Another Holy War, Waged On American Soil

MUSLIMS ARE NOT TERRORISTS!" shouts the headline in a January 1992 edition of Insight, the newspaper published by a group called Muslims of the Americas from its remote encampment in upstate New York. But the accompanying article adds a menacing caveat. "Simply said, a Muslim must fight in defense of Al-Islam, his life and property against the oppressor or transgressor. . . Remember, "Tumult and Oppression are worse than slaughter'."

Federal investigators know Muslims of the Americas by another name: "Al-Fuqra," Arabic for "the impoverished." Once written off as an inconsequential splinter group, Al-Fuqra is now considered perhaps the most dangerous fundamentalist sect operating in the United States. Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, alleged to be the spiritual inspiration for the World Trade Center bombing, may be the most notorious Islamic cleric on American soil. But Al-Fuqra and its Pakistani founder, Sheik Mubarak Shah Jilani, have perpetrated far more havoc. Law-enforcement officials say they are responsible for a decade-long string of assassinations and bombings in the name of Islamic purity.

Al-Fuqra's actual agenda is murky. Jilani and his estimated 3,000 U.S. followers -- mostly African-American Muslims -- profess a lengthy and wide-ranging list of enemies. The roster of transgressors includes Hindus and Hare Krishnas, Israel, the Jewish Defense League and even the Nation of Islam. The sect emerged in the early 1980s, as Jilani built a following in a Brooklyn mosque, mixing charismatic fundamentalism with calls for young men to join Afghan guerrillas in their fight against the Soviet Union. But investigators say Jilani's disciples also waged holy war on American soil. An alleged Al-Fuqra leader, Stephen Paster, blew off most of one hand preparing explosives for the July 1983 firebombing of a Portland, Ore., hotel owned by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the late Indian guru. He served four years in prison for the attack. Later that summer the leader of a small Detroit Muslim sect was shot to death. Authorities say his assailants were Al-Fuqra members who died in a subsequent firebombing of the sect's headquarters.

The group's violent past spilled into full view when Colorado Springs police raided a storage locker in 1989. They found a cache of firearms, grenades, plastic explosives and target -- practice silhouettes labeled ZIONIST PIG and FBI ANTI-TERRORIST TEAM. Investigators also recovered Al-Fuqra documents linking the group to a pattern of mayhem, including the 1984 firebombings of Hare Krishna temples in Philadelphia and Denver and plans for the murder of Imam Rashid Khalifa, a Tucson, Ariz., cleric who preached that the Koran was written by man, not Allah. One handwritten passage advises that Khalifa be executed "in the quietest method feasible: knife, garrotte . . ." to ward off police. The notes add that anyone who happened onto the crime scene before Khalifa arrived would meet the same fate. "As we wait, everyone who comes must be eliminated. . . " Khalifa was warned, but was stabbed to death four months later as prescribed in the documents. Last October a Colorado Springs jury convicted James Williams, a sect member, of conspiracy in the murder.

Canadian authorities began to take Al-Fuqra seriously in 1991, when five alleged followers were arrested on charges of conspiring to blow up a Toronto Indian theater and Hindu temple. Evidence in the 1993 trial included a video entitled "Soldier of Allah." It features Sheik Jilani exhorting oppressed Muslims around the world to defend themselves. Three of the defendants, convicted of conspiracy to endanger life, denied any link to the sect. But Jilani told a journalist at a radical Islamic summit in Khartoum last year that one of the convicted defendants and two who were acquitted had studied with him in Pakistan.

Investigators have also linked Clement Rodney Hampton-El, a Brooklyn man named in news reports as an Al-Fuqra member, to last year's World Trade Center bombing conspiracy. They say he bragged to a federal informant about testing dynamite used in the blast. Hampton-El, an Afghan-war veteran, was never charged in the case, and his lawyer says he has no relationship with Al-Fuqra. Last June he was one of eight suspects arrested in an alleged terrorist plot to destroy other New York sites.

Jilani disavows any connection to the violence and denies the existence of any group called Al-Fuqra. He says he is a scholar who tries to instill Islamic discipline in the young men who enroll in the branches of his Koranic Open University in Lahore, Pakistan; upstate New York, and at least three other sites in the United States. "Once they join our university, they become real good citizens," he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation earlier this month. "They stop smoking; they stop stealing; they stop living on welfare. This is what I teach them."

But intelligence sources say Sheik Jilani's mentoring of young Muslims includes terrorist training. In 1992 the CIA began receiving reports that he had established a camp for Islamic militants in Sudan, now controlled by a radical Muslim regime. The agency also established that Jilani was well connected inside ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service. U.S. analysts suspect that Pakistan was using the sheik's recruits as clandestine warriors in terrorist actions against Indian targets. Shortly before leaving office, the Bush administration warned the Pakistani government that it would be listed as a terrorist-sponsor state unless it purged ISI. Sources say that jilani's inside connections were dismissed as a result.

Al-Fuqra's targets to date have been confined largely to rival religious factions. But terrorism analysts say their zeal poses a wider threat to the public safety. The end of the cold war, and the resulting surge in nationalist violence overseas, has emboldened groups like Al-Fuqra. Are they a general danger? "Yes, to the extent that they're violent and that they're fanatics," says David Long, a former State Department counterterrorism expert. At Muslims of the Americas headquarters in Hancock, N.Y., a man named Mr. Haqq who answered the phone said only that the police and press have routinely distorted the group's views. But Haqq's protests are belied by a lengthening trail of blood.

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