Abdelaziz had an opportunity to infiltrate the military squad by becoming involved with one of its key fronts: White Hawk Security International Inc.
The name was inspired by the spiritual significance of white hawks in Sufi Islamic teachings. A former MOA member said, “Whenever there was something resembling a white around around, people would stare and say it was Sheikh Gilani visiting.”
White Hawk Security International (WHSI) was based out of a secretive, well-armed commune in Meherrin, Virginia that many MOA members didn’t even know existed.
From its very beginning, MOA has formed security companies as fronts as part of its modus operandi.
Counter-terrorism sources aware of the federal investigation into WHSI said that the Meherrin camp was justifiably viewed as a “terrorist training camp.” It was protected by armed patrols and hostile to visitors. One source relayed an incident where the local police requested entry and were denied permission.
The training inside the camp was overseen by WHSI’s leader, Jamaal Johnston. His father, a bail bondsman, also played a leading role.
WHSI was like the “hub of the wheel,” as one source connected to the investigation put it.
It was/is a centerpiece of an overlapping web of other MOA fronts across the country. Associated entities were found in Texas, California, Michigan, South Carolina, Georgia and other states.
WHSI even worked with the Defense Commissary Agency to provide security for federal buildings in Richmond. The company and other MOA-associated firms sought federal contracts, particularly those offered to minority-owned businesses. The anxiety of the counter-terrorism investigators was raised when an effort to get a contract with the TSA was discovered.
As the military squad’s activities ramped up, WHSI opened a tactical shop and constructed an outdoor firing range. Johnston required a Federal Firearms License that permitted him to acquire and transfer guns and ammunition across state lines.
Johnston’s online postings of his resume show that he completed the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services training for becoming a correctional officer. He worked at a medium-security prison, Deep Meadow Correctional Center, from August 2003 to September 2004.
His various publicly available bios say he was registered as a “Security Officer, Private Investigator, Personal Protection Specialist, Alarm Respondent, Electronic Security Sales Representative, Electronic Security Technician, 12ga shotgun and Advanced Firearms.”
Johnston purportedly had certificates in “.38 rev, AR-14, Chemical Agents, Specialty Impact Munitions” and other specializations. Another skillset he listed was “Ultron II” and “React Belt System,” referring to a device used to disable inmates with electric shocks.
His resume shows he also worked at an armored car company and ADT Alarm Systems, a company that other trusted MOA members have been employed also.
Federal investigators believed that MOA military squad members were jumping from job-to-job to gather intelligence and experience for the group’s wider use.
As for WHSI, its advertised services appear innocuous, like those offered by many other security-related firms. But when you take into account its status as a MOA front, those skills and services must be viewed in a different, more dangerous context.
One 2011 advertisement in MOA’s newspaper for WHSI stated that it had an office in Caroni, Trinidad.
This is where convicted MOA terrorist and current senior official, Barry Adams, was deported back to after serving his time for spearheading a plot to kill thousands of people by setting off bombs in Toronto in 1991. His Trini accomplices were also sent back home.
The advertisement stated that White Hawk offered bodyguards, licensed bailiffs, security consultants, risk assessment, auditors, private investigators, debt collectors and 24-hour monitoring and response for clients.
More recent advertisements for White Hawk show that MOA is actually offering classes for those seeking to become a security officer for the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, as well as classes for concealed carry permits. Also offered are specialty workshops in “Active Shooter, Crime/Workplace Violence Prevention, Security Awareness [and] Gun Safety.”
Other services offered include custom security plans, security for sports arena and entertainment venues, travel security, and reviews of security departments.
It’s easy to understand why the federal authorities were ready to invest significant resources into investigating WHSI when it learned that it was stocking up on firearms. Thousands of dollars with unclear origins were being spent on purchasing Glock pistols and multiple AR-15 Bushmasters and accessories for them like lights and rails.
In 2005, it was found out that MOA military squad members were signing up for classes for aspiring security guards and bodyguards, such as instruction in advanced firearms and martial arts. They usually declared themselves employees of WHSI or some other front as a cover. One class that squad members took in Norfolk was for rifle instruction.
Federal investigators learned that MOA was using its business fronts to get training applicable for militant and criminal purposes, and then teaching the skills to other MOA members in the U.S., Canada and Pakistan. They felt there was a strong likelihood that the tradecraft was being passed along to Sheikh Gilani’s extremist associates outside of MOA.
According to two sources involved in the investigation, material from classes that the WHSI personnel took were later found in the possession of suspected terrorists overseas in Pakistan and, according to one recollection, Iraq.
The intelligence from overseas showed that the extremists were being taught about American security procedures.
A directive had been given for MOA members to become registered security officers so they could be placed in sensitive sectors, including positions that could grant them access to private, confidential and classified information.
The effort was described as “very methodical” and “very well-planned.” MOA’s use of shell companies was “like a fictional movie, making it almost impossible to see who owns what” and where money was coming from or going to.
The operatives dropped their Islamic attire to fit in, in accordance with MOA’s long-established protocol for what it calls “incognitos” selected for “missions.” MOA material from its earliest days refer to these terms and strategies for covert operations.
The squad’s prowess impressed those observing their movements. The WHSI personnel were “more accurate than probably 90% of the police officers who attended the target practice.”
The training and acquirement of weaponry were intensifying.
WHSI personnel were seeking permits for automatics and explosives. They were discussing how to install high-speed triggers in guns.
The company was looking to sell supplies to police departments and the Department of Corrections, such as flash bang grenades, riot shields, firearms and tactical equipment.
Personnel claimed they had gotten contracts with about 20 police agencies and correctional institutions. They successfully got a contract with the Defense Commissary Agency, providing security for discounted grocery stores on military bases.
At some point in the investigation, videotape was acquired showing MOA members in Virginia, including children, getting advanced guerilla-type training. It was beyond the very basic training that women at “Islamberg” were seen receiving in a previous video from 2001/2002.
The flows of money within the U.S. and to foreign countries was of increasing concern.
In one instance, WHSI leader Jamaal Johnston and other MOA members held a fundraiser in the form of a basketball tournament with teams from different camps. One witness said that Abdelaziz participated in at least one tournament, predictably boasting that he was “the best.”
Investigators had intelligence that caused a specific federal interest in the basketball games. Several sources say that money went to Sheikh Gilani in Pakistan, where authorities believed it was used to support terrorist activity.
Charities like MOA’s “Hands to Hands” organization was also raising money for “humanitarian aid” following natural disasters, particularly after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. This, too, was believed to be a money laundering scheme with terror ties.
Gathering the evidence necessary to reach the high threshold for prosecution, however, was difficult.
Almost all the observed activity was legal and committed by American citizens with constitutional protections. It isn’t illegal to be in an extremist cult, nor is it illegal to acquire firearms or to form a security company.
It was and is not illegal to belong to MOA or Sheikh Gilani’s network, as it is not designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
MOA had studied the law for decades. They avoided leaving behind evidence of illegal activity that was strong enough to led to search warrants, wiretappings and arrests. These were dedicated, security-conscious operatives who had clearly practiced anti-surveillance techniques.
For instance, key operatives were changing their cell phone carriers every few weeks and constantly getting new phone numbers. It was a daunting task to keep track of the myriad of false identities, name alterations and constant opening and closing of front organizations.
And the membership was fiercely loyal. Even those who started to have doubts about Sheikh Gilani’s ability to perform miracles and people who left the organization declined to help law enforcement.
The authorities needed a confidential informant who was trusted by MOA, one who the group saw as a valued asset for its more militant ambitions.
In Ali Abdelaziz, or “Aladdin” as they called him, they had an Arabic-speaking, supposed Olympian martial artist with a lot of money. MOA viewed him as a prime candidate for MOA’s military squad.