During the Beltway Sniper crisis, back in the fall of 2002, a series of articles in The Washington Times described John Allen Muhammad’s conversion to Islam, and his later break with the Nation of Islam (the articles are no longer available, but extracts have been preserved here). Apparently the NOI was not militant enough for Mr. Muhammad, and he left it to become involved with a group called Jamaat ul-Fuqra (Arabic for “community of the impoverished”), a terrorist organization founded by a notorious Pakistani cleric, Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani.
What drew my eye in the article was the mention of a Jamaat ul-Fuqra compound in Red House, Virginia. Red House?! I know Red House — a small village in rural Charlotte County.
Ever since then I’ve been curious to know more about the Red House compound. This past Saturday afternoon, carrying a digital camera and a great apprehension about possible encounters with some reportedly very dangerous people, I drove up there.
But first: some background on Jamaat ul-Fuqra. The group was founded in New York by Sheikh Gilani in New York in 1980. Its current headquarters is in Hancock, New York, and it has various compounds, or Jamaats, scattered throughout the United States and Canada, notably in Colorado, New York, Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia. Most of the adherents are reported to be American-born Black Muslims who follow a strict Islamist ideology.
Sheikh Gilani, you may remember, is the cleric with whom Daniel Pearl had arranged an interview back in January of 2002. Unfortunately, Mr. Pearl was betrayed by his sources, and then abducted and beheaded. Sheikh Gilani was arrested later that month and languishes in Pakistani custody.
So this is the kind of people we are dealing with here. They launder money, smuggle firearms, plan and carry out assassinations and bombings, and conduct intense Islamist indoctrination, including inside American prisons.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal:
|The JF, in its early phase, sought to counter what is perceived as excessive Western influence on Islam. It also concluded that violence was a significant aspect in its quest to purify Islam. In its ideological moorings, the Fuqra regards as enemies of Islam all those who do not follow the tenets of Islam as laid out in the Koran, including those Muslims who they consider as heretics as well as non-Muslims. One of Gilani’s works published by the Quranic Open University in the US and seized in a 1991-investigation instructed his cadres that their foremost duty was to wage Jehad against the ‘oppressors of Muslims’. Members of the group are described as Islamist extremists with much hatred toward their ‘enemies’.|
Fuqra members were actively conducting jihad operations across North America in the ’80s and ’90s:
|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 ethnic Indians and targets linked to various Indian sects. In July 1983, Stephen Paul Paster, a front ranking JF member, was responsible for planting a pipe bomb at a Portland hotel owned by followers of the Bhagwan Rajneesh cult. After his arrest in Colorado, Paster served four years of a 20-year prison sentence for the bombing…|
|After the Portland bombing, two Fuqra cadres allegedly killed Mozaffar Ahmad, a leader of the minority Ahmadiyyah sect in Canton, Michigan. Both the suspects reportedly perished in a fire they had set at the Ahmadiyyah mosque in nearby Detroit. The JF is also reported to have been involved in the killing of three Indians on August 1, 1984 in a suburb of Tacoma, Washington. Besides, the JF is suspected to be involved in a series of fire bombings of Hindu and Hare Krishna temples in Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia and Kansas City.|
|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… The documents, including maps and lists, contained details of potential JF targets and victims in Los Angeles, Arizona and Colorado––oil and gas installations and electrical facilities, US. Air Force Academy and other military sites, people in 12 US states and Canada with Jewish or Hindu-sounding names. Various JF publications were seized during this search. Titles of some of the publications seized included “Guerrilla Warfare”, “Counter Guerrilla Operations”, “Understanding Amateur Radio”, and “Fair Weather Flying,” and “Basic Blueprint Reading and Sketching.”|
|In 1991, JF’s plans to bomb an Indian cinema and a Hindu temple near Toronto were unsuccessful. Five JF cadres were arrested at the Niagara Falls border crossing after US Customs agents searched their cars and found visual evidence and plans of the interiors of the targets and a description of time bombs…|
|In the 1990s, JF was more often than not operating under the guise of two front groups, ‘Muslims of the Americas’ and ‘Quranic Open University’. The latter portrayed itself as a religious and charitable educational institution dedicated to studying the Quran.|
|One of the persons convicted in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 was Clement Rodney Hampton-el, a Fuqra member. JF was linked in a Congressional testimony to the planning of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.|
|A media report has indicated that the JF is also being probed for links with Richard Reid, a Briton, accused of trying to use explosives in his shoes to blow up a Paris-to-Miami jetliner on December 22, 2001.|
A Defense Watch article in 2002 outlines the activities of the Red House compound:
|Surveillance reports of the compounds note that the residents remain in a fluid state and are continuously on the move. For the past several years, law enforcement authorities observing the Red House, VA compound have voiced concern that this pattern may be designed to create a series of safe houses in the rural areas of southern Virginia.|
|The Red House, Va., compound was under surveillance by law enforcement prior to the 9/11 attacks for stockpiling weapons. Three members of the compound, including leader Vincente Pierre and his wife Tracy Upshur, were later arrested for illegal arms purchases.|
A February 2002 article in The Daily Excelsior of India reported that
|Muslims of the Americas operates communes of mostly black, American-born Muslims in Binghamton, New York; Badger California; York, South Carolina; and Red House, Virginia, law enforcement officials said. But there are also some non-Muslims in the group.|
|The money laundering scheme in Virginia, officials said, is similar to a 101-acre Colorado operation that was shut down in 1993.|
|Five Al-Fuqra members were convicted there of defrauding the Government of approximately 350,000 dollars through bogus workers’ compensation claims.|
But the most alarming aspect of ul-Fuqra is its propensity for violent and radical jihad:
|Doug Wamsley, a deputy district attorney in Jeferson county, Colorado, who participated in raiding the 101-acre commune in Colorado, said the initial search of the commune turned up bombs, weapons and plans for terrorist atacks.|
|“When we executed our search warrants,” he said, “we found a cave with 30 firearms in it. Most of those firearms were military knockoffs, like AK-47s. We also found ammunition—6000 rounds.”|
So this is all I knew as I drove through Rustburg toward Red House on a gloomy Saturday afternoon.
Red House is a crossroads hamlet with two stores, one of them a modern truck plaza with multiple pump canopies and a convenience store, and the other a traditional little country story with a couple of pumps in front and an unpaved parking lot. I chose the latter store to visit, since it seemed more likely to be a source of local news and gossip.
After waiting in line at the counter, I asked the proprietor if he had heard of Jamaat ul-Fuqra, an Islamist organization. He looked at me blankly. I mentioned that they had a compound near Red House, on Route 615.
“Oh, you mean the Muslims,” he said. “They come in here sometimes.”
I asked him where they were, and he indicated that they were about three miles east on Route 615. “They’ve got a sign up — you can’t miss it.”
He seemed reluctant to give further information on the subject, perhaps not wanting to gossip to a stranger about his (presumably well-armed) neighbors and customers.
However, outside the store I struck up an acquaintance with a local woman named Shirley. I showed her some of the printouts I had made from web articles about ul-Fuqra, and she was very interested; she proved to have a wealth of local lore on the subject.
As far as Shirley could recall, the commune has been in that location for at least ten years. She said that back before September 11th the members of Jamaat would appear from time to time in the community wearing Islamic garb (robes and head coverings), but mostly only the males. According to Shirley,
|It made me so mad, what the county let them get away with. They sent the boys to school, but not the girls — the girls stayed home at the compound.|
But why didn’t the county do something about it?
|I think they were scared of them.|
Didn’t they even send Social Services in there to check on them?
|No, I don’t think they did anything. Supposedly they’re “home-schooled,” but who knows?|
Two or three weeks before 9/11, the members of the compound constructed a guard house and a gate at the entrance to their commune. After 9/11 and the FBI arrests, they kept a lower profile. According to the store owner, they still come in from time to time, but he doesn’t see them very often. The men dress in normal clothes now, but when the women come to the village they still wear the hijab.
Shirley said that there are other Jamaat locations besides the compound. One of her hobbies is historical research, and recently she was tracking down old homesteads in the wilds of Charlotte County. Her maps led her down a back-country lane, a non-state route through the wilderness that required a four-wheel drive to negotiate. When she neared the old homesteads she was looking for, she was surprised to find an establishment with a sign that identified it as a “Training Camp for Young Muslim-American Men.”
|There were a lot of men there, and some boys, and they came up to us to ask us what we were doing. I was a little bit scared, you know, asking their permission to go back and look at the ruins of the house. They weren’t real helpful, just pointed us in the general direction. We never did find the place.|
This “training camp” was across Route 615 and a couple of miles from the main compound on Rolling Hill Road.
According to Shirley, Jamaat ul-Fuqra operated some kind of jewelry-and-essential-oils business at a kiosk at a Lynchburg Mall. A friend of hers who worked at UPS reported that the men running the kiosk would come in to collect C.O.D. packages from New York, and pay for them with large amounts of cash. Her friend didn’t understand how they could acquire such quantities of money from the kind of business they ran at the Mall.
I floated the idea that it might be a money-laundering operation. Perhaps they brought in drugs from their Central Asian contacts, and then laundered the money to buy their firearms and run their camps. Pure speculation on my part, but…
What we do know is that an organization with a history of violence had set up shop locally, refused to let its girl children go to school, and had top members arrested and convicted by the FBI for firearms violations. In addition they have set up a remote and isolated “Training Camp for Young Muslim-American Men” — to train young men for what? Auto repair? The food service industry? I have my doubts.
Shirley offered an additional tantalizing piece of information: there is yet another Muslim school, about 30 miles south of Red House in a little town called Randolph.
|It’s way out in the middle of nowhere, and you can’t see it from the road, but there’s a sign that says, “American Muslim College.”|
After exchanging contact information with Shirley, I got back in my car, went through the crossroads, and headed up the Rolling Hill Road towards the compound. Along the way I passed the Red House Volunteer Fire Department, the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, the Beautiful Zion Baptist Church, and numerous modest little houses, double-wides, and trailers, with pickup trucks and boats out front and dog kennels in the back, the normal human landscape of rural Southside Virginia. As I came around a bend I saw the compound ahead. There was a big green sign near the road in Arabic and English, with a little cinderblock guardhouse next to it flying an unidentifiable flag. Beyond the entrance numerous trailers were scattered across the hillside, fairly close together in fields of waist-high unkempt weeds. No one was in sight.
I noticed the road sign at the entrance: “Sheikh Gilani Lane,” just as described in the South Asia Terrorism Portal article.
I was already quite scared, and there was a car behind me, so I didn’t stop. I continued along 615 until a side road afforded an opportunity to turn off. The car behind me kept on going — Whew! No ul-Fuqra people were after me.
I turned around and headed back towards the compound, and slowed when I approached the entrance, but this time there was a car pulling out of the compound as I got there. Once again, I continued on past the entrance and went on a mile or two until I could turn around.
The third time past I felt very conspicuous, so I balanced the camera on the steering wheel and tried to take a picture as I very slowly passed the entrance. Unfortunately, in my fumbling, I took a small video segment of the entrance instead by mistake, from which I was able to obtain the blurry screenshot shown below. You can see the sign, the guardhouse, and the flag, but, unfortunately, I couldn’t make the sign legible.
I wanted to try for a photo of the “Sheikh Gilani Lane” sign, so I drove down and turned around one more time for a fourth pass. This time I had a car coming up behind me, and this was my last chance. So I took a hurried photo through the windshield, but the gathering gloom of the storm plus the slight motion of the car made the result useless.
These results are less than satisfactory, but they will have to do.
Update: Welcome, Belmont Club and Tigerhawk and Instapundit readers! Sorry I haven’t been able to keep up in the comments.