Abdelaziz’s service as an informant came at a time when MOA’s history and ongoing activities were setting off alarm bells within the U.S. government, especially after the 9/11 attacks.
Few, if any, terrorist organizations are as well-positioned in America as MOA.
MOA is the only Islamist extremist group with a network of remote “Islamic villages” across the U.S., such as its 70-acre “Islamberg” compound in upstate New York. In recent years, MOA has put the number of “villages” it has at 22.
It has between 1,500 and 3,000 members. The majority are cultishly loyal to their Pakistan-based leader and many of them are felons. Abdelaziz says their numbers are grossly underestimated, as they don’t include the massive number of children that the group has. He put the number at closer to 15,000.
And the group has a history of paramilitary training and connections to the jihadist network in Pakistan.
Sheikh Gilani stated in a secret video in the early 1990s that MOA would offer “Islamic guerilla” training to those interested in jihad, including members of other Islamist groups. Some of the training in Pakistan was shown.
Later, around 2002, MOA filmed a video of one of its training sessions for women at Islamberg, which was later acquired by Ryan Mauro of the Clarion Project and posted online.
MOA also has a unique ability to fly under the radar. A 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency report about MOA / Jammat ul-Fuqra warned:
“Law enforcement reporting indicates JUF members are involved in petty crimes nationwide as a funding mechanism for their operations. Because JUF members are predominantly African-American, law enforcement personnel likely overlook or disregard potential JUF ties with international terrorism.”
“An identified JUF [Fuqra] leader very recently conducted a training course on the proper placement of explosive devices in motor vehicles,” the intelligence report recorded.
The report warned that MOA has links to Al-Qaeda. It also mentioned the suspicions that the group had a link to Richard Reid, the “shoebomber” who nearly blew up an airliner.
FBI files from an investigation into MOA’s branch in Texas, dated from 2003 to 2007, also convey the anxiety over MOA’s threat potential.
“The MOA is now an autonomous organization which possesses an infrastructure capable of planning and mounting terrorist campaigns overseas and within the U.S,” one said.
Newly declassified U.S. Army documents from 2015 obtained by the Clarion Project quote from earlier FBI reports about MOA. The reports refer to the specific training sessions that Abdelaziz spied on.
“Many questions concerning this highly secretive and elusive group with direct ties to international terrorism remain unanswered,” one report says.
It goes on to debunk the “moderate” persona that MOA has presented to the public, especially since the 9/11 attacks:
“One could ask the following question: If MOA really is a legitimate group without greater intention outside of religious worship, why do members fortify their compounds, conduct weapons training, conduct research on military installations and law enforcement tactics, and stockpile ammunition and explosives?”
An FBI report from 2009 included in the U.S. Army collection on MOA says:
“Even though JUF/MOA claims to be a peaceful organization that engages in paramilitary training exclusively for self-defense, law enforcement information contradicts these claims and indicates that the group’s training is offensive in nature. Although JUF/MOA members have not been involved in any recent violent activity, members have demonstrated an interest in the reconnaissance and surveillance of DoD facilities, and members have also attempted to infiltrate differing positions within DoD.”
The concern was summarized as follows:
“Multiple reports indicate that MOA members continue to conduct paramilitary training. The Hancock, NY compound in particular has been identified as a training site for JUF/MOA’s military squad. The purpose of the training is to develop security guards in preparation of holy war and law enforcement incursions….
JUF/MOA claims to be a peaceful organization, which conducts paramilitary training as a means of self-defense; however, law enforcement information contradicts these claims and indicates that the group partakes in training that is offensive by nature. There are pockets of the JUF/MOA community within the United States that have radicalized views and who wish to purify Islam through violence.
Activities such as paintball, target practice and camping trips are methods to radicalize individuals. Bringing members together to participate in this sort of activity builds cohesion. In addition, it helps members overcome moral and emotional barriers through rigorous physical and mental rehearsing of violent activity, thus preparing them to engage in violent actions in the future.”
Although the authorities did not have specific information indicating that MOA was actively plotting terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, they were alarmed by MOA’s cultish ideology, history of terrorism, preparations for conflict and “MOA’s overall mission of ‘defensive jihad.’”
In addition to assisting investigations into MOA, a well-placed mole inside the group could enable intelligence-gathering on other terrorists, extremists and criminals.
FBI documents from 2003 show that MOA, and specifically its network in New York, were linked to Al-Qaeda affiliates in Pakistan. One highly-redacted report from 2008 about a pair of brothers in MOA who were under investigation indicates that they were linked to a suspected member of Hamas.
MOA activity also overlapped with Tablighi Jamaat, a massive Southeast Asian Islamist movement with a significant presence in the U.S. Our law enforcement and intelligence sources confirmed that the federal investigations of Tablighi Jamaat included MOA members.
The prosecution of Ali Abdelaziz presented a rare opportunity for the authorities to get a window into MOA’s shadowy operations.