COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Blades. AK-47s. M-16s. Bomb-making materials.
The weapons cache, hidden in abandoned mine shafts, was immense.
And, that wasn’t all.
In a remote mountain camp just outside Buena Vista, Colorado, law enforcement raided dozens of members who grafted themselves into a radical Islamic ideology. Men, women, children – living on a 101-acre compound, learning the ways of jihad as taught by their leader: Sheikh Mubarak Al Gilani, a Muslim leader, headquartered in Pakistan.
But it was 1992, long before we experienced terrorism for what it is. Many didn’t realize the capability – or crimes – associated with the group, Ul Fuqra, or “The Impoverished” in Arabic. But its goal, in many ways, was similar to that of ISIS and Al Qaida: cleanse and restore Islam. Ideological ties went deep: Gilani and Osama bin Laden were associates, according to investigators.
Despite appearances – no running water or working electricity and members living a polygamist lifestyle – Ul Fuqra’s camp in Chaffee County was sophisticated: members bought the land and sustained the camp using money they bilked from the state, using fake workers compensation claims, sometimes under non-existent businesses.
The system worked for years – $355,000 – was amassed before state investigators sniffed it out.
“It appeared to be the same person using different identities,” said Susan Fenger, Chief Criminal Investigator with the Department of Labor and Employment. “They claimed leg injuries, but their injuries were obtained while they were training at the camp.”
Each person had three to four names, and ultimately, it added up: Fenger was able to tie the claims together by looking at the suspects’ handwriting samples.
But the tangled web extended well beyond Buena Vista and fraudulent workers’ claims. In 1989, a report of “suspicious activity” at a storage locker came into the Colorado Springs Police Department. Inside, detectives found powder, CO2 cartridges, wires, batteries, a dozen handguns – and “a bunch of stuff written in English, which talks about jihad and waging a holy war,” recalled retired Lt. William Lidh, with CSPD, “A bunch of concerning stuff.”
The discovery ended up being a missing piece in cracking unsolved firebombings and murders across America – tied to Ul Fuqra.
Multiple packets were inside the storage locker: one detailing a prior firebombing at the Hare Krishna Temple in Denver; another prior firebombing of The Rajneesh Hotel in Portland; another with plans to firebomb targets in Los Angeles; another with instructions on how to kill Imam Rashaad Khalifa in Tucson. Khalifa was warned, but killed months later in exactly the same way the documents detailed.
The discovery led to dozens of suspects, and to several safe houses in Colorado Springs.
WHERE ARE THE MEMBERS NOW?
After the raid, it was reported most members, left. The Colorado Attorney General's Office could not tell us where the members now live -- or even if it tracks where the members are.
Nor could the FBI.
Sheikh Mubarak Gilani would be 81 now, and is reportedly living in Pakistan.
Only one of the men associated with the Colorado group remains in prison.
James D. Williams, the Colorado ringleader -- was convicted of conspiring to kill and racketeering. Before he was sentenced, he escaped, only to be caught again years later. Today, he is serving time at the Bent County Correctional Facility, and is eligible for parole in nine years. He didn't respond to our repeated requests for an interview.
James Upshur, who was behind the elaborate workers compensation claims that funded Ul Fuqra, was released early on "good behavior" in 2005. No parole officer watches him.
Edward Flinton, who conspired to kill the Muslim cleric in Tucson, was discharged and is last known to be living in Florida.
Edward Mcghee served time for racketeering, conspiracy, fraud and theft, and has since been discharged.
Vincent Pierre served time, only to be arrested again for illegally buying guns in Virginia for another Fuqra compound there.
Steven Paster, who was injured while bombing the Rajneesh Hotel, escaped hospital care in Portland, and was arrested as a fugitive in Englewood, Colorado. After serving time, he is reportedly living in Pakistan.
UL FUQRA NOW
Despite being suspected of more than 13 firebombings, and at least that number of murders in the U.S., Ul Fuqra has never been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the Department of Homeland Security, due to inactivity.
But, according to the Colorado Attorney General, Ul Fuqra's academic arm, the Quranic Open University in Los Angeles has received more than $1.5 million for charter school funding.
The group, Muslims of America, operate many compounds in the U.S., but deny any link to Ul Fuqra -- despite adhering to much of the same literature, authored by Gilani.
In 2002, American Journalist, Daniel Pearl was beheaded in Pakistan, attempting to interview Sheikh Gilani for his alleged connections to shoe bomber Richard Reid.