped for written vindication.
“No, absolutely, I am not a sympathizer in any way, shape or form for terrorism,” Arman said. He said he began writing his columns to educate people on the Muslim viewpoint, hoping to further peace.
“Read my writings,” he begs.
Poole, who moved back to Hilliard in 2005, said he was stunned at a decade’s worth of changes in his hometown, including an influx of Muslim activists.
Poole previously worked for conservative Republican research groups, including the Free Congress Foundation. His writings question how three Democratic county commissioners could appoint Arman.
“The people we’ve elected and paid, they’ve really dropped the ball,” Poole said.
Poole said he’s not anti-Muslim; he lived with a Muslim family while working in Albania. But he said Arman and his friends aren’t typical of central Ohio’s Muslims.
Al-Akhras said Poole is part of a trend to discredit Muslims who “rise up and get accepted in the community. Some people feel threatened by this. We are seeing this across the country.”
Arman lost his teaching job last month. He blames the FrontPage campaign. But a district spokesman said Arman failed to recertify his state credentials and, meanwhile, the schools lost a grant for his position as an adult-education instructor.
As the county looked into his appointment to the justice planning board, it found a clear problem. Board members are required to be “citizens of the county.” Arman, who is not a U.S. citizen, resigned Friday.
“Mr. Arman is a man of the greatest integrity, kindness and responsibility,” Mobin-Uddin said.
She recalled a visit with Arman a few years ago to the home of an ex-Marine who displayed an anti-Muslim bumper sticker.
“We stood and talked with the man on his doorstep for an hour and a half. Mr. Arman never raised his voice. He told the man, ‘You know, sir, I have four children. I’ve lived in this country for decades. If I knew someone who was going to put a bomb somewhere, I would be the first one to jump on them.’ ”