In the 1980s when small towns in FATA were turning into recruitment centers for the Afghan war, seeds of jihad took hold and bloomed in some unexpected places–in two small towns in the United States, where two groups formed by Sheikh Mubarik Gilani–arrested in connection with Daniel Pearl’s murder in 2002–are suspected of violent extremism.
The towns of Red House, Virginia and Islamberg, New York are home to a small number of African-American converts to Islam who have withdrawn from the outside world to live by a set of strict religious codes. The two communities, which have formed a sect calling themselves the Muslims of the Americas, are said to be the followers of Sheikh Gilani. Gilani began preaching at a mosque in Brooklyn, New York seeking recruits for the Afghan jihad in 1980. It was then that he formed the group Jamat al Fuqra and later the Muslims of the Americas.
The Muslims of the Americas, a group exempt from tax, operates communes of primarily black, American-born Muslims in many states in the US. In addition to the compounds in Virginia and New York, these groups, which some have characterized as a cult, has compounds in Badger, California; Red House, Virginia; Binghamton, New York; and York, South Carolina. The cult houses between 100 and 200 people, many of them women and children in about 20 huge trailers.
A 2005 Department of Homeland Security report, titled the “Integrated Planning Guidance Report”, warned that “other predicted possible sponsors of attacks (against North America) include Jamat al Fuqra (JF) that has been linked to Muslims of the Americas”.Federal government officials told Daily Times that in 2006, the Department of Justice reported that the JF “has more than 35 suspected communes and more than 30,000 members spread across the US, all in support of one goal: the purification of Islam through violence.”
The tiny town of Red House, with a conservative Christian population of 12,000, is located in rural Charlotte County, Virginia close to the North Carolina border. It is in this unlikely locale that Muslims of the Americas founded one of their compounds. A “No Trespassing” sign hangs at the entrance of the compound and discourages visitors. The group’s most controversial contribution to the community has been to name a road outside their compound–Sheikh Gilani Lane. The road sign, which was put up in 2007, shattered the uneasy truce that had previously existed between the sect and the townsfolk. A local group, the Christian Action Network, demanded the removal of the sign and filed a complaint with the local county office. CAN’s President Martin Mawyer told Daily Times that “Muslims of the Americas set up their compound in Red House in February of 1993 . . . no one knows the population of the camp since the people inside have isolated themselves”. The Christian Action Network’s request was rejected.
Similarly, a secretive Muslim community calling itself Islamberg has settled in the woods of the western Catskills, 150 miles northwest of New York City. Like its counterpart in Red House, the compound displays a “No Trespassing” sign at its entrance. Reportedly, the compound was founded in 1980 by Sheikh Gilani, who purchased a 70-acre plot and invited followers to settle there. The compound has its own mosque, grocery store and schoolhouse. The FBI’s Albany Division said the agency has an open dialogue with the residents of Islamberg. They’ve visited the compound but would not discuss whether there are any ongoing investigations.
US officials in 1989, during a search of a storage locker in Colorado Springs, recovered a large cache of armaments and documents with multiple links to the JF. Among the arms recovered were handguns, semi-automatic firearms, explosives, pipe bombs, bomb components and several bombs. JF cadres are suspects in at least 10 unsolved assassinations and 17 firebombing cases between 1979 and 1990. The Red House commune was allegedly involved in a money laundering scheme.
That has not dispelled the worries of some watchdogs. Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch, says the Muslims of the Americas is making a concerted public relations effort to present a benign face and hide its violent past.
“I think we need to be very much on guard about every member of these compounds,” he said. Though Spencer admits there is nothing inherently wrong with living in isolation, he stressed that “they’re not at all open to visitors, they’re not at all open to scrutiny and there’s an abundance of evidence of sinister goings-on”.
Spencer offered no evidence to back his misgivings, but suggested political correctness may be hampering investigations. He says the group’s connection to Sheikh Gilani is reason enough to be concerned. Spencer’s suspicions that trouble is brewing in the compounds may be on point. Muslims of the Americas and Jamaat al Fuqra are both linked to a slew of terrorist acts and other criminal activity. In the 1980s, they carried out various terrorist acts, including numerous fire-bombings across the United States. JF’s early targets in North America were Hindus and targets linked to various Jewish temples.
Jamaat ul-Fuqra (alternatively Jamaat al-Fuqra) (Arabic: “Community of the Impoverished”) is a paramilitary organization of mostly African-American Muslims (not connected to the Nation of Islam) based in Pakistan and the United States. Some of the approximately 3000 members have planned various acts of violence, often directed at rival factions. Two Al-Fuqra members were convicted of conspiring to murder Rashad Khalifa in 1990, and others are alleged to have assassinated Ahmadiyya leader Mozaffar Ahmad in 1983.
al-Fuqra itself is not listed as a terror group by the US or the EU, but was listed as a terrorist organization in the 1999 Patterns of Global Terrorism report by the U.S. State Department. It operates two front groups: Muslims of the Americas and Quranic Open University. They also have been known to operate in Canada, and the Caribbean.
Although various members have been suspected of assassinations and other acts of terror perpetrated in the 1980s and later, and some members having been charged with conspiracy to commit first degree murder and other crimes, al-Fuqra itself is not listed as a terror group by the US or the EU (it was listed as terrorist organization in the 1999 Patterns of Global Terrorism report by the U.S. State Department.)
News reports have attempted to connect “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and “Washington sniper” John Allen Muhammad to al-Fuqra, but the connections were not definitive. There are also allegations that Clement Rodney Hampton-El, one of the plotters who planned to blow up various New York City bridges and tunnels, was a member of Al Fuqra. The group has been banned in Pakistan.
Hotel Rajneesh bombing
The bombing of the Hotel Rajneesh can be definitively tied to an al-Fuqra member. On July 29, 1983, Stephen Paul Paster, an al-Fuqra member, set off a bomb at the Hotel Rajneesh, a hotel in Portland, Oregon. This hotel, located at SW 10th Avenue and Pine Street, was owned by the Rajneesh religious group and featured the Zorba the Buddha nightclub. Paster had several bombs and homemade napalm in his room, but one of the bombs went off in his hands while he was placing the bombs in the midst of the napalm.