Accused snipers may be followers
By Jerry Seper and Steve Miller
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Federal authorities are investigating whether accused snipers John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo had ties to a growing sect of militant American Muslims committed to waging holy war against the United States.
Law-enforcement authorities yesterday said investigators want to know whether the suspects — now awaiting separate murder trials in Virginia — were involved with Jamaat al-Fuqra, a militant Muslim group with documented ties to international terrorism that has been linked to 13 slayings and 17 firebombings in the United States and Canada.
The al-Fuqra network, through an offshoot group known as the Muslims of America, has established a patchwork of more than two dozen communes from New York to California, including a sizable retreat in Red House, Va., 30 miles south of Lynchburg, where as many as 200 people live in trailers in a guarded community.
FBI agents assigned to the sniper investigation task force were in Red House last week, seeking information on whether Mr. Muhammad and Mr. Malvo had ties to that community or whether they had used the site as a hide-out during a 23-day killing spree in Virginia, Maryland and the District that left 10 persons dead and three others wounded.
Charlotte County Sheriff Thomas D. Jones, whose jurisdiction includes Red House, said that while FBI agents did not establish any specific link with the southern Virginia commune, agents told him "there had been a connection at a similar community in Georgia."
Sheriff Jones did not elaborate and federal authorities declined yesterday to comment on the ongoing sniper investigation.
Mr. Muhammad, 41, and Mr. Malvo, 17, were arrested Oct. 24 at a Maryland highway rest stop and initially held on federal warrants. Mr. Muhammad has since been moved to Prince William County and Mr. Malvo to Fairfax County, where they face capital murder charges.
The earliest known al-Fuqra attack occured in 1983 in Portland, Ore., when Stephen Paster, an al-Fuqra leader, was accused of setting off a pipe bomb at a Portland hotel. He served four years of a 20-year sentence and while suspected in two other bombings in Seattle in 1984, was never charged in those cases.
Mr. Muhammad converted to Islam in 1984 and, as a former U.S. soldier, was stationed at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Wash., at the time of the initial al-Fuqra attacks. Al-Fuqra also was named in the August 1984 slayings of three India natives in Tacoma and in a series of fire bombings in Seattle.
One law-enforcement official noted yesterday that the sniper killings began Oct. 2 — the anniversary of the 1995 conviction of World Trade Center bombing ringleader Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman and others, including members of al-Fuqra.
"There are a series of coincidences here involving Mr. Muhammad and al-Fuqra that have to be followed," said the official. "Even if the investigation leads nowhere, it would be negligent not to pursue every angle."
As many as 3,000 al-Fuqra members are believed to live in the Muslim communes across the country, some of which have been identified by authorities as having shooting ranges. The State Department said al-Fuqra, or the "the impoverished," seeks to purify Islam through violence.
Many of the group's members are recruited out of prison, authorities said, adding that secrecy is the hallmark of the sect and that members are trained, among other things, in the use of aliases.
"The groups doing the recruiting appeal to the recruit's sense of disenfranchisement," said Susan Fenger, a former Colorado state investigator who helped prosecute several al-Fuqra members in the early 1990s.
Four members of the Red House commune have been arrested on weapons charges in the past two years, including two after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed more than 3,000 people.
Al-Fuqra communes have been established to follow the teachings of Sheik Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani, a Pakistani cleric who founded the tax-exempt Muslims of America sect in 1980. Sheik Gilani left the United States for Lahore, Pakistan, in 1993, shortly after the first attack by Muslim terrorists on the World Trade Center.
The organization also is suspected of having ties to Richard C. Reid, the British man accused of trying to use explosives in his shoes to blow up a Paris-to-Miami jetliner Dec. 22. 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 Reid was one of Sheik Gilani's followers. Sheik Gilani was not charged in the Pearl death.