RED HOUSE, Va. Federal law enforcement agencies are investigating whether a radical Muslim sect here is laundering money into Pakistan, law enforcement authorities said yesterday.
Authorities, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Jamaat al-Fuqra a militant group with documented ties to international terrorism is the focus of the probe, which includes the fraudulent procurement of social services money.
Al-Fuqra is linked through court documents to Muslims of the Americas, a tax-exempt group established in the United States in 1980 by Sheik Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani. The group has set up and funded rural communes that federal authorities say are linked to murder, bombings and other felonies throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Sheik Gilani was arrested last week in Pakistan in connection with the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The radical Islamic cleric remains in the custody of Pakistani authorities.
Al-Fuqra is also suspected of ties to Richard 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 operates communes of mostly black, American-born Muslims in Binghamton, N.Y.; Badger, Calif.; York, S.C.; and Red House, a rural village south of Appomattox, Va., law enforcement officials said.
To reach the Muslims of the Americas community in Red House, visitors turn down Sheik Gilani Road and drive past a large green sign that is bright and readable from the main road: “Muslims of America” in both English and Arabic.
Twenty large trailers are homes to a community that varies between 100 and 200 people, many of them women and children. A newly equipped playground and a nearly completed mosque sit near the rear of the settlement. Residents come into the two-store town to buy diesel and retrieve mail from post office boxes.
A man at the compound’s gate guardhouse declined to comment and referred reporters to a statement in a newspaper founded by Sheik Gilani, the Islamic Post.
“Many times the press and others have come into our midst to investigate and have only found a diverse American community,” reads the article. “Our Sheik does not condone nor teaches us to condone violence, especially against the innocent.”
In Virginia yesterday, Charlotte County Administrator Russell B. Clark outlined his concerns about the settlement and conferred privately with FBI agents about to how to deal with the community.
He noted that the settlement was delinquent in property taxes and has numerous zoning violations.
“We do not want to put our employees in danger, but these deficiencies must be addressed and corrected,” Mr. Clark told the county Board of Supervisors at a meeting yesterday. He said later that if warnings issued by terrorism experts were true, “we would not like to put anybody in jeopardy” in county efforts to remedy the problems.
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.
The money laundering scheme here, officials said, is similar to a Colorado operation that was shut down in 1993. Colorado law enforcement agencies convicted five al-Fuqra members of defrauding the Colorado government of approximately $350,000 through bogus worker’s compensation claims.
The concerns of Charlotte County officials are based on cautions issued by people who have dealt with al-Fuqra before.
“If I lived in Virginia, I would be worried, very worried, about these guys,” said Doug Wamsley, a deputy district attorney in Jefferson County, Colo. Mr. Wamsley was a key part of the law enforcement team that raided the 101-acre Muslim commune in central Colorado.
He said that their initial search of the Colorado commune turned up bombs, weapons and plans for terrorists attacks.
“When we executed our search warrants, we found a cave with 30 firearms in it,” Mr. Wamsley said. “Most of those firearms were military knockoffs, like AK-47s. We also found ammunition 6,000 rounds.”
Another investigator in Colorado, Susan Fenger, warned that failing to treat these communities as serious threats could have dire consequences.
“The Fuqra has various broad schemes to take government entitlement money and use it to fund terrorist activities,” said Miss Fenger, who was the lead investigator in Colorado’s prosecution of the al-Fuqra members.
“This money goes to Pakistan, to their leader,” she said. “Our government should be watchful because this is going on in our own back yard.”
Last fall, federal authorities laid out their case against the Virginia al-Fuqra group in court. Vicente Pierre, a former resident of the Colorado compound, was convicted of firearms violations.
During a September detention hearing for Pierre, Tom Gallagher, special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said that al-Fuqra is 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.”
At least two of the communes in New York and California have shooting ranges. The 1,800-acre settlement in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in California has an airstrip.
The California commune was where 20-year-old Ramadan Abdullah resided when he was arrested in connection with the fatal shooting of a Fresno County sheriff’s deputy in August. He had come to the commune from the al-Fuqra settlement in New York.
Last week, the California Department of Justice, armed with 11 search warrants, seized the schools’ computers along with 100 boxes of documents.
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 U.S. government to murder.
Some state and local law enforcement officers say that federal authorities have been hesitant to aggressively move in on these communities.
“They are scared by the specter of Waco and Ruby Ridge,” said an officer in Colorado. “There were ATF agents who were in on the raids in Colorado that refused to be part of the team that moved in.”