- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2002

FARMVILLE, Va. A radical Muslim sect with ties to international terrorism is seeking to create a patchwork of "hide-outs" in rural southern Virginia for would-be terrorists and other extremists, according to law-enforcement authorities here.
These sanctuaries, which are communes located throughout the sparsely populated, hilly countryside, have been established to follow the teachings of Sheik Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani. One encampment, in nearby Red House, has named its main thoroughfare "Sheik Gilani Road."
Sheik Gilani is a Pakistani cleric who founded the tax-exempt Muslims of the Americas sect in 1980, which is linked to Jamaat al-Fuqra, a terrorist group with a stated commitment to bringing jihad, or holy war, against the United States.
Sheik Gilani is believed to have left the United States in 1993, shortly after the first attack by Muslim terrorists on the World Trade Center.
In addition to providing safe harbor for an unknown number of black American Muslims faithful to Sheik Gilani, authorities believe that members of al-Fuqra are involved in laundering money bound for Pakistan.
"We know these places have become hide-outs for some of the organization's most violent members," said one law-enforcement official familiar with an ongoing investigation by federal, state and local authorities into the al-Fuqra organization.
"The faces of those we have seen in the communities are continually changing. It's unclear who's there at any given time and what they're doing," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
But Sheik Gilani's followers have set up rural encampments throughout the United States and Canada that federal authorities say are linked to murder, bombings and other felonies. It is not clear to authorities where the organization gets its funding, other than a few local odd jobs by group members.
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.
Annual Holy Days gatherings at the Red House encampment have drawn between 400 and 500 people from around the region, according to E.T. Lewis, who lives on an adjacent 150-acre ranch. He said he has maintained cordial relations with his neighbors, but is aware of their commitment to Sheik Gilani.
"These are not the same Muslims that you hear about on television," Mr. Lewis said. "Sometimes they tell you they are Muslims, sometimes they tell your they are your neighbors. But there are a lot of different people there all the time."
Other neighbors said that airplanes circle the commune daily, well aware that these Muslims, who profess peace, are the subject of scrutiny by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
"You hope that it's the FBI or the ATF in those planes," said Gary D. Walker, chairman of the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors. "But we never know."
Several years ago, some members of the board accompanied by deputies went to the gate of the commune to check on reported zoning violations. They were turned away. More recently, the county was preparing to move on those same violations.
"The [federal] authorities have asked us to lay low," Mr. Walker said. "We have a 50-cent problem; they have a million-dollar problem."
Owners of a gun shop in the area said members of the Muslim communities have bought several weapons over the past few years. They said their weapons of choice are high-priced, heavy-caliber handguns, which are purchased legally by members of the communities who possess valid Virginia driver's licenses.
The owners said most of the purchases occurred before the September 11 attacks including several men who purchased their legal limit of one handgun every 30 days.
"They are very polite, and they know the law," said one owner. "They show not only valid licenses, none has come up with a criminal record."
The gun-store owners also are aware of the group's devotion to Sheik Gilani as well as al-Fuqra. They sold weapons to Vicente Pierre, who was convicted in November of two felony firearms violations.
Reports of gunfire at the Red House site have stopped since the September 11 attacks and Pierre's arrest.
During a September detention hearing for Pierre, ATF Agent Tom Gallagher described al-Fuqra as a "violent black Muslim extremist sect that acts out jihads against perceived enemies Hindus, members of the United States, people they feel have Jewish ties."
Al-Fuqra also is suspected of having ties to Richard C. Reid, the British man accused of trying to use explosives in his shoes to blow up a Paris-to-Miami jetliner Dec. 22.
Muslims of the Americas also have established communities in New York, California and South Carolina. The organization claims to be nonviolent, saying in a recent statement that Sheik Gilani "does not condone nor teach us to condone violence, especially against the innocent."
Despite repeated denials, three members of the Red House commune have been arrested on weapons charges in the past year, including two following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed more than 3,000 people.
During raids in 1992 and 1993 on a 101-acre Muslim commune in central Colorado, state authorities turned up bombs, automatic weapons, ammunition and plans for terrorists attacks. At least two of the communes in New York and California have shooting ranges.
Since 1980, dozens of people with ties to al-Fuqra in the United States have been jailed for an array of crimes, from schemes to defraud the government to murder. They have been linked to a dozen murders and 17 firebombings in the United States and Canada.

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