The past half-year has been turning sour for a U.S.-based jihadist cult with a terrorist history that claims to be establishing â€œpeacefulâ€ Islamic villages across America. The group is being affected by multiple arrests of its members while it prepares for the impending death of its leader in Pakistan.
Since May, five reported members and associates of Muslims of America (MOA) have been arrested for crimes ranging from murder to illegal weapons possession to running illicit drugs to forgery. MOA used to be known as Jamaat ul-Fuqra.
While itâ€™s not clear that any of these illegal acts were directed by the groupâ€™s leadership or directly connected to MOAâ€™s communes, previous arrests and declassified documents show that the U.S. government believes MOA and its leadership in Pakistan use revenue from drug sales and engage in extensive trafficking of firearms.
Muslims of America, which was founded in 1980, has claimed to have 22 camps and compounds secluded in isolated areas of the United States, located in such states as Texas, Virginia, New York, South Carolina, Georgia and more.
Some of the locations were built for the express purpose of providing members Islamic guerrilla warfare training.
The Pakistani leader of MOA, Sheikh Mubarak Gilani, was recorded in a secret recruitment video saying the purpose of the camps is to â€œprepare them to defend themselves and give them highly specialized training in guerrilla warfare.â€
In the private video, he tells his American Muslim followers, â€œWe will train you to be like tigers and lions.â€
Problems for the group started in April of this year when Jihad Ray, 27, was arrested for murder after shooting Brandon Hernandez, 22, outside an after-hours nightclub on the West Side of Binghamton, NY.
Jihad Ray, who one source says has stayed at the â€œIslambergâ€ commune that hosts the organizationâ€™s headquarters in Hancock, NY, pled guilty to Hernandezâ€™s shooting death on October 18.Â Â Heâ€™ll be sentenced to 18 years in prison on December 14.
A motive for the killing is unclear, though police suspect it was gang related.
Shortly following the death of Hernandez, police arrested longtime MOA associate Ramadan Abdullah on multiple counts of criminal weapons possession. Our sources say it set off panic within the group.
Police originally detained Abdullah on May 31 after security at a Gander Mountain Store in Johnson City, NY saw him steal four boxes of ammunition.Â A search warrant of Abdullahâ€™s residence led police to then search a storage locker he was renting in the town of Union.
Inside the storage locker police seized eight assault weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition, 64 high-capacity ammunition feeding devices, flak jackets, .50 caliber armor piercing incendiary rounds and such weapons as shotguns and rifles.
New York State Police Major James Barnes said, â€œIn my time, approximately 25 years, this is one of the largest ones (weapons seizures) Iâ€™ve ever seen.â€
Abdullah has been indicted on 15 charges of criminal weapons possession and one charge of petty larceny.
MOA denies having any association with Abdullah but admitted that the group had made contact with him long ago.
A MOA spokesperson claims Ramadan Abdullah tried to join the group years ago, but they rejected him because members were â€œvary wary of him.â€ MOA did not elaborate on that interaction and only admitted to it once. All other comments deny any kind of direct or indirect connection to him.
As MOA was frantically trying to organize and strategize a public face over Abdullahâ€™s arrest, it suffered another serious setback with the arrest of Akuan â€œBleekâ€ Johnson, 38, of Binghamton, NY.
Johnson was arrested, along with nine others, on September 20 as part of a law enforcement investigation into an Arizona-to-Binghamton methamphetamine pipeline.
Johnson is a reported member of a gang called the Land Boys, which insiders say is a gang of MOA members that often commit crime while living off of the main communes.Â The investigation, called Operation Hail Storm, recovered six pounds of meth, more than $60,000 of cash and three handguns.
Less than a month after Johnsonâ€™s arrest, Hanza Muhammad, 26, was arrested for the murder of John White, 22, in Syracuse, NY.
MOA insiders say that Muhammad is related to Hussain Abdallah, a founding father of MOA and prominent leader of the group.
Hussain Abdallah is best known among MOA members as K1, meaning Khalifa One (the head of MOAâ€™s American operations).Â He was recently demoted when Sheikh Gilaniâ€™s son, Sultan Gilani, assumed the role of K1 this past summer, but Abdallah remains a highly respected senior leader.
Muhammad was arrested on October 20 near Port Dickerson, NY after fleeing the murder scene in Syracuse.Â Â Details of the killing are sketchy, say Syracuse police.
What is known is that Muhammad shot White multiple times around midnight on October 8 during a heated argument.Â The pair had reportedly been arguing most of the day.Â White was transported to Upstate University Hospital where he died a short time later.
Muhammad fled the scene and his whereabouts were unknown to police for the next 12 days.Â NY State Police issued an APB on Muhammad and with the help of a license reader, he was finally apprehended without incident near Port Dickerson.
Informers inside MOA say that Muhammad has stayed at MOAâ€™s â€œIslambergâ€ headquarters in Hancock, but moved to Syracuse on his own.
Within days following the arrest of Muhammad, Johnson City police arrested Megan McQueen, 31, in New York.Â McQueen is a self-professed member of MOA, according to inside sources.
She was jailed for allegedly using the stolen credit card of an elderly woman and purchasing $1,616 in merchandise.Â She has been charged with several criminal offenses, including forgery, identity theft and possessing stolen property.
Although these arrests indicate that law enforcement may be becoming more pro-active against MOA, the authors are not aware of any evidence that law enforcement or the Trump Administration is about to launch a broad crackdown or raids on MOA communes, as MOA worried about after Trumpâ€™s election victory.
Declassified Government Documents Reveal Bigger Picture
There is no specific evidence showing that the 10-person drug running network operated under the leadership of MOA or that the revenue was transferred to the organization.
However, previous arrests and investigations of MOA members involved in drug trafficking indicate these are more than typical drug crimes.
Drug Enforcement Administration documents from 2004 to 2007 show that several suspected MOA members were arrested in upstate New York and the cooperating agencies â€œbelieve that through a narcotics distribution network these individuals were generating funds and then taking these funds back to the compoundâ€ known as Islamberg in Hancock.
Members in this same area of New York made money transfers to the MOA leaders in Pakistan where Sheikh Gilani is based.
Other declassified files obtained by the Clarion Project and posted at the Fuqra Files database show a broader pattern.
There was also a DEA investigation into MOA drug trafficking in Virginia from 2005-2007, which included warranted searches of several MOA residences. The documents state:
â€œMuslims of America [MOA] is a domestic terrorist group suspected of using drug proceeds to finance terrorist activities in Southwest Asia.â€
Files from yet another DEA investigation in 2004-2005 into MOAâ€™s branch in Texas conceded it did not have proof that members in that particular state were trafficking narcotics, but it stated:
â€œHowever, other cells within this organization have been documented by various local, state and federal law enforcement agencies as having involvement with illegal drug trafficking, firearms violations and ties to a radical Muslim cleric in Pakistan… This organization was alleged to be involved in drug trafficking and funneling some of the proceeds to a Muslim cleric in Pakistan.â€
Newly-obtained DEA documents from a 2004 investigation into MOA drug trafficking between Virginia and Delaware state that the MOA suspects were working with a Mexican cocaine trafficking group. One suspect was described as â€œhaving a leadership role within the MOA.â€
Panic Within the Organization
Multiple independent informers inside MOA tell us that its leaders are growing increasingly nervous over the arrests and questionings of its members and associates, and that it may mean they are under greater scrutiny from law enforcement.
Sheikh Gilani held an emergency meeting via satellite last month with some MOA members to express his frustration with his American followersâ€™ perceived recklessness.
â€œThey [MOA members who witnessed the conversation] said he was really pissed off. He was upset that they keep getting busted,â€ one informant said.
Sheikh Gilani, according to our sources, reassured members that the arrest of Ramadan Abdullah would not lead to a broader crackdown because he supposedly had a divine dream from Allah.
Mawyer & Mauro Publicly Challenge Sheikh Gilani In Response to Threats
We are aware from our MOA-affiliated sources that private conversations have taken place between MOA members that involved threats of violence against the authors of this article in retaliation for our coverage and exposure of it.
We challenge Sheikh Gilani, if he is as moderate and non-violent as he claims, to issue a public fatwa and private instructions to MOAâ€™s members declaring that no Muslim may physically harm us under any pretext or at any time.
We have repeatedly said that it is unequivocally wrong for civilians to harass, threaten, intimidate or attack MOA members and camps. We stand ready to report anyone intending to harm MOA members to the authorities. We challenge Sheikh Gilani to do the same for us.
Lazy, Pro-MOA Media Saving the GroupÂ
Although MOA is internally reeling from having five of its members or associates connected to murder, weapons seizures, forgery and transporting illicit drugs, it has still been receiving very favorable media attention these past few months, with The New York Times and the Associated Press leading the way.
MOAâ€™s documented history of bombings, assassinations and other criminal activity, as well as its long history of being a hate group with an extremist ideology, is almost never mentioned by media outlets covering the group.
Also never mentioned are FBI documents from 2003 about MOAâ€™s links to Al-Qaeda, publicly-available information about its ties to other Islamist extremists and the groupâ€™s expressions of solidarity with the Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist group.
MOAâ€™s moderate public presentation is widely accepted on face value by mainstream media outlets eager to portray MOA as victims of â€œIslamophobia.â€ They are assisted by â€œnothing to see hereâ€ comments from some local and state police spokespeople, often filled with inaccuracies and omissions about the most basic information.
For these â€œjournalistsâ€ and officials, the abundance of evidence, includingÂ statements from governmental reports and first-hand testimony is to be disregarded, lest their pro-MOA narrative be jeopardized.
Although MOA can take some solace and relief that they can so easily manipulate the media, they know the public â€“ and more importantly â€“ some law enforcement is less willing to be their puppets on a string.