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Brothers to the end

Religion | Three Muslim terrorists who became Christians now risk their lives to "speak the truth"

Issue: "Katie can't bar the door," July 15, 2006

If there's one question that needles Walid Shoebat it is, "When did you become a terrorist?" His face tenses and he shifts impatiently in his seat. "All Western journalists ask that," he says. "You're involved the moment you're born."

Shoebat's point is that becoming an Islamic militant does not start with hurling Molotov cocktails. The process starts with childhood indoctrination, with fatherly bedtime stories about the glory of martyrdom and fighting Jews. For Shoebat, "It's not just putting a bomb, it's the willingness to put a bomb."

The importance of ideology is what Shoebat tries to teach Americans now, having himself gone from Palestine Liberation Organization terrorist to pro-Israel Christian. He does that with two other men who converted to Christianity after carrying out Islamic violence. Together, they take the name, the "3 Ex-Terrorists." Their website flashes an explanation: "They don't sing, but they speak the truth."

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WORLD interviewed the men on June 21, the day after a high-security Philadelphia event where they discussed Islamic indoctrination taking place on U.S. soil. Their outspokenness against Islam has made them targets of attacks and threats, and only two of the men, Shoebat and Zachariah Anani, made it to Philadelphia. The third, Michigan-raised Ibrahim Abdallah, stayed home after his parents threatened to take away his children if he attended.

The day after, Shoebat and Anani told their stories at a friend's cozy architectural office in downtown Philadelphia while juggling media phone calls and afternoon schedules. As Shoebat paced up and down with his cell phone, answering a radio interviewer, Anani quietly explained how he became a Christian.

Born in 1958, he grew up in Beirut in a family of Muslim clergy and began Islamic school at age 3. Several Palestinian refugee camps surrounded his neighborhood, and when he was 13 he joined a militant Shiite fragment group that received training and arms from one of the camps. He trained with more than 900 boys and fought for four years.

But by his second year in training, Anani said he lost his religious zeal. The pressure will "either create a very zealous, fanatical lunatic, or it turns you only into a fighting, killing machine." He was the latter.

To illustrate, Anani tells the story of an intensely devout Muslim who joined his regiment. At 3 a.m., the recruit knocked on fighters' doors to rouse them for prayers. Do it again, Anani warned the young man, and he would die. The next morning, Anani heard the knock again. Pulling a gun from under his pillow, he aimed the barrel at the area where the recruit's chest would be behind the door, and shot the man. Then he went back to sleep.

The splintered Islamic groups battled each other "99 percent of the time," he said, and he only got to fight Christians in his last year. But if two or three fellow militiamen witnessed a killing, the fighter responsible received one merit point. Anani says he built up 223.

By the time he was 16 he had moved up to troop leader in charge of his own regiment, but he felt hollow. Leaving a Beirut movie theater one day, he stumbled across a street crowd. Thinking it was a fight, he rushed toward it, only to find an American missionary in the middle evangelizing.

He quickly turned to leave, but stopped dead when he heard the preacher say Jesus Christ can give a person life. "Do you believe what you are saying?" he challenged the preacher when he finished talking. He recounted how a girl he fought with died helping a wounded fighter whom Anani had ignored.

He asked: Why did she die when she helped, and I did not? "Why were you the one who survived?" the preacher countered, perhaps suggesting he had been spared for a purpose. The preacher also shared the gospel, and his words rang in Anani's head all night. The next day, he decided to trust in Christ for salvation. Filled with fervor, he quickly told his parents that he was converting to Christianity.

Anani at that time was "180 pounds of muscles" with a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. "I thought I was Mr. Incredible," he said. He would soon need to act like a superhero, staving off Muslims out to kill him for apostasy. Anani points to a vertical scar on the back of his neck, just under his hairline. It is the almost fatal knife wound he got from an attacker in 1988. Taken to a Christian hospital, a doctor wrote on his chart, "Dead on arrival seven minutes ago," but decided to keep trying to revive him, eventually succeeding.

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