- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

Federal authorities have "ratcheted up" an investigation into suspicions of money-laundering, weapons violations, and other aiding and abetting of terrorist groups by a militant sect of black Muslims that is operating out of rural communes throughout the United States.

The investigation is based on surveillance of activities between a Muslim settlement in southern Virginia and a suspected Middle Eastern terrorist leader.

The newly enhanced investigation began shortly after Pakistani cleric El Sheik Sayyid Mubarik Ali Gilani was arrested last month in the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

Sheik Gilani, leader of a terrorist organization known as al-Fuqra, was taken into custody after law enforcement officials learned of communications between the sheik and a commune of the Muslims of America Red House, Va.

Law-enforcement authorities said yesterday that Justice and Treasury department investigators are involved in a comprehensive review of the militant organization, founded by Sheik Gilani in 1980.

The Muslims of the America, a tax-exempt corporation registered in several states, has documented ties to al-Fuqra, which has been linked to numerous firebombings and murders in the United States and Canada.

Authorities also cited evidence that Sheik Gilani recently received money from California, where a charter school district run by Gilani disciples was the focus of a state investigation into $1.3 million in missing government money.

The collection of charter schools, collectively called GateWay Academy Public Charter School, was shuttered last month after GateWay officials could not account for the money.

Authorities said the al-Fuqra probe has become an FBI priority under the newly passed anti-terrorism bill known as the USA Patriot Act. FBI agents at the bureau's Washington headquarters have contacted several field agents for additional information on the communes and have begun to question potential witnesses, authorities said.

The renewed effort also is based on evidence gathered in prior cases, a search of land and tax records, increased surveillance and numerous ongoing interviews. Much of the new inquiry is based on several weapons cases developed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and other cases prosecuted by state authorities in Colorado.

A former community of the Muslims of America in Colorado was found in 1993 to have sent money to Pakistan, funds that were scattered into more than a dozen Pakistani banks. That money later was linked to Sheik Gilani, said Susan Fenger, then an investigator for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

"That money was traced out of our state to New York, then hand-carried to Pakistan by trusted members of al-Fuqra," Miss Fenger said. Several members of the Colorado group later were convicted of crimes including racketeering and forgery.

The latest investigation is focused on Muslim communities composed entirely of black Americans in New York, California, South Carolina and Virginia.

The groups, which operate under several names but all adhere to the teachings of Sheik Gilani, own rural land in those four states, from the 1,800-acre commune in California to 45-acre and 25-acre parcels in southern Virginia.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, some federal agents in the case were told to wrap up quickly investigations of the militant Muslim organization so they could concentrate on the September 11 investigation. But agents have since taken what one law-enforcement authority confirms as a "renewed interest in the organization."

Mr. Pearl was seeking to interview Sheik Gilani when he disappeared Jan. 23 in Karachi, Pakistan. He was doing research for a story on militant Muslim sects, including al-Fuqra.

Pakistani police said Mr. Pearl had gone to a restaurant in hopes of arranging an interview with Sheik Gilani. His contact, they said, was a man he knew as Imtiaz Siddique.

Sheik Gilani has been taken into custody by Pakistani police but has not been charged in the case. The Muslim cleric has denied any knowledge of the abduction but has promised a war against "infidels."

The cleric, who is estimated to be around 60 years old, calls his followers "soldiers of Allah." In a videotape obtained by The Washington Times, Sheik Gilani calls on American Muslims to help him form an "international organization."

"We have reached out and prepared them to defend themselves in a highly specialized training in guerrilla warfare," he says, referring to two camouflage-clad black men flanking him. "Life is becoming more hard for Muslims. Therefore, every man and woman will learn to defend himself or herself."

Sheik Gilani left the United States shortly after the first attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 1993 for his hometown of Lahore. Before then, he was active in recruiting black Americans to send to Pakistan for training in explosives and weapons.

Al-Fuqra members are suspected of 13 firebombings and 17 murders in the United States.

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