Joe Kaufman is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and the Chairman of the Joe Kaufman Security Initiative. He was the 2014, 2016 and 2018 Republican Nominee for U.S. House of Representatives (Florida-CD23).
The Tampa-based American Youth Academy (AYA) has gone from (alleged) fundraisers for Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and suicide bombings to basketball camps and a brand new $25 million campus. Brought in to raise money for the facility was former CAIR-Florida Executive Director Hassan Shibly, who recently left CAIR following charges of domestic violence by his then-wife. While touring AYA, Shibly and convicted PIJ member Hatem Fariz came in close contact with over 100 children. Given the school’s history, parents should be concerned about AYA’s kids, and the community should be concerned about Tampa’s thriving PIJ remnants.
AYA was founded in 1992 as the Islamic Academy of Florida (IAF). The name was changed, as a result of the school being dropped from Florida’s state voucher program, a taxpayer funded plan that pays portions of eligible private school tuitions. Legislators voiced concern that IAF had been named in an indictment as part of a terrorist enterprise to aid PIJ. According to the indictment, IAF was used “to raise funds and provide support for the PIJ… in order to assist its engagement in… violent attacks…” Reincorporating under a new (and patriotic) name gave the school cover to continue to collect vouchers. The school even adopted the eagle as its mascot.
Hatem Naji Fariz is the Director of the school’s adjoining mosque, the Islamic Community of Tampa (ICT), a.k.a. Masjid Al-Qassam. Both AYA and Al-Qassam – named after Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, the man who was the inspiration for the founding of PIJ – were established by PIJ co-founder and then-North American PIJ leader, Sami al-Arian. Today, al-Arian resides in Turkey, where he was deported in February 2015. As a result of the Tampa trial regarding PIJ and the school, both Fariz and al-Arian were convicted of providing material support to PIJ.
According to the indictment against Fariz and al-Arian, Fariz “was a PIJ member” and did “conspire… to commit offenses against the United States… by making and receiving contributions of funds, goods, and services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” Among other things, the indictment discusses how Fariz laughed and made light of a June 2002 PIJ suicide bombing that had just taken place in northern Israel, which ended the lives of 17 people and which his PIJ colleague described to him as being “successful.” That colleague, Ghassan Ballut, just this past December, had photos taken of himself in front of AYA’s building.
On January 10th, Fariz showed up to the school with ex-CAIR leader Hassan Shibly, who was hired to fundraise for AYA’s expansion. Recently, Shibly was forced to resign from his position in CAIR, after his wife, Imane Sadrati, publicly accused him of domestic violence. She claimed that, when she was “nine months pregnant with [her] first born,” her marriage “became volatile and abusive.” She said she suffered “violent blows” at the hands of Shibly. She stated, “My husband hurt me mentally, emotionally and physically behind closed doors and openly in front of my children.” During a call to 911, she said Shibly had been “beating [her] up for twelve years.”
Fariz and Shibly were at AYA for the first day of class in the brand new 113,000 square foot facility, on the $25 million campus. Fariz videotaped Shibly, as they toured the school, checking out classrooms and the brand new gymnasium, which is now hosting basketball camps, and speaking with AYA employees and students. At one point, the two entered and walked through the lunchroom, which was packed with young children. Shibly can be seen walking directly next to many of the kids, one girl moving quickly away as Shibly attempted to get by. During this school visit, Fariz and Shibly came in close contact with over 100 children.
Fariz and Shibly have been acquainted with one another for a number of years and have been photographed together on different occasions. At a 2017 CAIR-Florida media brunch with Fariz in attendance, Shibly declared that CAIR depends on Al-Qassam for “programs, fundraising” and more. He stated, “Really, we couldn’t do the work without the tremendous support we get from the mosque.”
Shibly, like Fariz, is interested in the destruction of the Jewish state. In November 2006, he labeled Hezbollah “basically a resistance movement” and “absolutely not a terrorist organization.” In August 2014, he tweeted, “Israel and its supporters are enemies of God…” In May 2021, he tweeted a graphic with the words “Israel is an illegitimate apartheid terrorist state,” repeated two dozen times, and labeled the convicted individuals involved in the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) Hamas charity, “Muslim humanitarian aid providers.” Also, last May, he posted a brutally anti-Semitic video on Instagram, calling on Israeli Jews to “go back to Europe.”
For AYA to allow Fariz, a convicted member of a terrorist organization, and Shibly, an alleged wife abuser, to have free rein over its campus and access to the school’s youngest children is abhorrent and ought to be considered as such by the school administrators and kids’ parents. Unfortunately, the fact that these parents were willing to send their children to an institution with AYA’s terror-linked history suggests that the parents condone this type of behavior. However, terrorism and domestic violence must never be condoned, and those perpetrating such acts must never be embraced and never be allowed contact with children.
IAF has tried to reinvent itself, by taking on a new ‘All-American’ name, mascot and building. The fact that documented extremists like Fariz and Shibly are welcome visitors, who are promoting the school and acting as role models for the students, proves that the American Youth Academy is the same (alleged) PIJ strategic front that it was in the past with all the Islamist indoctrination which that entails. Instead of being able to recruit new students and potentially future members of PIJ, the school should be investigated and shut down for posing a danger to its pupils, the community at large, and the nation’s security.
Beila Rabinowitz, Director of Militant Islam Monitor, contributed to this report.