Consider, if you will, a group whose members live "free from the decadence of a godless society" in guarded and insular communities in the rural United States. Additionally, consider that some members of this group have been convicted on a variety of weapons, fraud and terrorism charges. Those who assume we are once again addressing right-wing extremists such as the Aryan Nations would be wrong. Although we do believe that right-wing extremists pose a threat
to the security of the United States, the group we describe does not give its compounds names like Elohim City, the infamous compound of white supremacists in Adair County, Okla. Instead they call them Islamburg (N.Y.), Ahmadabad (Va.) and Holy Islamville (S.C.). The group is Jamaat al-Fuqra — Arabic for "community of the impoverished" — founded in the 1980s by Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, a religious figure from Pakistan who incorporated the group as a tax-exempt organization under the name Muslims of the Americas. Its educational arm, the Quranic Open University, takes American Muslims to Pakistan for training, expecting them to return and instruct others. Residents of Muslims of the Americas communities keep a low profile, display a benign image and most of all deny the existence of Jamaat al-Fuqra. They claim to be peaceful people who simply are attempting to escape the decadence of American society. Actions by some of the residents, however, belie that claim. Many of the original al-Fuqra members were converts to Islam, and most were African Americans. However, one of its first members — and its first bombmaker — was Stephen Paul Paster, who converted from Judaism to Islam. Paster was convicted for his role in the 1983 bombing of a Portland, Ore., hotel owned by the Hindu Bhagwan Rajneesh cult from India. He also was tried and acquitted on charges stemming from two other West Coast bombings. Upon his release from prison, Paster moved to Lahore, Pakistan, to join Gilani and other instructors at the Quranic Open University, where he allegedly helps to teach what Gilani calls "advanced training courses in Islamic Military Warfare." The U.S. government claims that al-Fuqra members were involved in 13 bombings and arsons during the 1980s and 1990s and were responsible for at least 17 homicides. Many of these attacks targeted Indian groups such as the Hare Krishnas, or heterodox Muslim groups such as the Ahmadiyya sect. In 1991, five al-Fuqra members were arrested at a border crossing in Niagara Falls, N.Y., after authorities found their plans to attack an Indian cinema and a Hindu temple in Toronto, Canada. Three of the five later were convicted on charges stemming from the plot. According to sources, many al-Fuqra members have fought in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Lebanon, Bosnia and Chechnya. Several members also have been affiliated with the al-Kifah Refugee Center — popularly known as the Brooklyn Jihad Office
. Group member Clement Hampton-el, for example, provided weapons training to several people associated with the Brooklyn Jihad Office. One of those men, El Sayyid Nosair later would use that training to assassinate the Rabbi Meir Kahane in Manhattan. Hampton-el was convicted along with several other men, including Nosair's cousin, Ibrahim Elgabrowny and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as The Blind Sheikh, in the 1993 New York Bomb Plot Case, and sentenced to serve 35 years. More recently, police investigators working on the D.C. sniper case tied convicted killer John Allen Muhammed to al-Fuqra. Rumors also surfaced that "Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid was connected to the group. Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, in fact, was investigating the Reid/al-Fuqra connection and was in the process of attempting to interview Gilani when he was abducted and killed. In addition to Hampton-el, several other members of al-Fuqra are in federal and state prisons on a variety of weapons charges and convictions stemming from worker's compensation, credit card, welfare and driver's license fraud. The group allegedly uses its imprisoned members to recruit other prisoners. Furthermore, it was revealed during Hampton-el's trial that one of the organization's tasks was to recruit American veterans to fight in Afghanistan. Al-Fuqra members own several security companies, which provide a source of income and security for the group and its compounds, but also offer a plausible explanation for the presence of firing ranges on the properties — a cover for the paramilitary training that allegedly is conducted at the compounds. Perhaps most disconcerting is that al-Fuqra's cadre of battle tested jihadist warriors — men who refer to themselves as "Soldiers of Allah" and "Mohammed's Commandos" — are mostly Americans who legally can obtain U.S. passports and operate in the United States without raising suspicion. As the United States advances its war on terrorism abroad and takes measures to tighten immigration procedures in order to protect U.S. citizens from foreign militants, it is important that authorities not overlook America's homegrown jihadists.