Exposing A Radical Jihad Training Network in America: an Interview with Ryan Mauro of The Clarion Project

by Jerry Gordon (February 2015)


Wall Street Journalist Danny Pearl was on his way to a meeting with Jamaat ul-Fuqra (JF) founder, Sheik Mubarak Ali Gilani, a radical Sufi cleric, in Lahore, Pakistan on January 22, 2002. He was on the hunt for al Qaeda connections when he was abducted by four conspirators and allegedly killed by Al Qaeda mastermind of the 9/11 attack, Khaled Sheik Mohammed. As reported by the Georgetown University, Center for Public Integrity, Omar Sheik, a British-educated Pakistani, is in prison for Pearl's kidnapping and murder, as are three accomplices.

Were there any connections between the shadowy Sheik Gilani and the murder of Pearl? Pakistani authorities had Gilani jailed and later put under house arrest. Given the turmoil in that country, we may never know the extent of his involvement, if any.

What we do know is that since the founding of JF, or the “community of the impoverished,” by Gilani in 1980, a network of 22 so-called Islamic Villages, actually paramilitary training camps, was created by JF’s US front group, Muslims of the Americas (MOA). The MOA has its headquarters on a 70 acre site at Islamberg near Hancock, New York. Its ‘holiest’ enclave is Islamville in South Carolina. MOA members are alleged to have committed murders and robberies, acquired contraband arms, and engaged in counterfeit activities. JF members participated in the 1993 terror bombing of the World Trade Center. It is estimated that the MOA has more than 3,000 residents in this network of  Islamic "villages."

JF seeks to “purify Islam through violence.”

The extremist anti-Semitic views if Sheik Gilani of JF were the subject of a February 2014 Counter Jihad Report  by Clarion Project national security analyst, Ryan Mauro, “Muslims of America say that “Hitler was no enemy of the US”:

The November 8 article by Sheikh Gilani repeats his normal anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks and Pearl Harbor, but this time he goes so far as to imply moral equivalence between Hitler and Holocaust victims.

“There was no need for America to go to war against Hitler. Hitler was not the enemy of America or the American people. There was a mutual animosity between Hitler and the Jews. So, the American people paid a very heavy price for fighting someone else’s war,” Gilani writes.

He then states that Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated as pretexts for the U.S. to attack other countries.

In one MOA video, it is taught that Allah punishes the Jews for being “stubborn and arrogant,” that a Zionist “hidden hand” had “manufactured the crisis at Pearl Harbor in order to get America to go to war” and Israel was “directly involved” in the 9/11 attacks so it could hijack the U.S. government.

Gilani bizarrely accuses British Intelligence of being the creators of Saudi Wahhabism and Salafist ISIS. He offers up JF as the so-called “moderate” solution.

What is of great concern is that federal and state law enforcement authorities have investigated and monitored JF and its front group (MOA) and delisted the group as a terrorist organization. Nor has the IRS taken away MOA’s charitable tax exempt status.

Look at this response by the State Department to a question about why JF was taken off the official terrorist list.

Question: The group headed by Sheik Gilani used to be designated by the State Department as a terrorist group but it was taken off the list. Why?

Answer:  Jamaat ul-Fuqra has never been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. It was included in several recent annual terrorism reports under "other terrorist groups," i.e., groups that had carried out acts of terrorism but that were not formally designated by the Secretary of State. However, because of the group's inactivity during 2000, it was not included in the most recent terrorism report covering that calendar year.

Mauro in 2014 reported:

A 2007 FBI file obtained by the Clarion Project this year and a wealth of documentation shows that Jamaat ul-Fuqra/MOA qualifies as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

The Clarion Project identified one of its enclaves in Texas earlier this year, prompting a dozen North American Muslim groups to [request] the U.S. government to label it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

JF/MOA draws heavily from African American prison converts to Islam. An American Thinker article in December 2014 estimated that 15% of America’s prison population, 350,000, is Muslim. Islam is the fastest growing faith among incarcerated prison population in the US. That amounts to 18% of America’s estimated Muslim population of 2.4 million. Muslim prison chaplains have free access under the Freedom of Religious Expression Act of 1993 and the Religious Land Use and Incarcerated Persons Act of 2000. Muslim felons, such as convicted American Muslim convert and Al Qaeda fighter John Walker Lindh and Gregory Holt have used  the provisions of these federal laws to obtain access to radical material and even the right to grow Shariah compliant beards in successful suits brought before Federal and the US Supreme Courts. Muslim military and prison chaplains are certified by Muslim Brotherhood front groups like the Muslim American Society funded by Saudi Wahhabist groups supplying radical Islamic "reading materials." One such Wahhabist/Salafist group is the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences of Ashburn, Virginia. Another is the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut that had been run by former Islamic Society of North America President, Canadian convert, Dr. Ingrid Mattson. 

The recruiting appeal of the MOA to Muslim prison converts to join the JF splinter group was revealed in a Christian Action Network (CAN), film, Sleeping Giant; an exposé on Islamic radicalization in American prisons.  CAN reported: “when Muslim prisoners are released they are persuaded to make immediate contact with Islamic communities and mosques on the outside, where they can continue their Islamic jihad training … These training camps have been identified as Muslims of the Americas (MOA) compounds….”  

One preeminent southeast regional law enforcement intelligence specialist, who has visited several of the JF/MOA compounds, suggested that recent closures may indicate that recruits may have been directed overseas for paramilitary jihadist training. Further he suggested that the existing MOA compounds, because of their remoteness, would be ideal locations for returning or foreign Jihadist/Salafist veterans of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. That is if alleged "moderate" Sufi JF/MOA might cooperate with radical Sunnis.

Watch Ryan Mauro discussing Jamaat ul-Fuqra and other American Islamist groups on the O’Reilly Factor here.

Against this background we interviewed Ryan Mauro, Counterterrorism Fellow at the Clarion Project and frequent contributor on radio and cable TV news program. He is a member of the Advisory Board of The Lisa Benson Show.

 

Jerry Gordon:  Ryan Mauro thank you for consenting to this interview.

 

 

 

 

Ryan Mauro:   Thank you for inviting me.

 

 

 

Gordon:  What are the connections between Jamaat al Fuqra (JF), a sect led by shadowy Pakistani Sheikh Mubarak Gilani, Muslims of the Americas (MOA) and a network of nearly two dozen Islamist paramilitary camps in the US?

Mauro:  Sheikh Gilani is a radical Sufi cleric in Pakistan whose followers believe that he is basically the representative of Allah on earth, that he goes into heaven to meet with Jesus, can do all sorts of miracles and that he's met the Mahdi. In Pakistan there is a group called Jamaat ul-Fuqra which is the militant group under his command. Muslims of the Americas built in North America is an extension of Jamaat ul-Fuqra. There have been documents from its members captured by law enforcement that recognize this connection. We know that Muslims of the Americas openly support Sheikh Gilani. They have a total network of what they say are twenty-two Islamic villages across the country with the most notorious one being their headquarters, Islamberg in Hancock, New York. Most members of Muslims of the Americas will deny that Jamaat ul-Fuqra even exists to begin with as Sheikh Gilani also denies it. It is very possible that his brainwashed followers don't understand or know that Jamaat ul-Fuqra exists and does have a connection to them but it doesn't make much of a difference. The bottom line here is that you have this network in America that is devoutly committed to a radical cleric in Pakistan.

Gordon:  When did JF/MOA first come on the scene in the US and what terrorist and criminal activities has the group been involved with that brought it to FBI attention?

Mauro:  Sheikh Gilani recruited largely from a black Muslim group named Dar Ul-Islam and then in the United States created Islamberg as the headquarters for his organization and expanded from there. The first compound is believed to have been set up around 1980 with his followers. They expanded to places across the country from Colorado to California to Texas, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Michigan. We even know of one in Alaska now, so it is a nationwide network. The groups are engaging in terrorist activities, including  bomb plots in Canada, assassinations of rival Imams, death threats towards their adversaries; all manner of violent and criminal activities. Authorities in Colorado and shut down one of their terrorist camps in 1992 and that got some attention. Since then, Jamaat ul-Fuqra also known as Muslims of the Americas scaled back their activities because they didn't want to sacrifice their entire network. Sheikh Gilani did not want his followers all wrapped up and he didn't want to lose all of the money that they donate to him as a religious obligation. They scaled back but we continue to get stories about their criminal activity. We hear testimonies about violence and abuse going on inside the compounds and of course paramilitary training, which we have videotapes of.

Gordon:  JF was once listed as a designated foreign terrorist organization by our State Department. Why was the designation lifted?

Mauro:  Jamaat ul-Fuqra was described in State Department terrorism reports but characterized more as a domestic organization rather than a foreign one. It was always legal for these groups to operate in principal. The State Department said that Jamaat ul-Fuqra is an extremist Islamic sect dedicated to purifying their religion through violence so they recognized the threat but because they viewed it as a domestic organization made up of American citizens they viewed it as different as dealing with a group like Al Qaeda that is a foreign organization. The State Department no longer includes Jamaat ul-Fuqra in their annual terrorism reports and the State Department says that is because of the gap in time since they actually orchestrated a terrorist attack and they have gone dormant. Some terrorism experts would disagree with that characterization but nonetheless the fundamental reason that this group is able to operate in America is because it's viewed as domestic and it does not carry the label of a foreign terrorist organization which would allow the authorities to go in and search their compounds and dismember this organization.

Gordon:  What evidence have you encountered that JF/ MOA–sponsored “villages” have been engaged in paramilitary training?        

Mauro:  That is confirmed in declassified FBI documents that the Clarion Project received. It is also confirmed in documentation from even people who used to be a part of the organization. The first is a videotape that another organization retrieved which shows Sheikh Gilani saying to the camera that this is a secret tape and the reason he's setting up these compounds across the America is for the express purpose of guerrilla warfare training. The tape then shows some of this training that can be offered which is very frightening. It involves knife training, shooting assault rifle and setting off of explosives. However, that training was filmed in Pakistan. You have a video of Sheikh Gilani saying I'm setting up these villages to offer training, to send recruits to Pakistan. The Clarion Project has another videotape showing it actually happening in Islamberg. We can prove the intention behind setting up these villages and then we can show that intention being realized.

Gordon:  What in your experience have been the responses of state and local law enforcement regarding investigation of complaints about JF/MOA para-military camps in their vicinities?

Mauro:  There are some that have fallen for the moderate game that Jamaat ul-Fuqra plays because you can see photos online of law enforcement officials having picnics with them as they say that they want to embrace positive relations, with communities and the U.S. Government. There is a PR effort here that I think has lead to a certain level of complacency. Others who are less ignorant of what's going on will say what are we supposed to do? If we have specific information about a specific individual engaging in a specific crime we can arrest them but how do you get that evidence if you are not inside of these compounds? If they go outside the compounds and you get evidence that they are engaged in criminal activity you can do something about it, but short of that there is really not much that you can do. One of the other things that I have noticed is that many in law enforcement don’t know about these groups, their villages or don't have the accurate information. When I informed them about it they quite frankly concerned about blowback if they were to take action. They feel that they are handcuffed and honestly the focus is on Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and self-radicalized individuals who are about to set off bombs that are easier to prosecute. They view that as being a wiser investment of their time. It's what builds your career as opposed to chasing a more difficult adversary like Jamaat ul-Fuqra when you believe that the chance is small that you are going to succeed in rounding them up.

Gordon:  JF/MOA has obtained recruits for its villages from prison converts to Islam. How significant is the Muslim population in US prisons?

Mauro:  It is the fastest growing faith inside of the prison system and what's more significant than the percentage that is Muslim, the real issue here is who are the clerics? There have been countless reports that Muslim Brotherhood texts and Saudi sponsored texts have made their way into the prison system. We know that Wahhabist organizations have printed literature for distribution in the American prison system. They are taking advantage of a perfect situation for radicalization for winning converts to their specific brand of Islam and Jamaat ul-Fuqra is no exception to that. We know that they recruit from the prison system that they recruit from gang members. What they say to these individuals is that we can keep you from a life of crime by isolating you from the evil American society, raise a family that is not corrupted by American sin, by the satanic Zionist conspiracy. They isolate them so that this radicalization process can really take hold in these communities, but at the same time there is also a financial benefit here because if you recruit criminals and they engage in selling counterfeit items or other fraudulent activities that can raise a lot of money.

Gordon:  What is the connection between Muslim Brotherhood front Group ISNA and the appointment of Muslim prison chaplains, some engaged in Islamist activities inside prisons?

Mauro:  The prison chaplains have to be endorsed by Muslim organizations. There has to be someone that vouches for you. You also need organizations that will provide texts and then will guide you through the process. In the 1990's when Abdulrahman al-Amoudi, who is a member of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood  currently serving a 23 year term Federal prison on terrorism charges. He set up the program for chaplains, for the military and for the prison system so there was infiltration right from the beginning.

Groups like ISNA were used to endorse Chaplains. I reported for the Clarion Project sometime in the past year that ISNA is again being used by the U.S. Military for recruiting Muslim Chaplains. So we see the U.S. Military and the prison system not understanding that some of these liaisons with the Muslim community promote extremism. We don't want that to happen and there has to be an educational effort so that these groups with these moderate PR strategies can be shown for the extremists that they actually are.

Gordon:  There are legislative proposals to ban the JF/MOA para-military camps. What progress have they made at both the state and federal levels?

Mauro:  We have seen efforts by Members of Congress to have the Iranian Revolutionary Guards labeled as a foreign terrorist organization so that Congress can take action. There is precedent here. The Clarion Project has been talking to staffs of future presidential candidates and members of Congress about these JF/MOA paramilitary camps. We received a lot of attention last year when we exposed one of these camps in Texas and Congressman Louie Gohmert said it was “appalling.” We have been talking to other members of Congress about how we go about hand we might handle this problem.

However, I have been very disturbed by how little knowledge there is of this problem and how slow the process has been. One of the successes we have had is that we brought together a dozen North American Muslim Groups to endorse our initiative for banning Jamaat ul-Fuqra as a foreign terrorist organization. They recognize that this group is bad for their faith, that they threaten Muslims like themselves. The classified FBI documents that we published say that they continue to possess an infrastructure capable of mounting terrorist campaigns inside and outside America, that they have a history of violence and terrorism and continue to preach violent Jihad. The criteria for becoming a foreign terrorist organization would be clearly met. Now it's just a matter of getting people to act and that's where citizens are going to have to stand up. They can provide this information to their Members of Congress and press them on it because I don't see much blowback from doing this. I think that Congressional representatives will be open to this proposal; however, there is an educational process that needs to happen. They need to know that people care about the issue and so I remain optimistic even if I am discouraged about how slow this process has been.

Gordon:  Thank you for this engrossing and timely article about the threat of the radical Jamaat ul-Fuqra Muslim of America para-military Islamic villages.

Mauro:  Thank you for the opportunity.

 

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Also see Jerry Gordon's collection of interviews, The West Speaks.

 

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