My initial report on Jamaat ul-Fuqra generated considerable reaction from people all over the country, particularly those who might find themselves within the blast radius — so to speak — of one of the known compounds.
I received a lot of enquiries, additional information, and tips about Jamaat ul-Fuqra. One source reported that there was yet another “Muslim compound”, this time near Meherrin, Virginia. Another said that the people at that location “came out and danced in public on September 11th.” I had never heard about any JF activity in Meherrin before. When the opportunity came I drove up there.
Meherrin turned out to be a tiny hamlet in southern Prince Edward county, about 26 miles east of Red House as the crow flies. Its “business district” consists of two gas stations/convenience stores on US 360, a post office, a body shop, and little more. I stopped in at one of the stores on the highway and struck up conversations with some of the people I found there.
I asked Dave, an employee at Southside Virginia Community College, if he had heard of any Muslim groups in the area.
“Oh, yeah,” he replied, “I know the place you mean.” He waved his arm to indicate it was to the west of us. “It’s called ‘Muslims of the Americas’. They got a sign right out by the road.”
This was intriguing news: as you may remember, Muslims of the Americas (MOA) is a front organization for Jamaat ul-Fuqra. As reported by SATP in 2002:
|| Muslims of the Americas, a tax-exempt group established in the US in 1980 by Gilani, operates communes of primarily black, American-born Muslims in many states in the US, including in Binghamton in New York, Badger in California, York in South California and Red House in Virginia. JF is reportedly linked through court documents to the Muslims of Americas.
I had not prompted Dave with the name of any group; he volunteered “Muslims of the Americas.” So I knew my sources had been correct.
As a reminder to those who have not read the earlier JF posts:
|| Although [Sheikh] Gilani, the reclusive chief of Fuqra resides in Lahore, Pakistan, most JF cells are located in North America. Fuqra members have purchased isolated rural properties in North America to live as a community, practice their faith, and insulate themselves from Western culture. The group has set up and funded rural communes that the US authorities allege are linked to murder, bombings and other felonies throughout the US and Canada. Currently, there are half a dozen Fuqra residential compounds in rural hamlets across the US sheltering hundreds of cadres, some of who have reportedly trained in the use of weapons and explosives in Pakistan.
I asked Dave some more questions, but he seemed to know very little about the people at the MOA commune. He had never heard any rumors of trouble, they’d been there more than 10 years, they kept to themselves, etc. He did, however, know exactly where the commune was located, and gave me very detailed directions on how to get there.
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Dave said the place I was looking for was located on VA Rt. 633, a winding country road that turns off highway 360 just west of Meherrin. Unfortunately, the state is building a new bridge over the railroad line right at US 360, so he told me about a circuitous detour up US 15, coming in from the opposite direction.
Rt. 633 (Mt. Pleasant Road at the end near US 15) winds through open farm country. By the time the name changes to Virso Road it is running through an area of second-growth scrub, and the scattered inhabitants live mostly in trailers and double-wides. As I approached the location Dave directed me to, I saw views like this:
And residences like this:
The place is called “Virso” on the map, but the only sign of any civic presence at that location is an abandoned building by the road bearing a sign that reads “Virso Community Center.”
Watching for Dave’s “Muslims of the Americas” sign, I drove slowly through the area until I reached the dead end at the bridge construction. The only unusual thing I saw was a dirt entrance road with a street sign for “Mahareen Dr.” I could see a short distance down the road, and noted a lot of trailers arranged in close ranks, but otherwise there was nothing to see here.
I returned the way I had come. Mahareen Drive was definitely the location Dave had described.
But no MOA sign! Perhaps it used to stand on that cinderblock pillar? And then, for some reason, the inhabitants took it down…
There were 8 or 10 mailboxes at the entrance, each with a number, and some with the word “Mahareen”, but no other names. Other than these, the only notable feature was a prominent “No Trespassing” sign.
Who or what is “Mahareen”? Is it maybe a corruption of “Meherrin”?
I came home and googled variations that combined “Jamaat ul-Fuqra” and “Meherrin.” There are few references to be found on the internet concerning the commune near Meherrin, and all of them seem to derive from the same series of Washington Times stories in 2002, prior to the Beltway sniper incidents. From a cached version of a Washington Times article on July 1, 2002:
|| Militant American Muslims operating out of rural communes in California and other Western states have targeted this rural Virginia community for an influx of members who have ties to Middle Eastern terrorists.
||Law-enforcement authorities said the Muslims — mostly converts — are expected to join with radical Muslims living on 45 acres in this small Charlotte County community, 25 acres near Meherrin in neighboring Prince Edward County and on other parcels of land owned by the group’s members and supporters.
There is also a Word document from MIPT (the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, associated with the Department of Homeland Security) which contains this:
|| In Virginia, Muslims of the Americas has established communes on 45 acres of land east of Red House in Charlotte County and on 25 acres near Meherrin in neighboring Prince Edward County. Additionally, a number of black Muslims have purchased smaller lots in the region and attend prayer services at the Red House commune. Law-enforcement authorities said the organization has been negotiating to purchase an additional 100 acres in Campbell County. Anywhere from 200 to 300 people, including women and children, are believed to live on the two sites, although the number varies and is hard to confirm, authorities said.
Remember that Sheikh Gilani, the founder of Jamaat ul-Fuqra, is the man that Daniel Pearl was attempting to interview when he was abducted and beheaded. The State Department reported his death on February 21st, 2002. The above-mentioned MIPT report was based on a Washington Times article dated February 18th, 2002, just three days before the announcement.
There is enough paranoia-inducing material here to brew up a whole pot of hot conspiracy stew, yet the facts on the ground are sparse. Googling “mahareen” turns up nothing definitive; it appears as a foreign word in several places (including Ireland!), and does not seem to have any particular Muslim or Arab connotations. The MOA sign is gone — yet Dave knew that name without any prompting from me, so I’m certain that it was there at some point.
Except for these slender reeds, everything is speculation.
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If John Allen Muhammad really did hole up in a JF safe house in Virginia in the fall of 2002, it was more likely to have been this one in Meherrin than the one previously reported in Red House. Meherrin is considerably closer to where he is known to have been, and it would have taken a lot less winding along back country roads to get there.
Muhammad was in the west end of the Richmond metropolitan area in October 2002, placing a call at a phone booth in the Exxon Station on the corner of Parham Road and West Broad. Looking at a map, to get to Meherrin he would have backtracked to I-64 East, gone down I-195 and the Powhite Parkway to Southside, picked up 288 for a brief jog, and then gone down Hull Street Road (US 360) all the way to Meherrin.
By my reading that’s about 75 driving miles. Depending on the time of day, if he put the pedal to the metal on 360 (as is customary in that part of the state) he could have gotten to Mahareen Drive in a little over an hour.
That’s not much of a drive to make in order to get a hot meal and real bed rest for a night or two, and maybe pick up some ammo. In addition, the Meherrin location has a much lower profile than the one in Red House.
It could have happened that way.
In any case, I hope some dedicated and experienced web sleuths who read Gates of Vienna will take up the challenge and look into Mahareen Drive.
UPDATE: Commenter Van Berthemium supplies this interesting translation:
|| I have no idea what it means in the context you mention, but in Arabic mahareen (properly ماهرين māharīn) is a plural form of the word ماهر māhar “skillful one,” “clever one,” and the like.