Jamaat ul-Fuqra (“Community of the Impoverished”, also known as “Muslims of America” or “Muslims of the Americas”) was founded by a known terrorist, the Pakistani Sheikh Syed Mubarik Ali Hasmi Shah Gilani. Over the past thirty years it has established a network of dozens of rural training compounds across the United States and Canada. It recruits new members primarily through proselytizing in the prison system.
Eight years ago I paid my first visit to the Jamaat ul-Fuqra compound in Red House, Virginia. Back during the Beltway Sniper crisis in the fall of 2002 I had read in The Washington Times that law enforcement officials believed that John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo had holed up at an Islamic terror-training compound in Red House. Red House is a tiny rural hamlet not too far from where we live, so at the time I wondered, “How in the world could there be a terror-training compound in Red House, of all places?”
Three years later, after I had begun my Counterjihad work, I drove down to Red House, took a quick look, talked to some locals, and wrote up what I had learned. At that point — October 2005 — almost nothing further had been published in the media about Red House and Jamaat ul-Fuqra since the crisis ended in late 2002. However, after that first post and subsequent posts went viral, other websites started looking into the Muslims of America and JuF. CP did the most serious digging, followed in short order by Marty Mawyer and the Christian Action Network. By early 2007 we had established a fairly comprehensive dossier on the history and activities of Sheikh Gilani and the MOA.
Marty continued his excellent work, flying over several compounds and taking aerial photos, and even walking into some of them. Reports on the JuF “villages” began to filter up into the MSM sporadically, especially on CBN and local stations close to one or more compounds.
The most recent media report on Jamaat ul-Fuqra in Red House was aired on a local TV channel in Washington D.C. back in September. Many thanks to Vlad Tepes for uploading this video:
Obviously, this is a softball piece from a politically correct media outlet. However, it’s still a breakthrough to have so much clear, accurate material about Jamaat ul-Fuqra make it into the MSM. The Investigative Project on Terrorism is quoted extensively, and the report includes an account of the MOA weapons bust in Colorado. Not only are a lot of Marty’s photos and videos used, but there are at least two of my own graphical contributions in the report: the cropped gamma-adjusted photo of Sheikh Gilani at 0:53, and the straightened, clarified graphic of the “Muslims of America” sign at 5:45 (I spent many hours back in December 2005 writing the program code to remove the foreshortening from a photo of that sign).
An accompanying article was published at the WUSA9 website. I’ll intersperse the text with relevant corrections and additions:
A community bound by faith or jihadists?
RED HOUSE, Va. — Only on 9, a thought-provoking story about a Virginia community accused of being a terrorist training ground. The group is called The Muslims of America and some of its residents have been under suspicion by federal law enforcement and others for allegedly being “homegrown terrorists.”
Reporter Andrea McCarren and photographer Joe Martin were granted rare access to one Muslim village to uncover the story behind so many inflammatory headlines.
“Oh my God, we’re Americans. We were born here. Give me a break,” said Matthew Gardner, the Mayor of Red House and the spokesman of The Muslims of America.
Mr. Gardner is not the “Mayor of Red House”. Red House is a tiny unincorporated village in Charlotte County, with no mayor or any other official political office. The Muslims of America compound is about four and a half miles outside of Red House to the east, on Rolling Hill Road (VA 615). Mr. Gardner may style himself “mayor”, or “imam”, or “ayatollah”, or “dear leader” or whatever other title he chooses to adopt, but it is not a legally-recognized office acquired via a state-sanctioned election.
The article continues:
“Yes, America should be worried,” said Frank Spano of The Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Inside a mosque, in a remote Southern Virginia county that’s so rural there isn’t even a single stoplight, the Muslims of America bow down in prayer.
More than 7,000 miles away, in Pakistan, Sheikh Mubarik Gilani serves as their guide, the spiritual leader over this village in Red House and 21 others nationwide.
“I owe him my life,” said Maryam Salaam, a resident. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be about to go to medical school. I wouldn’t. I’d be in Philadelphia, living life with no hope and nowhere to go.”
“We have extreme loyalty to him. He’s like a father to us,” said Gardner.
In fact, the Muslim cleric is so influential over his followers that he names their children. This baby girl is seven days old. Her parents anxiously await the Sheikh’s name choice.
Sheikh Gilani does more than just inspire his followers and name their children: according to disaffected former members and informants within MOA, the sheikh requires that his disciples turn over 30% of their income to the organization. The money is then reportedly transferred to his headquarters in Pakistan.
Sheikh Gilani is a mysterious figure in the Islamic world.
“He himself was a very violent and very dangerous individual,” said Spano.
He is also the man Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was meeting in 2002 when he was abducted and beheaded. Pearl was following a tip that shoe bomber Richard Reid had trained at one of Sheikh Gilani’s alleged camps in Pakistan.
“It’s almost to the point where we buy the story, up front. ‘Oh, we’re just a group of individuals of like mind, who choose to live together and defend ourselves.’ Well, that was the same case as the Branch Davidians at Waco,” said Spano.
Terrorism experts say The Muslims of America is a front group for a radical organization known as Jamaat al Fuqra, also founded by Sheikh Gilani.
“He’s just not involved in that, he doesn’t do that. He would never tell us to kill our own people. He would never tell us to do anything that would jeopardize our freedom in this country,” said Gardner.
“That’s dangerous. That’s dangerous. That’s the jihadist next door. That’s where the U.S. really needs to reconsider how we address these organizations,” said Spano.
“We’re not about terrorism. We’re about being the best people that we possibly can be and the best Muslims that we possibly can be and that’s not a bad thing,” said Gardner.
The Muslims of America deny any connection to al-Fuqra and we visited their village to explore the striking disconnect between Internet-fueled perception and reality.
The footage of the area around the entrance shows that the road frontage has been spruced up since the last time I drove by the compound. Over the years, weeds and trash trees had grown up around the sign, partially obscuring it. Perhaps the mayor ordered a quick cleanup when he learned the TV crew was coming.
“In many cases, that larger purpose is violence against either the US or its allies,” said Spano.
“We feel normal and then…” said Ashiqah Abdulmumin. Added her husband, Munir, “You turn on the news and you read about yourself and you’re like, are you serious? I just volunteered with United Way and my wife works with Red Cross, so it’s like seriously?”
The group knows it’s under the microscope and is sensitive about that scrutiny. That’s why residents refer to the guard house on their property as a “reception booth.”
“Sometimes it’s just ignorance. Sometimes people just don’t know and you’re afraid of what you don’t know,” said Ashiqah Abdulmumin.
But in Colorado in 1989, police raided a storage locker belonging to the Muslims of America and uncovered a cache of weapons.
“They’ve recovered assault weapons, AK-47s, M16s, M14 rifles,” said Spano. “Pre-made pipe bombs, several of them were already primed and ready to fire. Also in the locker were plans for future attacks and targets.”
“We have had many, many members, or ex-members that have been removed because of their history of crime. With any organization with a large amount of people, you’re going to have people that are just bad apples,” said Gardner.
The group is widely skeptical of the media. Throughout our visit, they videotaped -us- while we videotaped them.
“What reason would we have to hate America? I mean, we live here. This is our home,” Gardner told us.
Walking down Sheikh Gilani Lane, the main road through the village, the mayor and organization’s spokesman said he’s baffled by the accusations.
“We denounce all forms of terrorism. Absolutely,” said Gardner.
Roughly 60 people live here in modest trailer homes. Their children are home-schooled.
“Modest” is a polite word for the condition of those trailers. The footage in this report shows the best-looking residences in the compound. Some of the other trailers are among the worst I’ve ever seen, even by back-country Virginia standards. Their rusty, dilapidated condition can be seen from the road, further east on 615, and especially in some of Marty’s aerial close-ups.
“It’s the most beautiful thing in the world to me. Because I came from Brooklyn, New York, where everyone was an individual. And I come here, and I live in this village, and we’re a family,” said Garnetta Davis.
The majority of the men work in neighboring towns, as do many of the women.
“The concept of deception is key,” said Spano.
After the DC area sniper attacks of 2002, reports surfaced that Red House harbored John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo between their deadly attacks.
“Really? That’s news to me,” said Gardner, laughing.
Maybe Mr. Gardner was not yet a member of the Muslims of America back in October 2002. Or maybe he didn’t read the newspapers. But he couldn’t be dissembling, now, could he?
Today, there are 3,000 members of The Muslims of America in the U.S. and Canada.
“I think when they first came in, back in the mid 90s, early to mid 90s, there was some concern about it. Pretty much everyone’s gotten used to it,” said Capt. Howard Hobgood, Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department. “For the most part, it’s quiet. With them. So far.”
We asked, “Just to be clear, the Muslims of America is not a hate group? No. Is not a terrorist group? No. Does not hate Christians? No. Does not hate Jews? Is not anti-semitic? No! We don’t hate Jews.”
In fact, the village itself has been targeted.
“It was very scary,” recalled Gardner. “They didn’t shoot from the road. They came onto the property to shoot that.”
In December of last year, a trespasser pumped bullets into their sign.
I won’t defend any form of vandalism that damages property, whether by firearm or any other means.
However, as a long-time resident of rural Virginia, I can state categorically that it is a widespread practice among young people in the countryside, both black and white, to use road signs for target practice. Stop signs, speed limit signs, deer crossing signs, billboards, “Welcome to East Nowhere” signs — virtually all of them are riddled with bullet holes, wherever you go. I presume the metal ones are preferred, since they provide audible evidence whenever a marksman hits his target.
The damage to the MOA sign may mean more than that. Or it may be nothing out of the ordinary.
“There’s nothing concrete that says this is a terror compound, though there’s enough circumstantial evidence that would lead one to believe that,” said Spano.
“We’re American citizens. We haven’t broken any laws. We haven’t done anything wrong,” said Gardner.
“This is not a terrorist village,” said Davis.
“You have to show us evidence because we don’t see it here,” said Capt. Hobgood.
“The US should be worried,” said Spano.
Yes, this was a soft report. The reporters simply recorded and aired the residents’ smiling assurances, without bothering to investigate any further into the matter.
But then again, we can’t really expect them to read “The Charlotte County Files”, can we? That would be a lot of work!
Still, I feel vindicated by this account. After all these years, the hard work done by CP, Marty Mawyer, and everyone else has finally paid off. Jamaat ul-Fuqra is no longer safe inside its cone of silence.
For more information on JuF, see the Jamaat ul-Fuqra Archives.