Islamic extremists in the United States have traditionally set up shop in big cities with large Muslim populations: places like New York City, Dearborn, Michigan and even Washington, DC. But one secretive group is doing just the opposite.
They call themselves Muslims of America. They've established compounds throughout the rural U.S. Members say they moved to the countryside to lead peaceful lives free of "Western decadence." But others say that doesn't tell the whole story.
"Certainly, when you're in a rural area it enables you to better escape from the prying eyes of law enforcement," said CBN News consultant David Gartenstein-Ross.
He says Muslims of America has close ties to a violent Pakistani group named Jamaat Al-Fuqra. Both groups are led by the same extremist cleric: Sheikh Mubarak Gilani.
"Sheikh Gilani is an extremist figure known to be very much involved in the jihads against India, also known to be very much anti-Semitic," Gartenstein-Ross said.
Gilani's images and messages are all over the Muslims of America Web site.
He founded the group during a visit to Brooklyn in 1980. Shoe bomber Richard Reid and Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammed are said to have been among his followers.
Gilani encouraged his U.S. pupils-mostly African Americans-to move to rural areas and establish Muslim communes. The group now has dozens of these communes nationwide.
"Al Fuqra has compounds from coast-to-coast.and what this indicates is they're going to areas where land is plentiful--where you can get land for relatively cheap prices," Gartenstein-Ross said.
CBN News visited the group's 45-acre site in Red House, Virginia - a town so small you can barely find it on a map. There are no traffic lights, and the only signs of industry are a pair of convenience stores. So when a street sign popped up named after a radical Pakistani sheikh-along with men and women dressed in traditional Islamic garb- the locals took notice.
Sheikh Gilani has been on U.S. intelligence agencies' radar for years. He's currently under investigation for possible ties to al-Qaeda. He also trained jihadists to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
In addition, Gilani attended a 1993 jihadist conference in Sudan along with members of Hamas, Hezbollah and Osama bin Laden himself.
American journalist Daniel Pearl was on his way to interview Gilani in 2002 when he was murdered. The sheikh denies any involvement in Pearl's killing.
CBN News spoke to a former member of Muslims of America who wishes to remain anonymous. 'Mustafa' says Gilani runs the group from Lahore, Pakistan.
"He's the leader of the group. He's a former member of the Pakistani military. His father was one of the founding fathers of Pakistan. He has great connections to Pakistani intelligence, the ISI," he said.
Mustafa says Muslims of America serves as a cash cow for Gilani and Jamaat Al-Fuqra. Each member is required to send 30 percent of their income to Gilani. The group even had a treasurer that checked members' pay stubs.
"He said that the 30 percent is money that God has chosen to take from you. And if you spend that 30 percent you are stealing from God," Mustafa' said.
Group members hand deliver thousands of dollars in cash at a time to Gilani in Pakistan.
Mustafa said, "The money got to Pakistan through the elders who traveled to Pakistan. They carried cash with them or they sent it Western Union. Since there's Americans under Gilani's rule who live in Pakistan, it's like from one American name to another American name and it's never linked to Gilani at all."
Sheikh Gilani uses these American dollars to help fund the Taliban and other terrorist groups, according to Mustafa.
Muslims of America compounds are filled with ex-cons from rough backgrounds. Many converted to Islam in prison. Mustafa says there's at least one semi-automatic weapon in every home.
A local law enforcement official told us he's had no problems with Muslims of America in Red House. But the group has a long track record of violent activity on U.S. soil.
During the 80s and 90s, members firebombed Hindu and Hare Krishna temples and assassinated two rival Muslim leaders. Federal raids on the group's Colorado compound in the early 90s turned up bombs, automatic weapons, and plans for terrorist attacks. And at least three members have been arrested on weapons charges since 9/11.
Mustafa says the group raises money through a variety of criminal activities.
"A lot of the guys will do bootlegging--you know, it's all illegal- videotapes, CDs, clothing," he said.
In March, federal investigators broke up a multi-state counterfeit goods ring. Local residents tell CBN News that some of those arrested lived at the Red House compound.
Mustafa said, "The counterfeiting comes in with the bootlegging. It's all counterfeit movies not sanctioned by Paramount or MGM or things like that -- they're not legitimate."
Law enforcement sources say they're keeping a close eye on Muslims of America compounds.
"One of the law enforcement sources that I spoke to was concerned that you could have a Waco-type situation," Gartenstein-Ross said.
But a video on the group's Web site calls into question just how seriously authorities understand the group's beliefs and intentions. The clip shows the former head of South Carolina's FBI branch speaking at a Muslims of America-sponsored event in 2004 that honored "diversity."
Mustafa says such "outreach" efforts are a mistake. He continues to fear for his safety since leaving the compound. But he says he's speaking out because he considers Muslims of America a dangerous group.