Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Chiropractor defends terrorist suspect

Convert proves staunch defender of Islamic Center, arrested doctor

The chiropractor stands by Dr. Rafiq Sabir and is the Boca mosque's sole spokesman in a time of suspicion.

By Jane Musgrave
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Daniel McBride is having a friendly conversation in his northern Broward County chiropractic office when he stops mid-sentence and points to a police cruiser parked outside.

"That cop has been sitting out there ever since we began talking," he says, shifting uneasily in his seat.

Within minutes, the officer gets out of the cruiser and begins walking toward McBride's door.

"Uh-uh," he says, "this could get interesting."

Then she stops, obviously more interested in a car parked in a handicapped spot than anything going on in McBride's office in a Margate strip shopping center.

McBride erupts in nervous laughter. The danger was imagined. The paranoia, however, is understandable.

Since Dr. Rafiq Sabir was arrested Memorial Day weekend, McBride has been the go-to guy for reporters around the country who want information about the quiet suburban Boca Raton physician. Sabir is charged with conspiring to provide support to the nation's most feared enemy — Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

McBride has been steadfast in his defense of his friend and fellow Muslim convert, whom he met at the Islamic Center of Boca Raton. He has publicly questioned the FBI's motives and pledged to raise thousands of dollars for Sabir's defense.

In these post-Sept. 11 times, McBride knows his outspoken allegiance to a suspected terrorist wannabe is enough to put him on government watch lists.

And even if government agents aren't watching, others are.

Sabir's arrest reinvigorated those who have long maintained that the Islamic Center is little more than a front for terrorist activity.

Since the doctor's arrest, longtime Islamic Center critic Joe Kaufman has been working with a vengeance that would have made Sen. Joe McCarthy, the 1950s communist hunter, proud. In almost daily e-mails, the Jewish activist from Tamarac highlights what he offers as proof of the center's terrorist links and urges government officials to act.

"AAH CALLS ON CITY TO SHUT DOWN MOSQUE PROJECT," Kaufman titled one of his so-called press releases from his group, Americans Against Hate.

McBride, a relative newcomer to Islam, is the only mosque leader who will answer even the most innocuous question about either Sabir or mosque activities, making him an easy target.

He is the one who answered questions when another Boca mosque enraged the Jewish community in April by inviting a known Holocaust denier to speak. He explained a center leader's ties to Sami Al-Arian, now on trial in Tampa on charges of raising money for a terrorist organization blamed for more than 100 deaths in the Middle East.

He also is called when people want to know why the center's plans for a 9,000-square-foot mosque have been on hold for nearly four years.

It's a role that makes his wife, Estie, nervous.

Having grown up in South Africa as the child of an Italian father and African mother, she knows all too well what can happen to people who speak out.

"I grew up during apartheid, and I was always afraid for my uncle, that they would come and get him," she says. "It's the same kind of fear."

Questions about Christianity

Even if McBride weren't the designated spokesman for the Islamic Center, there's no doubt he would stand out.

Standing 6-foot-2 with a bald head, blue eyes and a white beard that explodes into a fuzzy mass in South Florida's relentless humidity, McBride would be hard to ignore in any crowd — much less a group of predominantly foreign-born Muslims.

Raised Roman Catholic in upstate New York, the 45-year-old said he gravitated toward Islam in his mid-30s when he could no longer ignore questions that haunted him about Christianity.

"One night I just told myself, 'If you believe in God, you've got to figure a way to worship.' "

While he didn't know much about the religion, he said he had read the Autobiography of Malcolm X and was impressed with how Islam transformed the black activist's life.

"At that point I was only familiar with the Nation of Islam, and what am I going to do — join a religion that hates white people?" he asked.

A friend in chiropractic school gave him a copy of the Quran. To make sure it was the authentic text and not some cheap translation, he stopped at a mosque, which welcomed him and his questions.

Unlike Christianity, which is filled with mystery, he said he found what he was looking for in Islam.

"In the Quran, I'm never left without an answer," he said. "On even a superficial level, it made sense."

After graduating from Life University in Atlanta, he traveled to South Africa to work as a chiropractor. It was there that he met his wife, a devout evangelical Christian who also became intrigued with Islam and ultimately converted.

They moved to Florida to be near his mother, who lives in Sebastian.

They settled in Boca Raton and began worshiping at the Islamic Center, which was then meeting in a strip shopping center.

He quickly became part of the leadership, serving as a director and helping with plans to build a school and mosque.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, he was catapulted into the public eye as questions were raised about center activities.

A statement on the center's Web site called Jews "usurpers and aggressors" as well as "people of treachery and betrayal" unworthy of trust.

The statement was removed, and McBride apologized for the diatribe, which he blamed on hackers. Still, suspicions were aroused.

Armed with Internet search engines that can retrieve information that has been removed from Web sites, detractors found that before Sept. 11, the center's Web site had provided links to radical Islamic groups.

Through such search engines, Kaufman and others also discovered that the center had received a $600,000 donation from the Global Relief Foundation in 2000, according to the foundation's Web site.

The discovery came in 2002, after the U.S. Treasury Department had frozen the assets of the Illinois-based organization, claiming it funneled money to bin Laden.

Search engines also turned up information on the center's imam, Ibrahim Dremali. At a pro-Palestinian rally outside the Israeli Consulate in Miami in 2000, Dremali was quoted as telling the crowd not to be afraid to die for what they believe in.

As more information surfaced about questionable speakers at center events and objectionable Web links, center officials became increasingly reluctant to talk.

That left it to McBride, who now lives in Plantation, to speak for the mosque.

"The English-as-a-second-language thing makes it tough," McBride said. "These guys would say things and wouldn't explain their whole train of thought."

The most notable verbal misstep came when center leader Bassem Al-Halabi tried to explain why he used Al-Arian as a reference when he applied for a job as a Florida Atlantic University professor.

Al-Halabi defended his relationship with Al-Arian by saying, "Does that mean if I was a drug dealer, all my students are drug dealers, too?"

Al-Halabi was trying to make the point that just because Al-Arian, his former University of South Florida professor, was accused of terrorism doesn't mean he is a terrorist. But McBride felt there was a better way to convey that message.

Because McBride was born in the United States and understands its culture, the center decided he would be better at fielding questions, he said. But he is tired of Kaufman's attacks and now declines to respond to them.

As recently as Friday, Kaufman put out a missive attacking Muneer Arafat, a one-time imam at the center who recently testified against Al-Arian, claiming the professor tried to recruit him to join the militant faction of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

McBride said he doesn't fully understand Kaufman's obsession.

"He calls his organization Americans Against Hate," he said, "and all he does is promote hate."

Defense born of friendship

McBride's defense of Sabir, however, comes from the heart.

While speaking for other Muslims who knew, liked and respected Sabir during the three years he worshiped at the center, McBride said he considered Sabir a friend.

"He's eaten and slept at my house," he said.

McBride also said he and his family visited Sabir and his family at their home off Lyons Road in suburban Boca Raton.

During the past two weeks, he said he has struggled to make sense of the FBI's claims that in a conversation with an undercover agent, Sabir swore his allegiance to Al-Qaeda.

"I'm trying to figure out what could the misunderstanding be?" he said. "It just doesn't fit. This is a man who does everything by the book."

Such testimonials don't impress Bill Gralnick, regional director of the America Jewish Committee in Boca Raton. When he heard about Sabir's connection to the Islamic Center, he said he wasn't surprised.

"Someone arrested from the ICBR," he said sarcastically. "What a surprise."

His attempts to reach out to the center in the days following the 2001 attacks accomplished nothing, he said. There is a lingering animosity between him and McBride.

Gralnick said he finds it hard to believe that Sabir's arrest or the other connections between the mosque and terrorist groups are coincidental. He said it could be because the center never had a strong imam and Dremali left this year.

"Either no one's in charge and while the cat's away, the mice will play," he said, "or there's benign neglect or there are bad things that go on under that roof."

Still, Gralnick acknowledged, McBride hasn't cornered the market on paranoia.

"My job is to be slightly paranoid. That's what has kept the Jewish community afloat," he said.

And then he utters a bromide — a rare statement on which he and McBride might finally be able to find common ground.

"You know," he concluded, "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you."

Staff researcher Angelica Cortez contributed to this story.


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