The indictment yesterday of the Islamic Jihad terrorist leadership operating out of the United States since 1984 was unprecedented in scope and magnitude. With 50 counts (166 pages), it revealed in fascinating detail the internal conversations, discussions, planning and covert financing of one of the most murderous terrorist enterprises in the world. It uncovered a world we never get to see: how a terrorist enterprise was created, maintained, financed, and coordinated from the safety of the United States. From issuing communiqués on behalf of suicide operations to arguing how their monies were being spent by factions in the Islamic Jihad, the indictment – spanning 19 years – shows a key to Islamic terrorists’ success in planting themselves in the heart of the West: the ability to deceive the public, media and government in portraying themselves as part of America’s pluralist ethnic mosaic.

Islamic Jihad has been officially headquartered in Damascus, Syria, but the indictment makes clear that its CEO was a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Sami Al-Arian – who ran the terror apparatus under the guise of externally operating three seemingly innocent entities: a Muslim academic institute, a Palestinian humanitarian-aid group and an Islamic religious center. As yesterday’s evidence makes staggeringly clear, Al-Arian & Co. used these entities as a perfect cover to operate a violent terrorist group that has killed more than 100 civilians, including two Americans.

The indictment contains conversation after conversation of Al-Arian conspiring with Islamic Jihad leaders outside the United States to coordinate and finance the Islamic Jihad group. Count 42 states: “The enterprise members, while concealing their association with PIJ [Palestine Islamic Jihad], would and did seek to obtain support from influential individuals in the United States under the guise of promoting and protecting Arab rights. The enterprise members would and did make false statements and misrepresent facts to representatives of the media to promote the goals of PIJ.”

Back in 1994, I produced and reported “Jihad in America,” a PBS documentary that exposed the secret Islamic Jihad cell that Al-Arian ran from Tampa. I interviewed Al-Arian – who, of course, denied any terrorist affiliation. But the documentary also revealed statements by Al-Arian championing terrorism, the existence of Islamic Jihad publications distributed from his office, the use of his academic institute as a cover for Islamic Jihad and actual videos of Islamic Jihad terrorist conferences he organized in the United States.

Virtually every national Islamic “civil rights” group – created with the same guile that fostered the success of Al-Arian’s organization – responded by claiming that we were “attacking Islam” and that we were stereotyping all Muslims. That pattern of obeisance to terrorism was repeated yesterday following issuance of the indictment.

Hiding under the patina of promoting Arab and Muslim rights, these groups gathered impressive supporters in the media, Congress and intelligentsia who jumped on to the “Al-Arian is the victim” refrain, further emboldening him to literally get away with murder.

The list of scoundrels who assiduously and systematically protected Al-Arian’s terrorist enterprise included then-Rep. David Bonior, Martin Merzer of the Miami Herald, The St. Petersburg Times’ Sue Aschoff and countless others.

Al-Arian was so successful in his deception that he was invited to the White House four times, meeting with both President Clinton and President Bush.

In the end, Al-Arian succeeded in his deception via the same exact formula that constrained the FBI – deterred by the fear of being accused of “racial profiling” – from investigating Islamic militants training in U.S. flight academies in the months before 9/11. This formula lies at the heart of Western vulnerability to terrorist groups implanted in our midst. Al Qaeda and Hamas used it in setting up Islamic “civil rights” groups and charities throughout the ’90s – designed to tar with the broad epithet of “racism” anyone who would have exposed their secret terrorist connection.

Yesterday, the Justice Department demonstrated that the United States was not going to sit quietly and allow this murderous deception to continue. Democracies only act, a British politician once said, when there is blood in the streets. For the last 10 years, rivers of blood have flooded Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, New York and Washington. Unfortunately, the terrorist facade, while damaged by the indictment yesterday and the series of post-9/11 effective one-two counter-terrorist punches by the Bush administration, is still vibrant in the United States.

The terrorists had a good 10 years on us. Whether we are able to truly dissipate their infrastructure in the future will depend on the response that is forthcoming.

Steven Emerson is the author of “American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us” and executive director of the Investigative Project, the nation’s largest archival intelligence center on Islamic terrorist activities.

This piece ran in the New York Post on February 21, 2003