ROOM 305 of the Oak Cliff Municipal Building, an outpost of Dallas City Hall, houses some of the city”s most highly skilled worker bees. They labor largely unknown within a honeycomb of cubicles. They are the civil engineers of the Public Works and Transportation Department, bound together almost tribally by technical language and complicated undertakings most outsiders wouldn’t understand.
Mufid Abdulqader was one of the department’s rising stars. He had earned the respect of his colleagues and supervisors in his eight years there, and his employment evaluations were exemplary. As a project manager who mostly designed street and sidewalk projects, Mufid was ambitious, always pushing for the next step up the pay-grade ladder. His leadership on the $4.8 million Bishop Arts District redevelopment in 2001 won him commendations. Even Mayor Laura Miller, who consulted with Mufid on the project, praised his talents.
His fellow engineers also appreciated how Mufid could liven up a roomful of technocrats with backslapping, disarming goofiness. Thickening a bit at the age of 45, Mufid wore his graying black beard heavy on his cheeks, as is customary for many pious Middle Eastern men. The full head of bristly black hair and limber eyebrows, which he flexed sharply upward for comic effect, made him come off as a big, smiling teddy bear of a man. Some colleagues noted a nasty temper that flared up from time to time, but who didn’t get frustrated when dealing with contractors?
Mufid loved the spotlight, relishing any excuse to speak in front of a crowd. A Palestinian who grew up in Kuwait and a proud father of three U.S.-born daughters, he never turned down an invitation to lecture high school students about the struggles he endured as an immigrant searching for a better life in America. Yet he remained proud of his background. Mufid and a couple of other Muslim engineers prayed five times a day, even if that meant breaking up a business meeting. He could often be spotted toting his prayer mat down the hall to an office conference room.
During lunches at Las Ranitas in Oak Cliff, where television sets were tuned to CNN Headline News, Mufid would offer running commentaries on the events in the Middle East. Like many Palestinian Arabs, he saw the Israelis as brutal occupiers of a stolen Palestinian homeland, but his colleagues never sensed that he held extremist views.
What his co-workers didn’t know was that Mufid led a secret life, one that seemed almost impossible to reconcile with the affable person they had all liked. But Mufid’s two worlds collided on the morning of July 27, 2004, when he failed to show up for work. Instead, representatives of the Dallas FBI”s Joint Terrorism Task Force came to the office to explain why he had been thrown in jail.
Mufid had been named with six other men in a 42-count indictment for helping to fund Hamas, a terrorist organization that has waged a grisly suicide-bombing campaign against Israeli civilians. The FBI set its sights on Mufid after discovering that he was associated with leaders of the Richardson-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. The group’s supporters have always claimed that the Holy Land Foundation, or HLF, was a legitimate charity that helped orphans and widows. But President George W. Bush closed down the organization in 2001, calling it the largest clandestine fundraising arm for Hamas in the United States, a depiction upheld by successive federal court rulings.
His connection to HLF, however, was just the beginning of Mufid’s secrets. For more than a decade, he”d been touring the country with the popular Arabic singing troupe Al-Sakhra. If he had muffled his political views about the Middle East while at City Hall, the Arabic lyrics he sang on weekend gigs all across the country left no doubt about his true feelings. With all the angst of a rock star, he urged on the violent holy war and glorified the martyrdom of suicide bombers. Video of Mufid’s performances was first aired by CBS Channel 11 in November, when the station broke the story. Mufid’s band often appeared at fundraisers for Hamas. In one song, he sang, “We won’t fear a Jew. Oh, Hamas, respond to them with force. … Death is right for the Jews. It is right!”
But Mufid had yet another secret. His half brother is the notorious Khalid Mishaal, the current leader of Hamas. The federal government believes that Khalid has directly supervised assassinations and bombings to disrupt U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations in the Middle East. His operations have claimed the lives of hundreds of Israelis and 10 Americans, and he is reputed to occupy the top slot on Israel’s assassination hit list of Hamas leaders.
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