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Christie Blatchford

These arrests aren't about terrorism - yet Add to ...

cblatchford@globeandmail.com

Imam my arse: The late Luqman Ameen Abdullah was a convicted criminal (felonious assault and carrying a concealed weapon), born and raised in Detroit, who is better known as Christopher Thomas.

Mosque my arse: The Masjid Al-Haqq belonged to a group that called itself "Ummah" which was founded and headed by Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, also known as H. Rapp Brown, the former Black Panther who is currently serving a life sentence for shooting two police officers.

And no one on the poor, black, west side of Detroit, where the Al-Haqq was based, or anyone at the Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), a newish national network of masjids, where Imam Luqman sat on the organization's governing shura, had the faintest idea what was going on. Of course. No one ever does.

For those late to the game, Imam Luqman was gunned down Wednesday in an FBI raid at a suburban Dearborn, Michigan warehouse after he refused to surrender, just as, according to a 45-page criminal complaint, he'd always said he would.

Four other men at the warehouse gave up without incident. Five more were arrested at a second location or remain at large; another, Mohammad Abdul Bassir (who was born with the magnificent handle of Franklin D. Roosevelt Williams), conveniently was already in prison.

In total, 11 men - all adults, the oldest 59, the youngest 30 - were charged with a variety of offences ranging from conspiracy, sale or receipt of stolen goods, to mail fraud and weapons offences.

Three have Canadian connections, two with roots in Windsor, the third from an unidentified Ontario city. Mujahid Carswell, aka, Mujahid Abdullah, the oldest son of Imam Luqman was apprehended yesterday in Windsor and sent to the United States.

Still on the run are Mohammad Alsahi, aka Mohammad Palestine, and Yassir Ali Khan.

Almost half of the freshly accused already had criminal records - Mr. Bassir for armed robbery and weapons offences; Muhammad Abdul Salaam, aka Gregory Stone or Norman Shields, five felony convictions including weapons and larceny; Adam Hussain Ibraheem, four felony convictions spanning 1995-2007, all for fraud, and Garry Laverne Porter, aka Mujahid, a single count of carrying a concealed weapon.

Only after further investigation will the U.S. Department of Justice determine whether to seek felony indictments. None of the charges are terrorism-related, a fact that was cited yesterday as comforting.

The lead item on the MANA website read, "Since the investigation was solely criminal, based upon smuggling and fraud, we urge law enforcement and the media not to take undue advantage of this tragedy in order to demonize American Muslims generally, and those who are African American Muslims in particular."

In the Southeast Michigan Islamic Examiner yesterday, Heather Laird, a convert to Islam herself, condemned media headlines ("Feds: Islamic Radical Killed in Michigan") for linking the men to terrorism and to Islam.

"We do not look at John Gotti and conjure up thoughts about Catholics even though we know he is Catholic," she wrote. Perhaps the vast archive of stories where Catholic priests were accused or convicted of criminal activity (such as sexual abuse) and their religious affiliation prominently identified has escaped her notice.

The answer to the terrorism link is easy: Though the men aren't charged with terrorism offences - yet - the lengthy complaint makes it clear that the central allegations are about nothing less.

The group allegedly had as its mission the establishment of "a separate, sovereign Islamic state" within the borders of the United States. Members were, it is alleged, stealing goods (TVs, laptops, fur coats, energy drinks, cigarettes and power tools) to sell for the mosque, a practice that Imam Luqman said was condoned by the Koran so long as Islam benefits. According to the complaint, he also encouraged members "to carry a firearm and information obtained ... indicates that many of Abdullah's followers are usually armed."

The FBI used several confidential informants, one of whom was a follower of the imam and had been involved in the group's past criminal activities, and two allegedly reliable others.

While the practice of using CIs is fraught with peril - it is in this country too - it is also often the only way for investigators to penetrate such groups, especially since, ahem, so few within the broader Muslim community ever appear to see anything awry.

In Canada, the evidence of paid RCMP informant Mubin Shaikh, was instrumental in winning the first conviction in the Toronto 18 terror case, his role within the group scrutinized by the judge and his testimony ringingly endorsed. There's no knowing yet on which side of the line the evidence of the three informants in this case will fall, but investigators can hardly be faulted for using them.

Three items stand out from the criminal complaint.

One is that according to the inside informant, one of the accused men, Mr. Salaam, allegedly also murdered a fellow in the basement of the mosque. The source also claims to have seen Imam Luqman's son Mujahid "use a toilet bowl cleaner to clean up blood" afterwards.

Another is that the imam once allegedly said "that most of the money comes from Canada."

The final thing is that on Jan. 20, the mosque was evicted by the City of Detroit from its Joy Road location for non-payment of property taxes. The Detroit police stopped by and confiscated two firearms, 40 knives and martial arts weapons from the imam's apartment there.

The FBI also executed a search warrant, and found evidence corroborating information that the mosque had been used for firearms training. "There were empty shell casings on the basement floor," the complaint alleges, "and large holes in the concrete wall of the shooting range."

If all that is true, then there were a whole lot of clues about what was going on in that mosque. It begs the question - does one have to have a criminal record to be an imam in this particular Ummah, or does the willingness to acquire one suffice?

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