RED HOUSE, Va. Militant American Muslims operating out of rural communes in California and other Western states have targeted this rural Virginia community for an influx of members who have ties to Middle Eastern terrorists.
Law-enforcement authorities said the Muslims mostly converts are expected to join with radical Muslims living on 45 acres in this small Charlotte County community, 25 acres near Meherrin in neighboring Prince Edward County and on other parcels of land owned by the group’s members and supporters.
Muslims in the Red House area have been negotiating to purchase an additional 100-acre site in neighboring Campbell County, authorities said, adding that a number of the radical group’s members also have purchased smaller lots in the region.
The suspected Western exodus likely was sparked by the shutting down of Gateway Academy Charter School in Fresno, Calif. The 12-school charter, established in 1998 by Khadijah Ghafur, a Muslim convert, was closed by school officials after auditors found $1.3 million in public money was missing.
“They had a tremendous funding source here that dried up,” said Dennis Peterson, an investigator for the Fresno County District Attorney’s office. “They are no longer on the candy wagon, and without that money it’s going to be tough times.”
The California group numbers between 200 and 400 people, and members lived on a 1,000-acre tract in the Sierra Mountain foothills. Guarded by an armed post at the entrance, the encampment known as Baladullah, or “City of God” was the site of the International Quranic Open University, founded by Sheik Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani as an educational arm of Muslims of America, a group he founded.
The community drew the attention of local law-enforcement agencies last summer after a man studying at the university, Ramadan Abdullah, was arrested and charged in the slaying of a Fresno County sheriff’s deputy.
Trial in the case is pending.
Signs posted last week at the Baladullah compound announced the pending withdrawal: “Everything must go,” said one of the placards in announcing a yard sale. Several of the homes at the site were deserted.
Tulare County Sheriff’s Lt. Greg Langford told the Fresno Bee he was told by some families at the compound that they would be gone by July.
The Red House and Meherrin Muslims, who number between 200 and 300 people, including women and children, have been linked to various money-laundering operations and weapons violations, and are believed to have aided and abetted various terrorist groups, authorities said.
Annual Holy Days gatherings at the Red House site, operated by Muslims of America, have drawn between 400 and 500 people from around the region.
Law-enforcement authorities said they believe radical Muslims are seeking to create a patchwork of “hide-outs” in rural southern Virginia for would-be terrorists and other extremists. They said the sanctuaries have been established to follow the teachings of Sheik Gilani.
Sheik Gilani is a Pakistani cleric who founded the tax-exempt Muslims of America in 1980, which is linked to Jamaat al-Fuqra, a terrorist group committed to waging jihad, or holy war, against the United States.
In addition to providing safe harbor for an unknown number of American Muslims faithful to Sheik Gilani, authorities believe members of Jamaat 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. “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.”
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was on the way to meet Sheik Gilani in Pakistan when he was kidnapped and later killed. Mr. Pearl was investigating accusations that shoe-bomb suspect Richard C. Reid was one of Sheik Gilani’s followers. Sheik Gilani was not charged in Mr. Pearl’s death.
Sheik Gilani’s followers have set up rural encampments throughout the United States and Canada that federal authorities believe are linked to murders, 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.
One of the Red House Muslims, Vicente Pierre, was convicted in November of two felony firearms violations. Three other members of the Red House commune have been arrested on weapons charges in the past year, including two after the September 11 attacks.
During a September detention hearing for Pierre, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent Tom Gallagher described al-Fuqra as a “violent, black Muslim extremist sect that acts out jihads against perceived enemies.”
The State Department has said al-Fuqra seeks to purify Islam through violence.
Authorities said the FBI notified California law-enforcement agencies in the early 1990s, asking them to keep an eye on the Muslim community in the Sierra foothills. Last year, U.S. marshals arrested James Hobson, who was visiting Baladullah, on a firearms warrant out of South Carolina, where al-Fuqra has another encampment.
The case of the missing school funds in California is similar to an operation the group had in Colorado, which was shut down in 1993 by state law-enforcement officials. Five al-Fuqra members were convicted of defrauding the Colorado government of approximately $350,000 through bogus worker’s compensation claims.
Muslims of America 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.”
Raids by police in 1992 and 1993 on a 101-acre Muslim commune in central Colorado turned up bombs, automatic weapons, ammunition and plans for terrorist attacks. At least two of the communes in New York and California have shooting ranges.