JIHADI TRAINING CAMP CONTINUES TO BLOSSOM
WELCOME SIGNS REMOVED
The “Welcome to Islamberg” sign has been removed from the entrance to the Jamaat ul-Fuqra paramilitary compound at the foothills of the Catskill Mountains.
But the compound appears to be thriving as young African American men in Islamic garb patrol the dirt road that leads into the densely forested community.
Also visible are clusters of women – - African American and Pakistani – - in full burqas, as they commiserate before the single wide trailers and school age children who play on the hillside.
No shots are heard coming from the firing ranges at the eastern perimeter of the 75 acre property and no grunts from new recruits at the obstacle courses.
But roosters – - new to the compound – - crow at regular intervals.
The large banner proclaiming that the Islamberg is the home of Sheikh Mubarek Gilani’s “International Quranic Open University” has also been torn down, along with the roadside placards announcing the existence of “the United Muslim-Christian Forum” in the settlement.
The residents who inhabit Islamberg are not environmentalists. Sewage seeps from septic tanks and outhouses into the creek that flows at the base of the settlement. Bags of rotting garbage remain stacked between the trailers.
The once pristine countryside is now littered with junk cars, moldy mattresses, empty tanks of propane, and old appliances.
All along Roods Creek Road that leads from Interstate 71 to the heart of the compound are new Muslim settlements that resemble run-down trailer parks in rural Georgia.
Some local residents still complain about the site, including the training in guerilla warfare.
But others have come to realize that their complaints to local, state, and federal law enforcement officials have fallen on deaf ears.
“We’re used to it now,” one local realtor in Hancock said. “They’ve been here for as long as many of us remember.
Islamberg was established in 1980 by Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, a Pakistani cleric who served as the imam of the Yasin Masjid in Brooklyn.
A quack practitioner of something called “Quranic psychiatry, Sheikh Gilani presented himself to the Brooklyn congregation as “the sixth Sultan ul Faqr,” with a lineage that dates back to the prophet Mohammed. He claimed to have supernatural powers that came from his regular reception of visits by jinn and “non-human beings.”
Sporting ammunition belts, Gilani called upon members of a Black Muslim street gang known as Dar al-Islam (DAR) to take part in the holy war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Hundreds answered the call and headed off to training camps in Pakistan, which had been established by Osama bin Laden, and other members of the mujahadeen.
Under Gilani’s direction, the DAR transformed into Jamaat ul-Fuqra (“the community of the impoverished”) and continued its prison ministry under Muslims of the Americas, a new, non-profit corporation. The sheikh soon came to realize that it would be financially advantageous to train new recruits for the holy war on American soil rather than shelling out the freight of sending them to Lahore and Peshawar. He purchased a seventy acre parcel of land near Green Haven; set up a firing range and an obstacle course; bought a slew of old single-wide trailers; and created a paramilitary compound called Islamberg.
When released from the federal prison, former convicts now received not only the customary $10 and a suit of clothes but also a one-way ticket to Gilani’s compound.
The tiny little village in the Catskill Mountains came to include a make-shift learning center (dubbed the “International Quranic Open University”); a trailer converted into a Laundromat; a community center; a grocery store; forty clapboard homes, hundreds of single-wide trailers, and a masjid.
A sentry post was erected at the entrance to the compound where armed guards remained on watch day and night.
What took place at Islamberg and the International Quranic Open University? The answers came from Sheikh Gilani in his recruitment videos: “We give [students] specialized training in guerilla warfare. We are at present establishing training camps. You can easily reach us at Open Quranic offices in upstate New York or in Canada or in South Carolina or in Pakistan.” Similarly, in a handbook, published by the university, Gilani wrote that the foremost duty of all students is to wage war against “the oppressors of Muslims.”
The students were expected to sign an oath that reads: “I shall always hear and obey, and whenever given the command, I shall readily fight for Allah’s sake.”
The place became off limits to outsiders – - even to the local undertaker who delivered bodies to the complex from the local hospital but never gained entrance. “They come and take the bodies from my hearse. They won’t allow me to get past the sentry post. They say that they want to prepare the bodies for burial. But I never get the bodies back. I don’t know what’s going on there but I don’t think it’s legal.”
The complex at Islamberg came to loom over the small towns of Deposit and Hancock like the mythical Castle Dracula in Transylvania. “If you go there, you better wear body armor,” a customer at the Circle E Diner in Hancock said in 2007. “They have armed guards and if they shoot you, nobody will find your body.”
At Cousins, a watering hole in nearby Deposit, a customer said: “The place is dangerous. You can hear gunfire up there. I can’t understand why the FBI won’t shut it down.”
From 1982 to 1992, Gilani established other compounds (called “hamaats”) in such places as Hyattsville, Maryland; Falls Church, Virginia; Red House, Virginia; Macon, Georgia; Commerce, Georgia; York, South Carolina; Dover, Tennessee; Buena Vista, Colorado; Talihina, Oklahoma; Tulane Country, California; Squaw Valley, California; Onalaska, Washington, and Toronto, Ontario.
Members of Jamaat ul-Fuqra soon became convicted in US courts of such crimes as homicide, conspiracy to commit murder, firebombing, gun smuggling, grand theft, counterfeiting, and workers’ compensation fraud. Others remain leading suspects in criminal cases throughout the country, including ten unsolved assassinations and seventeen fire-bombings between 1979 and 1990.
In 1989, federal law enforcement officials conducted a raid on the 101-acre hamaat in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The officials recovered a multitude of handguns with obliterated serial numbers and silencers, semi-automatic weapons, thirty to forty pounds of explosives, three large pipe bombs, improvised explosive devices, shape charges, blank birth certificates, counterfeit Social Security cards, sets of Colorado drivers’ licenses with identical photos and different names, and manuals entitled “Guerilla Warfare” and “Counter-Guerilla Operations.”
The feds also came upon several silhouettes for target practice, including one with the words “FBI Anti-Terrorism Team” written on the target’s torso bulls-eye. In the course of a subsequent raid on the complex, the feds uncovered a weapons cache of military rifles that included American M-16s and M-14s and Soviet AK-47s.
The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center was conducted, in part, by aleged members of ul-Fuqra, including Clement Rodney Hampton-El (a.k.a., “Dr. Rashid”) and Iyman Farris.
Other prominent ul-Fuqra associates reportedly came to include Richard Reed, who attempted to blow-up a trans-Atlantic jetliner with explosives concealed in his shoe, and John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the Beltway snipers.
In 2001, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al Qaeda leader in charge of 9/11, sent Zacarias Moussaowi to live with ul-Fuqra member Melvin Lattimore (a.k.a., Mujahid Abdul-Qadder Menepta) in Norman, Oklahoma so that Moussaowi could attend flight school with Mohammed Atta and other 9/11 operatives at the Airman Flight School. The gracious Lattimore opened his doors not only to Moussaowi but also to Nawaf al Hazmi (a.k.a., Rabia al Makki) and Marwan al-Shehhi, two of Atta’s fellow hijackers.
Lattimore had been convicted in 1979 of stockpiling weapons and explosives in a St. Louis mosque and his credit card was used to purchase materials for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. In 1995, while residing at the ul-Fuqra compound in Talihina, Oklahoma, he was spotted on several occasions in the company of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Despite the association with McVeigh, Lattimore was never taken into custody and subjected to an extensive grilling. His name does not appear in the 9/11 Commission Report. He received favored status from the Justice Department since he was listed as an FBI informant.
On June 30, 2005, federal law enforcement officials finally descended upon Islamberg but not to make arrests or to investigate the reports of gunfire and explosions. They rather make the trek to the compound to take part in a communal picnic in honor of the Muslim Boy Scouts of America.
Following the visit, Agent Philip Irizarry sent the following note to his new-found friends:
Assalamu alykum Hussein,
I just wanted to thank you again for a great day yesterday. It was a pleasure presenting to the boys. As I said they had excellent questions. The boys also demonstrated their appreciation and enthusiasm for having us present to them, and it was very much appreciated by Mike, JP and myself (sic). I have attached the pictures we took memorializing the event and we look forward to the graduation in August, Inshallah. Please send the boys and camp staff. Salaams on our behalf.