Bomb Probe Eyes Pakistan Links Extremist May Have Influenced Reid

by Farah Stockman
The Boston Globe
January 6, 2002


LAHORE, Pakistan - The investigation of Richard Colvin Reid, the British national arrested aboard an American Airlines flight with explosives in his shoes, has led authorities to one of Pakistan's most secretive and controversial spiritual leaders, a man who over the past 15 years has brought more than 100 US citizens, mostly African- Americans, to Pakistan for religious and military training.

US officials believe that Reid, like the American converts, was a follower of Sheik Mubarik Ali Gilani, according to a Pakistani government official who has been asked by the United States to search for traces of Reid's past in Pakistan.

"He was there," said the official, referring to Gilani's walled compound in Lahore.

A member of Gilani's large extended family also said that Reid had visited the home. Both the Pakistani official and the family member declined to be identified. But a spokesman for Gilani's network of followers said that Reid, 28, is unknown to them and called the report that he was a follower of Gilani a conspiracy to discredit the group, which has been targeted by the United States since the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

"He is not a follower, and he is not known to any of the people within our system," Khalid Khawaja, a close friend of Gilani, said of Reid. "If there was anything like that, we would have known it."

The Pakistani official said he is also looking into reports that Reid had other contacts in Lahore, including a group of Muslim preachers at a religious training center known as Raiwind. Reid may also have met with Nizam Din Shamzai, a virulently anti-American mufti, or senior Muslim cleric, in Karachi, the official said.

Arrest calls attention to little-known group

The search for Reid's past has captured the attention of investigators since his arrest Dec. 22, when he was subdued on a flight from Paris as he allegedly held a match to the fuse in his shoe.

The suspected link with Gilani's group sheds light on a little-known group of mostly African-American converts who trained for jihad, or holy war, in Pakistan.

Reid, son of a black Jamaican and a white Englishwoman, was desperately poor, like many recruits. But exactly how Gilani, who is known as a charismatic speaker, touched his life is unclear.

Reid reportedy converted to Islam after a troubled youth of petty crime and began to attend a mosque in Brixton, South London, that was also frequented by Zacarias Moussaoui, who has been charged with involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But Reid, who also used the names Abdel Raheem and Tariq Raja, disappeared in 1998, worshipers at the mosque said.

Court documents indicate that he visited Pakistan, Amsterdam, Brussels, Israel, and France. Investigators are still trying to find out how someone who was employed only intermittently as a kitchen and construction worker could have paid for those trips.

Reid's mother has reportedly said that she lost track of him when he went to study in a religious school in Pakistan. His father said he last heard from him in a letter from Iran on his way to Pakistan, according to The Observer, a British newspaper.

US investigators say Reid came to Lahore, a city on the eastern-most edge of Pakistan that has been home to a number of spiritual leaders, Kashmiri militants, and madrassas, schools that have groomed Taliban leaders.

But few traces of Reid could be found in Lahore, where Gilani's Western followers tried their best to blend in. Reid's name did not appear in any register produced by Jamia-e-Neemia, one of the religious schools where Gilani's followers studied. Close members of Gilani's family, as well as insiders in his group, have said that they never heard of Reid.

Organization has been monitored by the FBI

Members also said that Gilani's organization - which Gilani calls Quranic Open University, but which the US government calls Jamaat Al Fuqra - has not been implicated in the Sept. 11 attacks, and no member has been arrested or questioned about Reid in the United States.

But members said FBI agents have monitored the group's houses in the United States - in California, New York, Virginia, and Colorado, among other states - since the attacks.

Religious leaders in Lahore who know Gilani said they doubt he was involved with the attempted shoe-bombing of which Reid has been accused, but they did not rule out the possibility that Reid might have given his allegiance to Gilani over the years.

"There are so many followers that sometimes you don't know who all your followers are," said Saldar Joginder Singh, a Canadian sheik living in Lahore who worked with Gilani to fight Indian rule in Kashmir and who served a hefty jail sentence for hijacking an Indian plane.

Khawaja, Gilani's friend, said the cleric is peaceful and forgiving, but warned that the United States should not anger him with new accusations about Al Qaeda and Reid.

"One white American [follower] told me that there are thousands of people in America, who, if they are asked to cut off one limb so that they can stay with him [Gilani], they are ready to do that," Khawaja said.

"If you push him to that stage, that he has no option but to declare jihad on America . . . it will blow like a volcano."

Finding student names in madrassa's register

In the majestic domed library of Jamia-e-Neemia, one of Lahore's most prestigious madrassas, a yellowing register shows the names of 11 American students who were among the first of Gilani's visitors in the 1980s. Under the graceful script of the students' Arabic names were the neat record of their paternal identities: son of David Fauntroy, Philadelphia; son of James R. Hearst, Philadelphia; son of Motten B. Clark, Brooklyn.

A pamphlet for the school describes how Gilani, "director of the Quranic Open University in New York," brought the young converts to study.

"He was their godfather," said one Pakistani intelligence official charged with keeping tabs on the Americans at that time.

Students from Britain, France, the Netherlands, and other countries also have studied there, although it is unclear whether Gilani brought them.

The converts, who wore long beards and turbans and recited 100-year-old poetic verses in Punjabi with American accents, brought great prestige to Gilani, who had been just one of a handful of relatives carrying on the longstanding family tradition of spiritual advising.

Gilani came to the United States in the mid-1980s and in 1986 began preaching in one of Brooklyn's most influential mosques. As he founded Al Fuqra, which means impoverished in Arabic, he also developed links to people who were implicated in the World Trade Center bomb plot, US officials said.

Gilani's teachings resonated with African-Americans particularly, because he did not discriminate between blacks and whites and preached against what he called the oppression of the US government, according to members of the group.

In the United States, Gilani's black followers asked him to marry one of their daughters to prove that he did not discriminate between the races. He married Naimah Gilani, the daughter of Muslim converts, when she was still in her teens, and later took a second African-American wife, who lives with her in Pakistan.

Reached by telephone, Naimah Gilani said she loves her life in Pakistan and resents the US government for harassing her family. "The Americans think we're terrorists . . . but we're peaceful people," she said. "We don't look at the color of our people."

US intelligence agents began to look for Gilani in Pakistan about seven years ago on suspicion that he was involved in the World Trade Center bombing.

A prosecutor in a murder case brought against a member of Gilani's group told the court that Gilani met members of Al Qaeda in Sudan in 1993. A US State Department report lists the main goal of Al Fuqra as "purifying Islam through violence."

Those reports, along with questions arising from the murder of an imam in Arizona and fire bombings of Hindu temples that have been attributed to his group, forced Gilani underground.

But by then, Gilani's network of supporters already stretched from New York to California, from the Caribbean to Europe. One follower said Gilani's group has a representative in nearly every US state. Estimates of his followers range from 3,000 to several times that number.

A network built over years has militant followers

The heavy, aging Gilani keeps a low profile, moving with armed security and using a walking stick that reportedly doubles as a gun. But years ago, he walked freely, armed only with a video camera to document the military training he was giving young fighters waiting to be launched into conflicts around the world.

Over the years, Gilani has sent young men to wage jihad against Indian rule in Kashmir, against Russians in Chechnya, Serbs in Bosnia, and to fight Israelis. He set up training camps in Abbotabad, Pakistan, about a three-hour drive from the capital, and other parts of the country.

Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company

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