Blast at Islamic center raises questions

 NIN…13 October 2009: Fire scene tape remained stretched across the entrance to the Ihsan Islamic School at 423 West Onondaga Street Syracuse, New York as I walked the perimeter of the property yesterday morning.. The criss-cross of the yellow barrier serves a lone public reminder of a mysterious explosion that occurred there last Thursday afternoon. According to authorities, the blast occurred in an “unused” portion of the basement, spewing a cloud of natural gas, debris and dust into the main area of the building and forcing the evacuation of about 75 students and school personnel. Investigators have yet to release a statement about the cause of the explosion, although at least one additional meeting between fire officials and  investigators took place Monday to discuss their findings.

It’s definitely odd,” stated one law enforcement official close to the investigation, speaking to this author on the strict condition of anonymity in Syracuse on Monday. “There are issues that are under investigation that are well outside of public purview,” added this source, saying that the blast was not directly related to the building’s heating or electrical system. “The blast occurred in a location that one would not expect if it was caused by a heating unit, at least not in the normal sense. It’s curious.”

This source also stated that “it is not likely, it has basically been ruled out that [the blast] was caused by any who shouldn’t have been there, or by an outsider with criminal intent such as arson.” Although such cryptically worded statements tend to fuel notions of conspiracy, it is clear that this source was purposely intending to offset previous publicly reported suggestions that the school might have been the target of some anti-Islamic individual or group. “The evidence simply does not point in that direction.”

What then, accounts for the involvement of officials from the FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives? According to public reports, federal officials have been consulted by Syracuse police and fire officials due to the religious status of the institution. Their involvement, however, might not be so limited. “There are aspects of this incident that are under scrutiny, that’s all I can say,” stated this source  in reference to the federal investigators.

The al Ihsan Islamic School, as it was formerly known before changing its name to the Al Ihsan School of Excellence, has close ties to the fundamentalist Saudi Wahabbi brand of Islam. Research found that the school has ties to the Islamic Saudi Academy, where Ismail Selim Elbarasse worked as an account for nearly 15 years. In 2004, Elbarasse was indicted for money laundering on behalf of HAMAS,. Elbarasse and his wife also made news for videotaping the Chesapeke bay  Bridge in Maryland, taking close images of the bridge’s cables and support structures. The Syracuse school also has links to the Muslim Student Association (MSA) in Buffalo, New York,  which is linked to the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and a large Islamic “compound” in Buffalo.  The Northeast Intelligence Network published an extensive report on our investigative findings of that facility in 2005. The information contained in that report is perhaps more relevant today than at the time of its original publication.

Meanwhile, the Northeast Intelligence Network is continuing to monitor this incident and will provide updates as available.

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