2. MOA’s Colorado Branch and the Olympic Training Center

The Colorado branch of MOA has been involved in the group’s biggest terrorist plots and crimes. MOA even once had a 101-acre terrorist training camp that was searched by the authorities and shut down in 1992.

The branch used to be led by convicted MOA terrorist James D. Williams. He successfully hid from the authorities as a fugitive until he was caught in Virginia in 2000, where he was still working with MOA. Williams was involved in various terrorist plots, including the Al-Qaeda-linked assassination of moderate imam Rashad Khalifa in Arizona in 1990.

According to MOA-affiliated sources, Abdelaziz’s training at OTC fits into MOA’s patterns of activity and was likely part of a broader strategy to exploit the OTC’s services.

In the mid-1990s, a mysterious group of Arabic-speaking Egyptian martial artists began hanging out with MOA’s inner circle in Colorado Springs. The Egyptians would meet with a handful of MOA members at a safehouse reserved for trusted operatives known as “incognitos;” undercover operatives fulfilling “missions.”

The Egyptians would visit the MOA safehouse on East Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs after training at the OTC about 15 minutes away. The athletes were estimated to be in their late teenage years or early twenties.

These meetings usually involved three couples whose identities were not known outside of a very small circle of MOA members. These gatherings were highly secretive and peculiar, as they were the only non-MOA Muslims allowed into the safehouse.

Our sources do not recall hearing how contact with the Egyptians was initially made or what the purpose of these meeting were. One source remembered hearing a reference to a mosque in Boulder, Colorado, and speculated that MOA met the Egyptians there and/or went there together for prayers.

The relationship between the MOA members and non-MOA Egyptians may have been the a product of the ties between Sheikh Gilani (MOA’s spiritual leader in Pakistan) and the Egyptian terrorist leader Omar Abdel-Rahman, more commonly known as the “Blind Sheikh,” who was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and other terrorist plots on U.S. and Egyptian soil.

The Blind Sheikh was one of the very few leaders that Gilani exalted. Some intelligence reports even indicated that Gilani had transferred operational control of MOA to the Blind Sheikh (a claim that Gilani denied).

These sources recall that MOA, and specifically its Colorado branch, were dedicated to the Blind Sheikh’s cause. Posters of the Blind Sheikh were found in the Colorado MOA operatives’ possession by law enforcement. A picture of Gilani with the Blind Sheikh was also discovered.

According to these first-hand accounts, Sheikh Gilani ordered MOA to support the Blind Sheikh’s network in America, as his “dear friend.” After he was arrested, MOA members were instructed to pray for his release from prison. Colorado MOA leader James D. Williams is remembered as having friendly relationships with Egyptian supporters of the “Blind Sheikh” in the areas of Jersey City and New York City in the 1990s.

Again, it is unknown how Ali Abdelaziz initially got involved with MOA, but it would be a highly unlikely coincidence if it isn’t somehow related to these first-hand accounts. 

When Abdelaziz met with Mawyer to tell part of his story, he said that he met MOA members by coincidence at martial arts classes in Colorado Springs after his first arrest, which happened in December 2001. The police documents prove he was their criminal co-conspirator before that arrest.

After meeting them, he’d go to Friday prayers with them but was supposedly unaware of what MOA or Jammat ul-Fuqra was. They had strict lifestyles, whereas he went to clubs and parties and had girlfriends. He only became a member of MOA after he became an informant for the U.S. government, he claimed.

Ryan Mauro

Professor Ryan Mauro is the National Security Analyst for the Clarion Project, a nonprofit organization that educates the public about the threat of Islamic extremism and provides a platform for voices of moderation and tolerance within the Muslim community. Clarion Project films have been seen by over 50 million people. Mauro is a frequent contributor to Clarion’s dynamic website ClarionProject.org, providing insightful analysis of the latest news around the global on this subject. The site is viewed by over 250,000 visitors per month.