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Baladullah, Part One


Authorities have been taking a closer look at suspected terrorists who may be operating in this country since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Now, the ABC7 News I-Team has learned that an Islamic compound in the Sierra foothills may have ties to a terrorist group from the Middle East. Dan Noyes has this exclusive I-Team investigation.

The people in this village have lived there quietly for years, but two recent crimes have brought them into the spotlight. Baladullah is just a few hours drive from the Bay Area, about sixty miles southeast from Fresno.

Camps BaladullahWelcome to Baladullah — a village of 300 people in Tulare County — with a community center, mobile homes, an airstrip, and a U-Haul dealership.

The 440-acre ranch sits on the site of a former Synanon compound. In the 70s, there were questions whether the self-help commune had become armed and dangerous. For the people who live here today, the controversy is over possible ties to a terrorist group.

Dan Noyes: "Are the people here tied to a terrorist group?"

Doug Hurt: "Absolutely not."

The attorney for Baladullah says the village is populated by American-born Muslims who want to escape the crime and drugs of the inner cities. They have lived here largely unnoticed for four years, until this past spring.

James HobsonA man wanted for gun trafficking on the East Coast was living at the compound. As U.S. Marshals prepared to make an arrest, they received a warning from other federal agents. The suspect, James Hobson, belonged to a terrorist group.

David Hiebert, U.S. Marshals Service: "They just said be aware that we have information that he's tied to this organization, be careful."

The organization? Jamaat al-Fuqra — or "community of the impoverished." The State Department calls it "a terrorist group ... that seeks to purify Islam through violence", founded by Pakistani sheik Sayyid Mubarik Jilani.

Doug Hurt: "I don't put a lot of stock in who the State Department says is a good person or a bad person. The State Department thought Martin Luther King was a terrorist, the State Department thought John Lennon was a terrorist."

But Jilani and his Fuqra organization are linked to dozens of crimes across this country — firebombings and assassinations.

One of the men convicted in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 was also a Fuqra member — Clement Rodney Hampton-el.

Sheik Jilani himself shows off his deadly techniques in a recruitment tape, and he offers training to any American sympathetic to his cause.

Sheik Jilani: "See how the struggle against oppression has to be carried out."

The tape covers the use of fire arms and explosives, battlefield medicine, setting up an ambush, and hand-to-hand combat.

Sheik Jilani: "Ordinary youth is turned into very- like tigers."

Jonathan Bernstein, Anti-Defamation League: "They basically see anyone who doesn't have the same beliefs as them as the enemy."

The Anti-Defamation League has been tracking Fuqra since the 1980's, and its local director has serious concerns about the village at Baladullah.

The Fresno County District Attorney's Office tells the I-Team they are checking the group's ties to Fuqra and Sheik Jilani, as part of an investigation into the killing of a Fresno County sheriff's deputy ten miles from the compound.

Twenty-six year-old Erik Telen died in August, leaving behind two young children and a pregnant wife. Investigators say he was ambushed by a man who had been staying at the village. Their attorney downplays the connection between the suspected cop killer, the gun trafficker, and Baladullah.

Doug Hurt: "You have two people that had really tertiary connection with this village that were arrested. There have been more people arrested in my neighborhood in the last year than that, and I live in a very nice neighborhood in Visalia."

But the I-Team has learned that the gun trafficker does have a direct connection to Baladullah.

James Hobson is also known as "Umar Abdussalam." Federal agents tell the I-Team he is the son-in-law of Musa Abdussalam, an elder at the Tulare County compound. This is troubling news to people living nearby, who were already concerned about what's been happening at the village.

Neighbor: "Gunfire in the afternoon and gunfire late at night ... Some of it sounds like target practice and other is rapid fire, it makes you question whether or not they have automatic weapons."

The neighbors say they spotted men with weapons — including a sawed-off shotgun — at a guard shack at the front gates to Baladullah. Law enforcement sources tell us they performed surveillance on the compound, and also saw armed guards

All that changed after the September 11 terrorist attacks. That's when members of Baladullah took down the guard shack, put up an American flag, and held a potluck lunch to answer their neighbors' questions.

Salih Ghafur: "I was in the Vietnam war, my brother was in the service, we all paid our dues in America."

The I-Team tried to interview elders from Baladullah, but they declined.

Dan Noyes: "And so I'm about to leave town to go back to the Bay Area, and I just want to make sure that I give anyone who might want to talk the opportunity to talk."

We wanted to ask about their association with one of Sheik Jilani's organizations — Muslims of America. Their lawyer denied knowing anything about a formal connection.

Doug Hurt: "In that they are Muslims and they live in America, I would say so, but are they formally connected, is there an entity, no, not as far as I'm aware."

But, the corporate records for Muslims of America show that the president, the treasurer, and the secretary all list Baladullah as their home address.

Dan Noyes: "Is there a connection between Sheik Jilani, this ranch, and acts of terrorism?"

Doug Hurt: "Absolutely not. That is an insidious, ridiculous connection."

At the very least, members of Baladullah are helping Jilani spread his message. If you want to buy one of the sheik's books, you have to send a check or money order to Zavia Books — located at the village of Baladullah. I-Team also wanted to ask the people there about this sign for the International Quranic Open University, founded by Sheik Jilani to teach Islam to his followers.

After we began our investigation, the members of Baladullah cut down the sign. They say they're trying to avoid negative attention. But, it was the most visible symbol of their connection to Jilani.

Sheik Jilani: "You can reach us, you know, at Quranic Open University offices in upstate New York or in Connecticut or in Michigan or in South Carolina"

Baladullah is the newest office of Jilani's Quranic Open University. Still, their lawyer insists the people here care only about spreading peace — and not hatred.

Doug Hurt: "This is not an armed community that is a compound that is a danger to anybody."

The federal government has not listed the school or Muslims of America on its terrorist watch lists — only al-Fuqra.

We would like to tell you more about Baladullah and what goes on behind the fences, but they would not let us on the property. We had arranged a tour, but it fell through. So, all we could do was give you the views of their lawyer, their neighbors, and the sheik from Pakistan.

Last Updated: Jan 9, 2002

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