Interview with David Bowers: Chaffee County Undersheriff

David Bowers as an undersheriff in Chaffee County and played a leading role in the investigation into the Jamaat ul-Fuqra network in Colorado, ultimately culminating in raids on a 101-acre terrorist training camp in Buena Vista; two Fuqra/MOA safehouses in Colorado Springs and two safehouses in Williamsport, Pennsylvania on October 8, 1992.

The following is his testimony to Professor Ryan Mauro, who is the national security analyst of the Clarion Project and spearheads the organization’s Fuqra Files project:

The first time that I heard the term, “Jamaat Al-Fuqra,” was during the investigation into the occupants of the Trout Creek Pass compound. That initial awareness was the result of one of the children living at the property being brought to a medical clinic in the nearby town of Buena Vista. He had been brought in for having ingested kerosene lamp oil.

The staff at the clinic contacted me out of concern for the safety of the child. They stated that the woman acted very suspiciously and was reluctant to answer many of their questions.

Subsequent surveillance of activity on the property led to the discovery that numerous people were living there in a communal lifestyle and that obvious measures were taken by those living on the property to maintain a perimeter of physical security at all times.

On several occasions, the male individuals were observed conducting military-style physical training, martial arts training and organized firearms training on a firing range that had been constructed to facilitate the training of eight to ten persons at a time.

It was also observed that during certain times of the day everyone was assembled in a building on the property for what would appear to be a religious ceremony and, based on the dress and appearance of the women, it was suspected that the ceremonies were Islamic in nature.

It was at this point that I reached out to the FBI for any information on suspected activity by the several occupants we identified as living on the property. The FBI declined, at first, to acknowledge having any knowledge of the suspects or any connection between the group and illegal activity. But they immediately offered to assist in any investigation that went forward and assigned a Special Agent to “look into” the information that I was gathering.

Over the course of the next several months, it became obvious through cooperative efforts with the FBI that they had in fact begun gathering information on the group’s activities as early as 1980. Prior to the information received from our investigation, they had recently gathered information from the Colorado Springs Police Department concerning the discovery of several items of evidence recovered from a warranted search of a storage locker linked to the property occupants and found documents related to the purchase of the property by Gilani.

The FBI shared my information with the Colorado Springs Police Department, who subsequently contacted me. Together with the Colorado Springs Police Department and later the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, we began investigating crimes against the people of the State of Colorado in an effort designed to disrupt and shut down the activities of the group and basically put them out of business.

Together, myself and investigator Bill Lindh of Colorado Springs Police Department began to gather intelligence from around the country about Al-Fuqra and learned that the group was a fundamentalist Islamic sect that advocated the purification of Islam through acts of force and violence carried out against any and all those who were considered enemies of Islam or infidels.

I spent several months educating myself about the ideology of fundamentalist Islamic sects. From that moment in time going forward, it was an investigation of piecing together similar activities of the group and learning of their connections to acts of violence all across the U.S.

Most state and local law enforcement agencies at that time were not versed in the dangers that the fundamentalist Islamic ideology posed. Many were reluctant to recognize Al-Fuqra as anything more than a religious sect and did not consider them to be a threat.

As the investigation continued on, it became apparent that fundamentalist Islamic groups did in fact pose a threat to the security of the community, and that they were working solely towards financing Sheikh Gilani through a continuing series of criminal acts including the theft of goods, identity theft, fraudulent collection of welfare benefits, fraudulent worker’s compensation claims, etc.

Their fundraising schemes were very sophisticated. They studied our system and probably knew the holes in it better than we did.

James D. Williams, the leader of the Colorado Fuqra, and his associates used an international security company named Professional Security International (PSI) to transfer money, as an alibi for travel, and to get security jobs at locations that would give them access to files suitable for identity theft and workman’s compensation fraud. They could research potential targets, gain intelligence and knowledge from their positions and were always interested in any opportunity that would allow them access to sensitive facilities and document banks.

The women took jobs at doctor’s offices, hospitals, clerk’s offices, etc. to get access to medical records and other files to facilitate workmen compensation fraud and other ways of illicitly financing the group. They’d get taxpayer money, for example, by falsely claiming to be injured on the job and then take the money and give it to Gilani in Pakistan. One X-ray of a man with a shoulder injury was used to file claims for five or six different people under different names.

Fuqra was full of professional criminals who were very good at all kinds of criminal activity and making it so prosecutors would lack the evidence to file charges, even if it was obviously engaging in criminal activity. Often, when they thought they were close to being discovered, they’d suddenly disappear. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t really exist anywhere except on paper.

They used every means of getting taxpayer money. Female members would rent houses in several locations, being at a different house on different days, meeting with different social workers in order to collect benefits. The paperwork made it look like the benefits were going to 5 or 6 different families, but it’d be the same one. The workmen compensation fraud was really just the tip of the iceberg.

They sometimes committed robberies to get weapons and other supplies. There was a big robbery in Ohio and I remember we were looking at a theft from an armory at Fort Lewis in Washington State. Some of the weapons taken from the armory were later found in the tunnels at the Colorado camp.

The investigation also showed, for the first time, Al-Fuqra’s ties to firebombings across the country, along with the murder of Rashaad Khalifa in Tucson, Arizona. As the local investigation pressed forward, the FBI took a stand-off approach and only wanted to be involved in the collection of our investigative efforts to further their intelligence base and “ongoing investigations” into the group’s activities.

The FBI did form the Denver Joint Terrorism Task Force and included Colorado investigators as part of the JTTF for the purpose of collecting that intelligence and in order to have access to the local investigations. Despite evidence clearly implicating them in the involvement in terrorist activity, the FBI and the Justice Department took no active steps to pursue prosecutorial action against the members of the sect in charging them with Domestic Terrorism.

I briefly met with Gilani during the course of the investigation when he was in America. He refused to talk other than to say that he had no involvement with the group and refused to answer any questions. He insisted that he was a peace-loving man and had no knowledge of the actions of those in charge of the compound.

It should be noted that among the items found at the compound were photos of different memebrs of the group with Gilani and a photograph of Gilani taken with the Blind Shiekh Omar Abdel Rahman, who would later be implicated in the first World Trade Center bombing. Other photos and posters of the Blind Sheikh were also found throughout the camp.

The first search warrant was written and executed in 1992 on a local investigative level and it netted even more documentary evidence about the level to which they were committed to jihad and to the financial support of Gilani’s efforts to expand Al-Fuqra inside the U.S. and still no charges were brought federally.

The search warrant netted evidence to support the crimes alleged in the affidavit of criminal defrauding of the State of Colorado in numerous worker’s compensation claims. Numerous documents and photographs were discovered that showed they were gathering information to identify potential targets including power transmission substations and power lines, natural gas pipelines, municipal water supply facilities and pipeline infrastructure for the Otero Pump Station that supplies water to Colorado Springs and the Roberts Tunnel that carries water to Denver. They were deemed to be targeting packets.

Also discovered were documents and communications showing a direct connection with Gilani’s Open Quranic University located in upstate New York and other Fuqra “Jamaats” across the U.S., with photographs of Gilani at other compounds.

A file was recovered that contained written applications for several Jamaat members to become members of a group identified only as “Soldiers of Allah.” There were plans mapping out phone numbers and locations of public payphones located near each communal location.

There were also photographs of an individual known to law enforcement as Stephen Paul Paster taken together with members of the group at the opening of the storage tunnels. Paster had been arrested by Englewood Colorado Police in 1985 on a warrant from the State of Oregon for the firebombing of a hotel in Portland in which he managed to blow off several of his fingers and injured his face and eyes.

The Englewood police had also found information at the time of Paster’s arrest that indicated he was communicating with a group known as Fuqra. When they went to the FBI with that information at the time of Paster’s arrest, they were told that no information existed concerning the identity of that group and no further investigation was pursued.

Located a short distance from the main residence occupied by James D. Williams, the leader of the Colorado Fuqra, was a simple wooden outbuilding that concealed an elaborate radio and satellite communications structure that was in the process of being completed, including a 12-foot satellite dish and long-distance amateur radio transmitters and antennas, with documents providing radio frequencies, indicating a plan to be able to communicate with Lahore, Pakistan, where Gilani lives.

The same structure also housed video camera monitors and cabling that was being set up to provide video monitoring of the entire 101-acre compound. Nearby was an elevated guard watchtower and several underground storage tunnels that were being mined out into rock formations located away from the living quarters and mosque.

Two weapons caches were found inside two of the roughly finished tunnels that had been constructed, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition and remote-controlled devices that could have been fashioned as detonators or remote-firing devices for explosives.

The living conditions and treatment of members of the compound were also suspect, with reports of abuse of women and children living in the compound but no physical evidence to a level that we could have warranted charges. There is, however, no doubt in my mind, that the women and children living at the compound and used as pawns in the schemes to fund Gilani’s operation, were being regularly victimized by the application of Sharia Law in their day-to-day lives.

During both search warrants that were conducted at the Trout Creek compound, several of the older male children ranging in age from 10 to 14, were mostly all found in possession of and carrying on their belts, military-style knives.

None of the children or women located on the property, between 25 and 35 in number at any given time, would look directly at or speak to officers and investigators. It was obvious that they had bene told not to cooperate or interact with anyone outside of their adult guardians.

All of the women and children appeared to be living together in a single mobile home that had been moved onto the property by James D. Williams. He and his wife occupied the only house located on the property. For these reasons, I feel that, by putting a stop to their activity in Colorado, we also protected and positively changed the lives of those women and children.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t collect data on the kids. We don’t know where they are now. I often wonder what they’re doing–whether they somehow escaped the group and built a new life, or if they stuck with it, or if they joined another radical group.

State and local investigators were formally recognized by the FBI for their involvement in the investigations, which resulted in the arrest and conviction of members of the Fuqra organization across the U.S. and in Canada. However, at a meeting in Denver where local law enforcement investigators were asked to present the findings of the investigation in an effort to define the suspected motives of the Fuqra group and the threat that we believed they posed, FBI Director William Sessions remarked that we “watched too much television.”

Following the convictions in Colorado, the FBI continued the investigation and had the case sealed as part of an ongoing federal investigation. This put them in control of the release of information about the investigation in Colorado and future investigations.

As to why the other Fuqra camps escaped scrutiny by law enforcement, it is my opinion that in those other cases, law enforcement turned the investigations and information over to the FBI in lieu of actively pursuing local and state charges, as was the case in the arrest of Stephen Paul Paster in Englewood.

In the 1992 Colorado case, law enforcement instead actively sought to charge and incarcerate them for crimes against the State, realizing that this would substantially disrupt their operation and force them to seek another sanctuary from which to continue funding Gilani.

I give much of the credit for carrying out that decision to then-Attorney General Gayle Norton and her staff who were receptive to the investigative and prosecutorial strategy independent of the FBI and Department of Justice.

It wasn’t until the information on Fuqra was declassified by the FBI in 2014 that it became available. Your finding of that information and your efforts to educate the public about the presence of this threat, and the true story of how long this threat has existed and been allowed to basically go unchecked by the Federal Justice System, is to be commended.

 

in First-Hand Testimony