Last week’s brazen attack by a “home-grown” terrorist cell in France that targeted the staff of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has sparked renewed interest in potential cells operating inside the United States.
And there are many.
The FBI is aware of at least 22 paramilitary Islamic communes in the U.S., operated by the shadowy Pakistan-based group Jamaat al-Fuqra and its main U.S. front group, Muslims of the Americas.
With U.S. headquarters in Islamberg, New York, the group headed by Pakistani cleric Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani operates communes in mostly remote areas of California, Georgia, South Carolina, New York, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Michigan, Tennessee and other states.
The FBI describes the MOA compound in Texas, called Mahmoudberg, as an enclave and “communal living site.” Located in Brazoria County along County Road 3 near Sweeny, Texas, it was discovered more than 10 years ago by the FBI through a tip from an informant in New York, according to a 2014 article by the Clarion Project.
The Texas commune, in a heavily wooded area, is estimated by a local resident to encompass about 25 acres. It dates back to the late 1980s, the resident said, which is confirmed by the FBI documents previously reported on by WND.
Most of the recruits living at these communes are African-Americans who converted to Islam while doing hard time in state or federal prisons, Geller says. They have operated “under the not-so-watchful eye” of the FBI since the early 1980s, she says, but few Americans are aware of their existence all these years later.
Gilani’s group operates a slick website in which a female narrator in one promo video waxes beautifully about how the group has rescued many young Americans from a life a crime, drugs and poverty. The group claims to focus on a ministry to “indigenous American Muslims.” One would never guess from the video that the group trains young men and women in the use of small arms and military tactics.
A January 2003 investigative summary by the FBI states: “The captioned investigation of the Muslims of America is based upon specific and articulate facts giving justification to believe they are engaged in international terrorism or activities in preparation thereof…”
In a recruitment video captured from Gilani’s “Soldiers of Allah,” Gilani states: “We are fighting to destroy the enemy. We are dealing with evil at its roots and its roots are America.”
Yet, the MOA is not on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.
“Probably they haven’t been raided because Jamaat al-Fuqra is not listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. government and because there is a great reluctance among government and law enforcement agencies across the board, no matter who is president, to appear to be anti-Muslim,” Geller told WND. “These compounds say they’re peaceful Muslim communities, and the government wants to give the impression that such things can exist in the U.S. without any trouble.”
Indeed, MOA has operated freely under the watch of every president since Ronald Reagan. The group’s leader, Gilani, moved to America from Pakistan in 1979 and has been developing his network of communes ever since. He was once investigated by the Pakistani government for possible involvement in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Some reports say he has as many as 35 affiliated compounds throughout the U.S., although only about 22 of the sites have been verified.
There have been run-ins with the law involving murder and financial scheming back in the 1990s.
In 1991, after a MOA bomb plot in Toronto was foiled, a federal search warrant for three suspects was issued and a nearly 45-acre compound about 70 miles south of Dallas was raided. The location of the compound corresponds to a reference in an FBI document obtained by the Clarion Project that says about seven MOA members purchased property near Corsicana, Texas.
Federal officials found four mobile homes; three military, general-purpose tents; and six vehicles. Also discovered were loose ammunition, books on counter-terrorism techniques and weaponry and various items with “Jamaat Fuqra Land” written on them.
Another compound in Buena Vista, Colorado, was raided and shut down by state authorities in 1992. But there have been no raids on any of the encampments since the 1990s.
A 2007 FBI record states that members of the group have been involved in at least 10 murders, one disappearance, three firebombings, one attempted firebombing, two explosive bombings and one attempted bombing.
“The documented propensity for violence by this organization supports the belief the leadership of the MOA extols membership to pursue a policy of jihad or holy war against individuals or groups it considers enemies of Islam, which includes the U.S. Government,” the document states. “Members of the MOA are encouraged to travel to Pakistan to receive religious and military/terrorist training from Sheikh Gilani.”
The document also says Muslims of America is now “an autonomous organization which possesses an infrastructure capable of planning and mounting terrorist campaigns overseas and within the U.S.”
Robert Spencer, author of the JihadWatch blog and several books about radical Islam, says the communes operate much like Europe’s “no-go zones,” which are Islamic enclaves where adherents live under Shariah law and are off limits to non-Muslims. Police also tend to avoid the enclaves.
“Yes, there are similarities. They’re both very hostile to outsiders and have a history of hostility to law enforcement, and there has been evidence that police are hesitant to go into these communes just as they are in Europe,” Spencer told WND.
They are different in that they operate mostly in remote rural areas of the U.S., unlike the urban no-go zones in Europe’s major cities.
A mystical sect of Islam
Gilani is a follower of Sufi Islam, an ancient mystical sect that believes in miracles, signs and wonders.
Some Middle East historians have described the Sufis as more moderate and peaceful than their Sunni or Shiite cousins, but this is a mistake in Spencer’s view.
The Chechen jihad against the Russians was led by Sufis from the 19th century until the influx of Wahhabi Arabs in the late 20th century.
And Hassan al-Banna, one of early leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, prescribed Sufi exercises for Brotherhood members, Spencer said.
“They’re more mystical, but that does not mean they reject the principles of violent jihad,” he said.
Muhammad al-Ghazali, a Persian philosopher and founder of the modern Sufi movement in the late 11th century, “was very clear and strong in speaking about the necessity of waging violent jihad,” Spencer said.
The FBI report on Muslims of America has been heavily redacted but clearly says the group has engaged in murders and fire bombings in the U.S.
“So that’s the FBI speaking not some Islamophobe,” Spencer said.
Gilani, who did not immediately respond to WND’s request for an interview, teaches that Muslims should be self-sustaining and separate from the broader American culture. But he also purports to teach that they foster “good relations with our Christian brethren,” according to the group’s website.
Watch MOA’s promotional video below, casting itself as a mystical sect concerned about humanitarian-based rescues of Americans trapped in a life of crime and drugs.
Christian Action Network did a documentary on the elusive Gilani in 2009. The documentary shows the Christians being greeted at the entrance to a compound in New York with tremendous hostility.
“Christian Network was told by the local cops not to go there and not to bother them but they went anyway, and neighbors said they heard firearms training and all kinds of things going on there,” Spencer said.
According to their own video, the MOA groups are all about peace, miraculous sightings of Allah and the mystical healing of incurable diseases from AIDS to cancer. They also make a point of claiming to develop their brand of Islam within the framework of being good American citizens.
This is all written off by Spencer as “window dressing” and Geller agrees.
“All Islamic groups make similar claims – including the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations, designated a terror organization by the United Arab Emirates,” Geller said. “These claims have to be balanced against the group’s others words, and its actions. MOA members have been involved in murders and firebombings in the U.S.”
They have also been involved in violence against other Muslims.
The Islamic spiritual leader Rashad Kalifa was one of the victims. He was a Muslim scholar who translated the Quran into English and also developed a teaching based on a Quranic numbering system that marked him as a false prophet and a heretic by many Muslims, including those affiliated with the MOA. Kalifa was found stabbed 29 times in the kitchen of a Tucson mosque in 1990. One member of MOA was found guilty of conspiracy in the killing and sentenced to 69 years.
“We should monitor them very closely. Hold hearings if necessary (in Congress),” Geller said. “Conduct a thorough investigation of each of these compounds with or without hearings.”
Former Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., was one member of Congress who tried to get her colleagues to pay more attention to groups like MOA, but had little success.
“For years we’ve heard viable reports and seen photos and video tape suggesting Islamic jihadist training camps located in states such as Texas, Georgia and elsewhere. U.S. national law enforcement agencies have a duty to secure the safety of the American people – that is the number one duty of government,” Bachmann told WND.
But the federal government, and increasingly state and local governments, have been more concerned about offending Muslims and bowing to the wishes of Muslim Brotherhood front groups like Council on American-Islamic Relations, she said.
“For law enforcement to fail to investigate reports of U.S.-based terror training camps or to turn a blind eye to incitement activities in U.S.-based Islamic centers is to intentionally avoid a tragic reality of American life,” she said. “In retrospect, wouldn’t it have been better for the U.S. military to have acted on their evidence and suspicions of the Fort Hood shooter? Wouldn’t it have been better for the FBI to have investigated the Islamic center of Boston prior to the Boston marathon bombing?”
“The clues to see Islamic jihad were and are in front of our eyes,” Bachmann added. “If only our government had the political will to see and act upon them.”