WALL STREET JOURNAL reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped when he went looking for the leader of a group called Jamaat al-Fuqra in the terrorist bazaar of Pakistan. At the time he disappeared, Pearl was tracking reports that Fuqra had hosted would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid at its walled compound in Lahore. In the end, it was agents of another group that spirited Pearl off to his death, but Fuqra remains a subject of interest, and not only because of its activities in Pakistan. For Fuqra has had a disturbing U.S. presence for more than 20 years. Today, half a dozen Fuqra residential compounds in rural hamlets across the country shelter hundreds of members, some of whom, according to intelligence sources, have been trained in the use of weapons and explosives in Pakistan.
Fuqra's founder and chief, the man Pearl sought to interview, is a rotund Kashmiri of Sufi background with long-standing ties to Pakistan's Interservice Intelligence Agency (ISI), Sheikh Mubarik Ali Hasmi Shah Gilani. At least until President Musharraf's decision last fall to support the American war on terrorism, the ISI sponsored terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Sheikh Gilani has rubbed shoulders at international terrorist confabs with gunslingers from Hamas and Hezbollah, their mullah backers, and Osama bin Laden. And he has trained fighters for the battlefields of Kashmir, Chechnya, and Bosnia.
Gilani launched his U.S. operations in 1980. Within ten years, Fuqra's communes were billing themselves as havens where Muslim converts--many of them inner-city blacks, sometimes recruited in prison--could build new lives. At least seven such communities are active today, in Hancock, N.Y.; Red House, Va.; Tulare County, Calif.; Commerce, Ga.; York, S.C.; Dover, Tenn.; and Combermere, Canada. While some of these enclaves contain only rudimentary buildings and trailers, the California compound has 300 residents on a 440-acre spread, according to a recent report by a local ABC station. Residents deny any involvement with terror, but Fuqra has a history of getting into trouble with the law.
Over the years, at least a dozen Fuqra members have been convicted of crimes including conspiracy to commit murder, firebombing, gun smuggling, and workers' compensation fraud in the United States or Canada. And Fuqra members are suspects in at least 10 unsolved assassinations and 17 firebombings between 1979 and 1990. Nor is Fuqra's criminal activity all in the past. In the last year alone, a resident of the California compound was charged with first degree murder in the shooting of a sheriff's deputy; another was charged with gun smuggling; the state of California launched an investigation into the fate of more than a million dollars in public funds given to a charter school run by Fuqra leaders; and two residents of the Red House community were convicted of firearms violations, while a third awaits trial.
Harder to document publicly but affirmed by several investigators and intelligence sources are the group's continuing links with guerrilla training in Pakistan. But then elusiveness is the order of the day for an organization whose members are well versed in the use of aliases; whose structure, shrouded behind front groups, is a network of safe houses and cells; and whose founder and members consistently maintain that it doesn't exist.
SHEIKH GILANI found his first American recruits by raiding the ranks of an existing American Muslim organization, the Dar ul Islam. At a Brooklyn mosque, Gilani, sporting ammunition belts, preached Islam as the path to a better life and called for fighters to join the holy war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Under the guise of studying Islam, some of his followers were initiated into the international Islamist movement. Their campaign of crime on U.S. soil began almost at once.
As befits Gilani's close ties to Kashmir and the ISI, Fuqra's early targets in North America were ethnic Indians and sites linked to Indian sects. Thus, in July 1983, Stephen Paul Paster, a ranking member of Fuqra and one of its few whites, blew off most of one hand while planting a pipe bomb at a Portland, Ore., hotel owned by followers of the late guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. At the time Fuqra's principal bombmaker, Paster escaped from a hospital and remained on the lam for two years. After police caught up with him at a Fuqra house in Colorado, Paster served 4 years of a 20-year prison sentence for the bombing. He was suspected but not charged in two other bombings in Seattle in 1984 while he was a fugitive, the bombings of the Vedanta Society temple and the Integral Yoga Society building. Paster now lives in Lahore, where U.S. intelligence sources say he provides explosives training to visiting Fuqra members.
Shortly after the hotel bombing in Portland, two Fuqra members allegedly murdered Dr. Mozaffar Ahmad, a leader of the minority Ahmadiyyah Islamic sect in Canton, Mich. Both suspects died in a fire they had set at the Ahmadiyyah mosque in nearby Detroit, but the weapon used to murder Ahmad was found with their bodies. No one was ever charged in a triple slaying on August 1, 1984, but police suspect Fuqra. The victims were Lela Nevaskar, an Indian national who was in the United States as part of a government-sponsored health project, and her sister and brother-in-law. The three were murdered in a suburb of Tacoma, Wash., during a spate of firebombings of Hindu and Hare Krishna temples in Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia, and Kansas City, Mo. Police found news reports of the Tacoma murders from Seattle papers among Fuqra files seized in a later case.
FUQRA'S violence gained wider public notice in 1989, when police, seeking evidence in a series of thefts, searched a storage locker in Colorado Springs. They found a remarkable trove of armaments and documents, with multiple links to Fuqra.
Among the handguns, semi-automatic firearms, more than 30 pounds of explosives, pipe bombs, and bomb components were several bombs of an unusual design identical to that of a device recovered from the firebombed Hare Krishna temple in Denver. There was a large photo of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind cleric who would be convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and target silhouettes labeled FBI Anti-Terrorist Team, Zionist Pig, Delta Team, and SAS (British Special Air Service), on which were found the fingerprints of James Donald Williams, Fuqra chief for Colorado, and the handwriting of Vincente Rafael Pierre (of whom more later). There were blank birth certificates, Social Security cards, and several sets of Colorado driver's licenses bearing identical photos but various names.
Among the documents were agreements signed by Fuqra members. They promised to tithe to the organization and to further contribute to the purchase of weapons and land. Those receiving welfare "pledged" to contribute either 75 percent or 100 percent of their welfare checks and food stamps. And they stated, "I, too, am willing to be used as a channel through which kuffar [infidel] monies are contributed toward the building of an Islamic town and other allied cities and/or programmes outside the continental United States, as well." Individuals selected to live on compounds agreed to "abide by the law and discipline of Jamaatul Fuqra."
Several documents described the activities and code of the "Muhammad Commandos of Sector 5," who apparently met for training in weapons, hand-to-hand combat, intelligence gathering, explosives, incendiaries, and booby traps, according to Susan M. Fenger, then chief criminal investigator of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, who handled the case. And a document headed "Incogs" instructed commandos on ways of blending in with infidels while on an operation.
Finally, the locker yielded what Fenger termed "targeting packets" on potential targets and victims in Los Angeles, Arizona, and Colorado. These included maps of oil and gas fields and electrical facilities, notes on cell phone sites and repeaters, references to the U.S. Air Force Academy and other military locations, and lists of people in 12 states and Canada with Jewish or Hindu-sounding names. A trove of targeting packets tied followers of Gilani to the firebombings of the Hare Krishna temples in Denver and Philadelphia.
One of the packets outlined a murder plot that hadn't yet unfolded--but soon did. The target was a rival imam in Tucson, Rashad Khalifa. Alarmed by interior and exterior surveillance photographs of the cleric's mosque and a four-page handwritten murder plan, Colorado Springs police notified authorities in Tucson, who warned Khalifa he was a marked man. A week later, on January 31, 1990, assailants stabbed Khalifa 19 times. The murder was "a carbon copy of the handwritten plan," said Colorado assistant attorney general Doug Wamsley. The scheme called for attacking Khalifa in the mosque's kitchen at night, proceeding by "the quietest method feasible: knife, garrot [sic]," and eliminating any witnesses. Khalifa apparently had angered Fuqra when he preached that the Quran was written by man, not God.
No one was charged with murder in Khalifa's death, but eventually two Fuqra members, James Donald Williams and Nicolas Edward Laurent Flinton, were charged with conspiracy to commit murder. A Colorado jury convicted Williams in October 1993, but he jumped bail just before sentencing and remained free until he was arrested in Lynchburg, Va., in 2000; at the time Williams was living at the Fuqra compound in Red House. Flinton also fled; arrested in 1996 at a Fuqra community in South Carolina, he pleaded guilty and is currently in prison appealing his 22-year sentence.
FUQRA terrorism in North America appears to have peaked in the early 1990s. In 1991, luck derailed Fuqra plans to bomb an Indian movie theater and a Hindu temple near Toronto. Five men were arrested at the Niagara Falls border crossing after U.S. Customs agents searched their cars and found photographs, floor plans, and videotapes of the interiors of the targets, details of "recon team," "guard team," and "hit team" roles, and a description of how "time delay" bombs could be placed below the cinema floor. A second document stated that targeting a Hindu temple would "allow for total focus on the Hindus without any other party being involved in the fallout." A Canadian jury convicted three American Fuqra members of "conspiracy to commit mischief endangering life." A fourth suspect, Max Lon Fongenie, who had come to Canada from Pakistan shortly before the plot was set in motion, fled back to Pakistan after his co-conspirators' arrest, according to evidence presented at the trial.
By this time, Fuqra was often operating under the cover of two front groups, "Muslims of the Americas" and Sheikh Gilani's "Quranic Open University." On its incorporation papers, the open university portrayed itself as a religious, charitable, and educational institution dedicated to home study and public awareness of the Quran. But Gilani's own writings and statements exposed the militant mission behind this fa ade.
Thus, works by the sheikh published by the Quranic Open University and seized in a 1991 investigation instructed his followers that their "foremost duty" was "to wage Jihad" against the oppressors of Muslims. One of Gilani's poems is entitled "We dhikr [pray] to the beat of a submachine gun." Another exhorts, "Come join my troops and army / Says our Sheikh Gilani / Prepare to sacrifice your head / A true believer is never dead / Say 'Victory is in the air' / The kafir's [infidel's] blood will not be spared."
Gilani's appearance in a recruitment video from this period (seized in 1992 and used in the Canadian trial) is in the same vein. The video shows mujahedeen types being trained in the use of firearms and explosives. Gilani, wearing a camouflage jacket over traditional Pakistani dress, declares: "We give [recruits] highly specialized training in guerrilla warfare. . . . We are at present establishing training camps. . . . You can easily reach us at Quranic Open University offices in upstate New York or in Canada or in Michigan or in South Carolina or in Pakistan. Wherever we are you can reach us."
Even more damning is footage filmed in December 1993 by the Canadian Broadcasting Company when it covered a major jihadist conclave in Khartoum. The meeting was sponsored by then-Sudanese strongman and terror impresario Hassan Abdullah al-Turabi. An urbane, Sorbonne-educated Islamic scholar, Turabi had engineered a strategic alliance among Sunni-dominated Sudan, Shiite Iran, and Pakistan. With funding and expertise from Iran, Turabi made his country the launching pad for the first attack on the World Trade Center.
Turabi also created the Popular Arab Islamic Conference (PAIC) as a vehicle for bringing together Sunni, Shiite, and secular, heretofore Marxist, terrorist groups. The 1993 PAIC conference in Khartoum was a who's who of Islamist terror. Mullahs from Iran and Afghanistan were there, along with delegates from Hamas, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Two generals, one of them a former chief of the ISI, and an adviser to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto led the Pakistani delegation. Osama bin Laden, not yet a kingpin but living in Sudan while developing the organization and funding for his nascent network, was there. So was Sheikh Gilani: Foreign journalists placed him in the company of an unnamed Pakistani general and another man they took to be an "ex"-Pakistani intelligence official. In the evening, large crowds regaled the assembled jihadists with chants of "Down, down USA! Down, down CIA!," and (in Arabic) "Death to the Jews!"
In an interview taped by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, Gilani acknowledged that one or two of the men charged in the Toronto bombing conspiracy had studied with him in Lahore. Nevertheless, he insisted that Fuqra does not exist and that he does not advocate violence. "Once [people] join our [Quranic Open] university," he said, "they become real good citizens. They stop smoking, they stop stealing, they stop living on welfare. That is what I teach them."
THAT BENIGN face is the one Gilani's current American followers seek to present to the world. Several Fuqra compounds boast signs at their gates for the Quranic Open University or Muslims of the Americas. Residents have told reporters they came seeking refuge from the mean streets. Law enforcement and intelligence sources, however, suggest the drop-off in Fuqra violence in recent years may be due to its sponsors' "tightening the leash" after the earlier attacks drew police scrutiny without advancing Islamist objectives. Fuqra's core of trained operatives in the United States, according to this view, have been directed to lie dormant until needed to support a "cost effective" strike.
Be that as it may, there are plenty of continuing grounds for concern. One is new evidence of misuse of public funds. The California Justice Department is investigating the finances of GateWay Academy Public Charter School. The academy's CEO and superintendent, Khadijah Ghafur, is also secretary of Muslims of the Americas and a member of the board of directors of the Quranic Open University. One of GateWay's 11 campuses is located at Baladullah, Fuqra's compound in Tulare County, in the foothills of the Sierras. GateWay cannot account for $1.3 million in state money, according to Jill Marmolejo, spokesman for the Fresno Unified School District, and is in default on another $1.8 million in loans. The school seemed poised to obtain greater public largesse--it submitted a $5.9 million budget to the board of education for fiscal 2002, apparently based on a wildly inflated student count (charter schools in California receive $4,600 per pupil)--but the district revoked its charter on January16.
This is reminiscent of an earlier Fuqra scam, the bilking of the Colorado workers' compensation fund in the early 1990s, for which several Fuqra members were jailed. Prosecutors showed that some $350,000 had been laundered through Professional Security International, a Fuqra security firm, and Muslims of the Americas. Investigator Susan Fenger says she tracked a portion of the funds through PSI to Fuqra couriers who traveled to Pakistan.
That security firm also served the purpose of enabling Fuqra members to obtain federal licenses to buy automatic weapons, according to Fenger. And it obtained bid packages from the Defense Department, the Veterans Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Health and Human Services. It is hardly reassuring, then, that Fuqra currently maintains two security firms, Dagger Investigating Services and 786 Security Company, Inc., in Brooklyn, N.Y. Law enforcement sources suspect the group is continuing to launder funds through the firms for transfer to Gilani.
Then there are the recent weapons violations and other crimes. Ramadan Abdullah, charged in the shooting last August of a Fresno County deputy sheriff in the course of a burglary, had come to Baladullah from Hancock. James Hobson, another Baladullah resident, was arrested earlier last year by U.S. marshals and charged with smuggling guns between South Carolina and New York. Hobson, also known as Umar Abdussalam, is the son-in-law of Musa Abdussalam, an elder at Baladullah.
And at the Red House commune--whose origins go back to 1993, after Fuqra abandoned its Buena Vista, Co., location in the wake of conspiracy convictions--agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms made three arrests last fall. They charged Vincente Rafael Pierre and his wife Traci Elaine Upshur after she made "straw purchases" of .45 caliber handguns that her husband had selected. As a felon (he pleaded guilty in the workers' compensation scam), Pierre is not allowed to own firearms. A jury convicted both. A third Red House resident, Abdullah Ben Benu, is scheduled for trial in April for illegally transporting ammunition for AK-47 automatic rifles. Here, again, a trail leads back to Pakistan: The woman who raised Ben Benu is living in Lahore, according to law enforcement sources, with bombmaker Stephen Paul Paster.
The ATF had the Red House colony under surveillance for a couple of years before making last fall's arrests. After September 11, authorities decided to move without further delay. At a bond hearing for Vincente Pierre on September 28, 2001, ATF Special Agent Thomas P. Gallagher told the court: "Individuals from the organization are trained in Hancock, N.Y., and if they pass the training in Hancock, N.Y., are then sent to Pakistan for training in paramilitary and survivalist training by Mr. Gilani. . . . We have information from an informant that one individual [from Red House] did further his training by going to Afghanistan."
And apparently the travel isn't all one way. At the same hearing, Pierre testified that Red House has hosted "many Muslims . . . from Pakistan, Arabic." Pakistan, of course, isn't an Arab country, but plenty of Arabs have gone there to learn to use a gun.
There is no ironclad evidence that Fuqra's American members today are part of the international conspiracy that threatens us. Rather, the ties are circumstantial and suggestive. What should be made, for example, of the fact that several weekend residents of Fuqra's headquarters compound at Hancock work during the week as toll collectors at New York City bridges and tunnels--considering that the 1993 World Trade Center bombers had plans to blow up the George Washington Bridge and Hudson River tunnels? We also know that in the early 1990s Gilani's U.S. recruits signed an oath saying, "I shall always hear and obey, and whenever given the command, I shall readily fight for Allah's sake." At the least, it is clear that Daniel Pearl was digging into a very interesting story.
Mira L. Boland's articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times.