Mother Jones has an article about the burgeoning industry of fake “former terrorists” selling their alleged expertise to the FBI, local police departments and wingnut groups and turning their mostly invented stories into cold, hard cash. One of them is Kamal Saleem, who is from Michigan and and has been involved with a lot of right wing politics in the state. But his story just doesn’t hold water.
Over the last five years, Saleem’s tale of terror and redemption has made him a minor celebrity among Christian conservatives. Part national-security wonk, part evangelist, he is one of a handful of self-described “ex-terrorists” who have emerged in the post-9/11 era to share their experiences. He has spoken in state capitols, at the Air Force Academy, and at colleges and churches around the country. He has been a guest on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club and started his own nonprofit, Koome Ministries, of which he was the only full-time employee in 2009. Tax records show Saleem earned $48,000 from the ministry that year—and had a $39,000 expense account—while Koome took in nearly $100,000 in donations and grants.
According to his memoir, The Blood of Lambs, Saleem, who grew up in Lebanon, broke into the terror biz at the age of seven by running weapons—strapped onto sheep—for Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat (who kissed his forehead at a public ceremony, “his breath bearing tales of garlic and onion”). As a teenager, he helped run a terrorist camp in the Libyan desert at the behest of Moammar Qaddafi. He visited Iraq, where he rubbed shoulders with Saddam Hussein. In the late 1970s, he traveled to Afghanistan, working alongside the mujahideen and CIA spooks to beat back the Soviets. A Kansas City Star columnist skeptically dubbed him the “Forrest Gump of the Middle East.”
Saleem claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has put a $25 million bounty on his head, and that there have been attempts to earn it: After a 2007 event in Chino Hills, California, he writes in his book, he returned to his Holiday Inn to find his room ransacked and a band of dangerous Middle Easterners on his trail. Saleem describes calling the police to alert them to an assassination attempt. Local law enforcement, however, has no record of any such incident.
That’s just one of many of Saleem’s tales that don’t stand up to scrutiny. (Through a spokeswoman, Saleem refused to comment for this story.) Doug Howard, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Michigan’s Calvin College, first encountered Saleem in 2007, when he was invited to speak at the school. Howard quickly became suspicious: For starters, Saleem claimed to be a descendant of the “Grand Wazir of Islam,” a position that doesn’t exist. Howard dug deeper and discovered that Saleem’s original name was Khodor Shami—and that for more than a decade before outing himself as a former terrorist he had worked for Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. (CBN declined to comment. Focus on the Family confirmed Saleem was an employee but would not comment further.)
A former friend also sheds light on Saleem’s past. Wally Winter, a nurse in Albuquerque, New Mexico, first met him when they both worked at a hospital in Abu Dhabi in 1979. Two years later, he got a phone call from Saleem; he’d come to the United States and needed help. Winter says he welcomed Saleem into his spare bedroom, opened a bank account for him, taught him how to drive, and helped get him a job at the hospital where he worked near Oklahoma City. When Winter moved to the city, Saleem came along. “He had no money,” Winter says. “I had to drive him wherever he was going.” The two were close; Winter would bring Saleem to his parents’ home on holidays.
Winter recalls his former roommate as a devout Muslim whose yarns often lapsed into wild exaggeration. “He could sell swampland in Louisiana,” Winter says. “I really do not believe the story about the terrorism. I totally believe that he would make up something like that to either make money or become well known.”
The biggest of these hucksters is Walid Shoebat, who claims to have bombed a police station in Israel — though the police there have no record of any such incident ever taking place.