Jamaat ul-Fuqra (JF) or "community of the impoverished", a terrorist outfit operating in Pakistan and North America, was formed by a Pakistani cleric, Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, in New York in 1980, on his first visit to the US. Mubarak Gilani's intention in forming the outfit was to 'purify' Islam through violence.
Ideology, Leadership and Structure
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’.
The JF is loosely structured with certain elements working openly through social service organisations to recruit members, raise money, organise activities and carry out propaganda. Individuals selected to live on JF premises agree to abide by the law and discipline of the Jamaat ul-Fuqra. Investigations by the Colorado Attorney General's Office in the 1980s indicated that the JF was composed of approximately 30 different 'Jamaats' or communities, more or less mobile in nature. Most of these 'Jamaats' are reportedly existent even today along with what investigators discerned to be several covert paramilitary training compounds, one of which had been located in a mountainous area near Buena Vista, Colorado prior to the Colorado prosecutions in the mid-1990s.
Within 10 years of its formation, Fuqra's communes in the US attracted many Muslim converts-including some of those recruited in prisons. The JF is said to comprise of some 1,000 to 3,000 members in the US. Secrecy is the hallmark of the outfit and cadres are reportedly well versed in the use of aliases. The Fuqra’s structure is well concealed behind front outfits and consists of a network of safe houses and cells. Furthermore, the JF founder as well as cadres consistently maintain that it does not exist. JF members occasionally travel abroad for ‘paramilitary and survivalist training’ under Gilani's supervision.
Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, who also calls himself the sixth Sultan Ul Faqr, is the chief of JF.
Jamaat ul-Fuqra is headquartered in Hancock, New York.
Areas of Activity and Influence
Although 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.
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 Carolina and Red House in Virginia. JF is reportedly linked through court documents to the Muslims of Americas. There is also a road in the name of Sheikh Gilani in the vicinity of Virginia. The cult houses between 100 and 200 people, many of them women and children in about 20 huge trailers. There is also a Virginia newspaper, the Islamic Post, founded by Sheikh Gilani.
Linkages and Incidents
Jamaat al-Fuqra, also described as a cult, is currently the focus of a probe by US authorities for charges ranging from links with terrorist groups to laundering money into Pakistan.
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. He was suspected but not charged in two other bombings in Seattle in 1984 - the bombings of the Vedanta Society temple and the Integral Yoga Society building. Currently, Paster is reported to be based in Lahore, Pakistan, from where, intelligence sources say, he provides explosives training to Fuqra cadres.
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. Among the arms recovered were handguns, semi-automatic firearms, explosives, pipe bombs, bomb components and several bombs. Some of the seized documents described the activities and code of the "Muhammad Commandos of Sector 5," who were reportedly involved in arms training and intelligence gathering. 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. A Canadian jury convicted three American JF cadres of conspiracy to commit mischief and endanger life. A fourth suspect, who had come to Canada from Pakistan shortly before the planned bombing, fled to Pakistan after his colleagues' arrest, according to evidence presented at the trial.
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.
Gilani has reportedly admitted to receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in donations from America. A large segment of JF members have been convicted of criminal acts, including murder and fraud. With the US State Department outlawing Fuqra and listing it as one of the proscribed groups in its annual reports, the activities of the outfit decreased relatively. The JF supports various terrorist groups operating in Pakistan and in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir. Sheikh Gilani has linkages with Islamist terrorist groups like the Hamas and Hezbollah. Although dormant in terms of real activity, JF has an active link with the terrorist groups in Pakistan and provides both moral and material assistance to these groups.
JF cadres are suspects in at least 10 unsolved assassinations and 17 firebombing cases between 1979 and 1990.
In 1993 Fuqra members in Colorado were convicted of participating in a conspiracy resulting in the killing of a Muslim religious figure in Arizona.
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.
Gilani is now in Pakistani custody for the abduction of US journalist Daniel Pearl. Official sources in Pakistan have indicated that Daniel Pearl was attempting to meet Gilani in the days before he disappeared in Karachi. Pakistani police arrested Gilani in Rawalpindi on January 30, 2002 and shifted him to Karachi for questioning. Although he denied any link to the abduction, police also detained several of his colleagues. Consequent to his arrest, he reportedly told his interrogators that he had links with the Pakistani intelligence agencies.
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 house in Virginia believed to be linked to the JF was raided by police in December 2001 and two persons were arrested for illegally purchasing guns.
Three suspected US-based JF members have been arrested on weapons charges in the year 2001, including two following the September 11 multiple terrorist attacks. Vicente Rafael Pierre, a 44-year-old native of Brooklyn and his wife Traci Upshur, both JF cadres, were arrested on gun charges and convicted on November 30, 2001. Pierre's Virginia compound, near the Red House Commune, is reported to have served as a JF base.
A money laundering scheme run by the Red House Commune is reportedly similar to a Colorado operation that was shut down in 1993. Colorado law enforcement agencies convicted five JF cadres for defrauding the Colorado government of approximately $350,000 through bogus workers’ compensation claims. Prosecuting agencies have indicated that the amount had been laundered through Professional Security International (PSI), a JF security firm, and Muslims of the Americas. A portion of the funds was tracked through PSI to JF couriers who traveled to Pakistan. The PSI reportedly enabled JF cadres to obtain federal licenses to buy weapons. The Fuqra is also suspected of having two more security firms located in New York.
The Fuqra also reportedly has various broad schemes to take government entitlement money and utilise it to fund terrorist activities. The commune in Colorado is spread across 101 acres and police recovered bombs, weapons and plans for terrorist attacks in a raid in the year 1993. Two other communes in New York and California have shooting ranges. The 1,800-acre settlement in the Sierra Mountains in California also reportedly has an airstrip.
In a February 22, 2002 interview, Gilani said his ‘contribution’ to the ‘Kashmir cause’ since 1947 and to the Afghan Jehad were on record. In the same interview, Gilani claimed that both the governments of Pakistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) had requested him to mobilise his university students to project the cause of Kashmir in the US through the media by holding rallies and informing the public. To this end, he claimed that the Kashmir-American Friendship Society was formed in 1993.
Gilani is currently under investigation for his alleged links to the al Qaeda terror network of Osama bin Laden and for money laundering from the US into Pakistan and vice versa. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating connections between a small black Muslim community in California's Sierra Nevada valley, called Baladullah and the JF. The FBI reportedly looked into Baladullah, a community of 30 Muslim families, while investigating into JF’s activities at a remote Virginia settlement, where one person was convicted in November 2001 on charges of federal firearms violations.