By Ryan Mauro • National Security Analyst, Clarion Project•
The “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, best known for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, has just died in prison, but his “work” lives on. He was not only a U.S.-based leader of the Gamaa Islamiyya terrorist group, but part of the connective tissue of an interconnected jihadist network that still operates today.
The “Blind Sheikh” and his U.S.-based network were like a cornucopia of jihadist offerings. His Gamaa Islamiyya, Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas, Jamaat ul-Fuqra (now known as Muslims of America) and other jihadist entities all overlapped “in a sort of terrorist ‘Internet,’” as one congressional testimony explained. It is through this “Internet” that the Blind Sheikh’s work lives on.
The best example is Jamaat ul-Fuqra, now known as Muslims of America, which is best known for its “Islamberg” headquarters in New York and its claim to having 22 such “Islamic villages” across the country. The Clarion Project has launched a comprehensive website about the organization at FuqraFiles.com.
A section of the Fuqra Files website documents the close ties between Fuqra and the Blind Sheikh. It is an odd match considering Fuqra’s ideology as a Sufi cult but was useful to the Blind Sheikh due to the group’s criminal experience and robust infrastructure including remote enclaves and jihadist training sites.
The Blind Sheikh was one of the very few Islamic preachers that Fuqra’s Pakistan-based leader, Sheikh Gilani, openly preached in support of. Despite being a cult dedicated to Gilani, authorities found posters of the Blind Sheikh when they raided Fuqra’s 101-acre terrorist training camp in Colorado in 1992.
Various law enforcement sources have told the Clarion Project that Fuqra had concrete links to the Blind Sheikh’s bombing of the World Trade Center and planned follow-up attacks. Some of the Blind Sheikh’s top operatives belonged to Fuqra’s network.
In fact, the links between Fuqra and Blind Sheikh were so strong that a 1993 intelligence report by the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare said that Fuqra’s militant operations in the U.S. were essentially under the control of the Blind Sheikh, with Sheikh Gilani acting mostly as a spiritual leader.
Fuqra still operates in the U.S. today. The Clarion Project recently published a FBI report from 2003 warning that Fuqra has links to Al-Qaeda and members go to Pakistan for guerilla warfare training and possible involvement in other jihadist groups.
The Blind Sheikh essentially contracted some of his dirty work to other groups, such as Islamist criminal gangs. For example, Marcus Robertson, who led “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves,” served as a bodyguard for the Blind Sheikh, as did jihadists associated with Hamas. Today, Robertson leads a radical Islamic seminary in Florida.
The Blind Sheikh’s jihadist collaborators continue to be active enough for the NYPD to gather intelligence on some of them. One such example was Mohammed El-Shinawy, the son of a close associate of the Blind Sheikh’s. Elshinawy preached at two major Islamist mosques in New York, Masjid at-Taqwa (whose imam was also very close to the Blind Sheikh) and Masjid al-Ansar.
Another close associate of the Blind Sheikh’s, Hesham El-Ashry, also spoke at the mosque frequently and preached that the U.S. would suffer from violent jihad if the Blind Sheikh was not released. Notably, the Blind Sheikh’s release was a top demand of the Muslim Brotherhood after it took over Egypt, again reflecting the interconnectedness of the Islamist web.
The NYPD had a wealth of information justifying its intelligence gathering on these subjects. Predictably, the Islamists sued the NYPD, accused the police of anti-Muslim discrimination, elevated the radicals as persecuted victims and won favorable media coverage.