Paul L. Williams, Ph.D., with the able assistance of Patrick Walsh and Michael Travis, returns to Islamberg, New York:
Islamberg resembles a ghost town.
The Muslim settlement captured national attention two years ago when a story entitled “Springtime in Islamberg” appeared in Atlas Shrugs, Canada Free Press, and other news pages. Since the publication of this expose, Islamberg became an item of interest for ABC News, Fox News, CNN, and other national news outlets; a subject of attention by such best-selling authors as Robert Spencer and Brigitte Gabriel; and the centerpiece of a documentary by Christian Action Network.
But much has changed within this 70 acre Islamic settlement that is located in the dense forest between the small rural villages of Deposit and Hancock in upper New York State.
The sentry post is gone and no guards are in sight.
A handful of children play in the mud and muck before rows of rusty old trailers and a few women in full burqas saunter along the rutty dirt road that leads to the heart of the squalid Muslim compound.
Young men in Islamic garb no longer congregate before the makeshift mosque, and no students are in attendance at the one room shack that serves as Sheikh Gilani’s “International Quranic Open University”.
The few residents who remain, clearly 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. And the once pristine countryside is now littered with junk cars, moldy mattresses, empty tanks of propane, and old appliances.
Gunfire no longer can be heard from the firing ranges along the eastern parameter of the 70 acre property – – and no grunts come from new recruits at the obstacle course.
A new sign at the entranceway reads, “Welcome to Holy Islamberg: The International Quranic Open University.” Next to this sign, which features the image of a mosque emerging from the mountains, is a pot of plastic carnations. Another sign proclaims that the community is home to the “United Muslim — Christian Forum.”
Such statements of welcome are offset by the “No Trespassing” signs that have been nailed to trees throughout the compound.
On the opposite side of the road leading into the community is a rack of metal mailboxes bearing such names as Abdul-Haqq, Abdul Jalil, Mumim Roberts, Abdullah Simonds, and Salam Insan.
What has happened to this once bustling complex of radical Islamists – – a place where the cries of muezzins were accompanied by the incessant rat-tat-tat of machine gunfire? Where are the Arab dignitaries that used to visit this remote community in chauffeur-driven limousines? Where are the armed sentries who warded away all intruders?
“The place was scary,” a barfly at Cuzin’s Tavern in Deposit, says. “The last time I went there, I was surrounded by twenty-five Muslims with shotguns and Uzis. I haven’t heard much about it lately.”
Is the place still scary?
A recent visit confirmed the following:
(1). Islamberg contains massive underground bunkers that are interconnected by a network of tunnels. A building contractor, who resides in Sherman, Pennsylvania – – approximately 15 miles from Islamberg, says that he helped to install the bunkers and that the paramilitary training that formerly took place at the firing range and the obstacle courses now takes place now takes place at these subterranean locations.
(2). The compound is no longer centralized. Many of the wannabe jihadis have moved to nearby locations, including a trailer park less than a mile away.
(3). The community is engaged in a public relations campaign designed to present Islamberg and other Jamaat ul-Fuqra compounds as peaceful settlements that pose no threat to national security. In keeping with this campaign, Islamberg now proclaims itself to be the “International Headquarters” of the newly created “United Muslim — Christian Forum.”
(4). There are bodies buried in Islamberg. This fact remains to be investigated by local law enforcement officials.
A cult member meditates at the shallow grave of a dead comrade.
(5). The residents of Islamberg reside in squalid and unsanitary conditions that violate New York State health and safety codes.
CREATING THE COMPOUNDS
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, purchased 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, of course, 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 writes that the foremost duty of all students is to wage war against “the oppressors of Muslims.” The students are 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 all 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 Cuzins, 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.”
THE OTHER COMPOUNDS
From 1982 to 1992, Gilani established other compounds (called “hamaats”) in such places as Hyattsville, Maryland; Falls Church, Virginia; Red House, Virginia; Macon, Georgia; York, South Carolina; Dover, Tennessee; Buena Vista, Colorado; Talihina, Oklahoma; Tulane Country, California; Squaw Valley, California; Onalaska, Washington, and Toronto, Ontario.
REIGN OF TERROR
A homegrown terrorist group, as nefarious as al Qaeda, had come into being. 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.” They 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 members of ul-Fuqra, including Clement Rodney Hampton-El (a.k.a., “Dr. Rashid”) and Iyman Farris.
Other prominent ul-Fuqra associates are 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.
UL-FUQRA AND 9/11
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 this, 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.
THE FBI VISIT
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 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.
Our sources have reported similar disappearances of young Muslim males from compounds and Islamic Centers across the United States and Canada. Please stay tuned.