8/21/2005

Floridian: Friends in high places

riends in high places

Sami Al-Arian isn't the only prominent Muslim leader who posed for chummy pictures with President Bush. Many conservative Republicans are uneasy at the way GOP power broker Grover Norquist curries support from the Muslim community.

By MARY JACOBY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 11, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The rumpled, balding figure was spotted darting into the offices of Republican power broker Grover Norquist last July. When Sami Al-Arian emerged more than two hours later, someone was waiting for him.

Conservative activist Frank Gaffney, whose think tank on national security issues has offices on the same floor, was eager to confirm a tip that the suspected Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative was next door.

Best known for his high-profile campaign for a "Star Wars" national missile defense system, Gaffney for months had been quietly pursuing another project: trying to convince the Bush administration to more closely scrutinize the Muslim activists whom Norquist was bringing into the president's orbit.

As part of Norquist's well publicized strategy to mine the Muslim community for GOP votes, Al-Arian had campaigned for Bush in 2000, posed for a photo with the candidate at Plant City's Strawberry Festival and boasted publicly that Muslims in Florida may have tipped the close presidential election to Bush.

Now, Al-Arian was visiting the Islamic Institute, a Muslim outreach group cofounded by Norquist and housed within his office suite.

And so Gaffney found a reason to be in the hallway when Islamic Institute chairman Khaled Saffuri walked a man Gaffney recognized as Al-Arian to the elevator. Saffuri said goodbye, then headed for the bathroom.

Gaffney followed. Taking a place at the next urinal, he said, "So, Khaled, was that Sami Al-Arian getting on the elevator?"

Saffuri made a gagging sound, Gaffney said, then fell into a long silence. "No, I don't think so," Saffuri finally answered, according to Gaffney.

Saffuri was not available for comment. But in a written statement, he called Gaffney, head of the Center for Security Policy, "bitter for his lack of access to some important 'political circles,' particularly the White House."

Saffuri added: "I believe that Mr. Gaffney is very irritated by the fact that a Muslim group has better access than he does. However, I truly believe that he dislikes Muslims and Islam because of religious bigotry." Floridian: Friends in high places

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