Man's Counterterrorism Course Riles Florida Muslims
CAPE CORAL, Fla. (AP) - There's a call to dialogue, from a small Muslim community to law enforcement officials, echoing across Florida.
It's a call for understanding, tolerance and education, to cross cultural boundary lines and request leaders on both sides to ask questions, share a meal and discuss concerns.
The call comes in response to one Cape Coral man's at-home counterterrorism training business, which he's used to train thousands of law enforcement officials around the nation for a decade.
Last week, at two news conferences held by the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, representatives from 30 mosques and Islamic centers and other individuals around the state announced they'd sent a letter to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey, denouncing Sam Kharoba and calling for him to be removed from teaching courses.
They allege Kharoba makes "sweeping generalizations" about Muslims and say he's not qualified to teach, let alone train police about their religion. They want the chance to set the record straight and don't understand why, if local police departments wanted information on Islam, they didn't come to the source.
Kharoba, 46, works out of an unassuming single-family home in south Cape Coral, with trimmed hedges and landscaped grass. Teaching cops to get inside the mind of a terrorist has become his full-time job.
He tends not to abide political correctness, not when talking about an enemy he says he knows.
"You can't talk about Nazism without Germans, nor can you talk about communism without Russians," Kharoba said. "(In counterterrorism) you can't fight tactics; you have to fight the ideology and motive. When the media and the government worry about what word to use or not to use, like radicals, extremists or jihadists, at the end of the day it's all political mumbo jumbo."
It's hard to find a picture of Kharoba on the Internet, aside from one grainy YouTube video from 2008. He's not someone who likes to be in the public eye because of the nature of his work with his organization, Counter Terrorism Operations Center.
The former software engineer holds counterterrorism training sessions, charging hundreds for his lectures and expertise. He has no official certification in counterterrorism or degree in Middle Eastern studies, let alone experience in the military or law enforcement.
His academic background consists of a bachelor's degree in electrical and computer engineering and a minor in mathematics from Louisiana State University, where he also completed some graduate work in mathematics.
Kharoba bases his qualifications on his life experience in Amman, Jordan, where he was born and lived for 16 years and where his father worked with the cultural attache of the British Embassy.
Later in life, he worked developing software to fight credit card fraud and founded a technology company. He worked on a program created to help the intelligence community by doing forensic analysis on foreign national names and identifying name disguises.
According to information gathered via a Freedom of Information Act public-records request by the Council on Islamic-American Relations, between 2005 and 2012, Kharoba held at least 21 seminars in Florida.
The Cape Coral Police Department sponsored one in August 2009 and two similar classes were held in Fort Myers, in 2009 and 2010, though records don't show whether Kharoba taught them. Other sponsors on the list are police departments through the state and public safety and police institutes.
The Fort Myers Police Department has not used Kharoba's organization for training, according to spokeswoman Shelly Flynn. Cape Coral spokesman Lt. Tony Sizemore confirmed Kharoba trained that department, but couldn't say how many officers attended or when it was.
He said to not provide counterterrorism training in a post-9/11 world would be derelict on the department's part.
"We saw he was local and we used him because he was affiliated with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement," Sizemore said.
Like a late-night infomercial, Kharoba's online pitch draws in prospects to his website with an endless list of promises. Revered and reviled, Kharoba said he's trained more than 20,000 law enforcement officials.
"Learn what your enemy does not want you to know - ISLAMIC THEOLOGY. Understand the interpretation of the Qur'an - not the words of the Qur'an! CTOC (Counter Terrorism Operations Center) will provide you with comprehensive knowledge of all Islamic theological sources . this is what you need to know in order to become the most effective counter terrorism professional ...," his website reads.
In a list next to photos of Middle Eastern men with guns and masks, Kharoba lumps the Muslim Student Association, the Council on American-Islamic-Relations and other nationally recognized groups into a sect he calls "legal jihad" or the "Muslim Mafia," calling the groups domestic fronts. He notes officers will learn about terrorism financing and how terrorists derive funds from the United States.
"What appears to be a convenience store or a used car import/export business might actually be a fundraising or a money laundering network," it reads.
Kharoba is penning a letter denouncing the Council on Islamic-American Relations he plans to send to Congress to reveal what he says is proof of CAIR's involvement with terrorists. He said the group puts up a facade of fighting for civil rights, but is actually threatening the safety of the country as a whole.
"This is just another example to actively attack and suppress analysts that provide critical information for counterterrorism operations," Kharoba said. "I challenge anyone with a Ph.D. in Islamic theology to debate me. Facts are facts. I'm not presenting anything new. What gives them the right to lecture on it and doesn't give me the same right?"
Gretl Plessinger, spokeswoman for FDLE, said in a statement: "The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has utilized Sam Kharoba as a counterterrorism instructor and has received positive feedback from those taking his course. FDLE received the letter from CAIR in a fax the evening of July 10, 2012, and will review their concerns. It's important to note that FDLE does not have authority over all law enforcement training in Florida."
Plessinger emphasized Kharoba is not certified in counterterrorism training but was granted an exception to work in FDLE-sanctioned training centers across the state. To get certified, instructors must go through the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission, complete a 64-hour techniques course, an internship and have some kind of affiliation with a training school, according to information provided by Plessinger. Instructors also are required to complete continuing education requirements every four years.
In class evaluations, students praised Kharoba's courses as one of the best they'd ever taken and called Kharoba enlightened for sharing his knowledge. Some said they believed the lessons would help in tempering racial profiling because they would now be better-prepared to tell the difference between extremist and mainstream Muslims.
"It really opened my eyes," one person wrote. "I now know what's actually going on, or at least I have a clue."
But other comments left Muslim leaders concerned about the repercussions of these courses. They believe Kharoba is further polarizing the Muslim community by making it feared and suspected.
"Very excellent class!" another comment said. "Once everyone understands the culture, you understand the way they think!"
"He's taking advantage of the atmosphere of fear," said Imam Mohamed Al-Darsani, executive director for the Islamic Center for Peace in Fort Myers. "He has no background in Islam whatsoever except rhetoric and he's full of hate."
Though they've met twice, Al-Darsani had no idea Kharoba lived in Southwest Florida nor did he realize Kharoba had trained officers here. He said an estimated 500 Muslim families live in the area.
"I have no relationship with the Cape Coral Police Department, but I wish when they wanted to train on Islam they reached out to talk to us," Al-Darsani said. "Not bring in this guy to program them on anti-Muslim falsehoods."
A former senior fellow in the Department of Homeland Security before he retired, Ronald Waldron of Bonita Springs also had served as program manager for counterterrorism at the National Institute of Justice. In training, the global aspects of counterterrorism are often irrelevant for day-to-day police officers, Waldron said, because in most cases tips are going to come from the local community.
"It would be informative to have the background and experience in law enforcement and criminal justice," Waldron said when he heard about Kharoba's sessions. "It has some validity to it if that person lived and identified with the culture in a primarily Muslim country. It would (still) be better handled through the Department of Homeland Security."
Similar to Kharoba, Waldron said it's difficult to be politically correct if, using the metaphor, "every time you go out in the street you get mugged by someone wearing a red shirt."
But both agree Muslims, like all citizens, are protected under the Constitution and have the same civil rights as everyone else. Kharoba said his critics make him sound anti-Muslim, but his training of officers is not to profile but to give them knowledge to go after the extremists, he said. It's all about context.
"We don't teach and regard Islam from a theological concept," Kharoba said. "We teach the political, cultural, military and economic forces that are practiced by Islam. Religion is protected by our Constitution, but these concepts are not."
He's produced and compiled most of his course training materials including the textbook entitled: "A Law Enforcement Guide to Understanding Islamist Terrorism. Understanding Islamic Theology - The Driving Force Behind Islamist Terrorism.
Islam is a comprehensive lifestyle that delves into every area of existence, said Nezar Hamze, CAIR's executive director for South Florida. He says a lot can be taken out of context. What Hamze wants is to see the relationship with law enforcement and Muslims in Southwest Florida to flourish the way it has in their neighborhoods on the east coast.
By collaborating, they've invited police to mosques, assisted with cases by providing tips and translated Crime Stoppers posters into Arabic and Urdu. That trust is growing, Hamze said.
His organization is working together with Al-Darsani's in Fort Myers to plan a meeting to be hosted by the Florida Muslim Congress. It will be held in August in the midst of the Muslim holiday Ramadan. Local law enforcement officials will receive invitations to come, listen and share a holiday meal. They plan to train their own community leaders to know who to call if there is trouble, educate citizens on their civil rights and address mutual concerns.
In this way, they say, they hope to fight injustice and share peace and truth, two obligations of Islam.
"We need to get out of our bubble and start building relationships," Hamze said. "(What Kharoba says) is baseless garbage. I don't even know how to begin to explain how far this is connected from reality. My kids know more about Islam than Sam Kharoba."
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