THE BOMBING OF NEW YORK'S World Trade Center has brought law-enforcement officers to focus more closely on a Muslim terrorist group called Fuqra, which has been suspected in two dozen killings, fire-bombings and other violence in the United States and Canada over the past 14 years.
NEW YORK - The discovery of what authorities believe was a major plot to bomb landmarks here and assassinate political leaders has put a shadowy, violent organization of American Muslims under the FBI's investigative microscope.
The group called Fuqra has a reputation among terrorism experts as a highly professional force whose members have been linked to or implicated in about two dozen assassinations, firebombings and other violent acts in the United States and Canada over the past 14 years. Yet the group has been particularly adept at avoiding detection by local and federal law-enforcement officials.
Fuqra's connection to the New York plot is not solid. A suspect in the foiled scheme, a second-generation American Muslim named Clement Rodney Hampton-El, has been linked to the group, a federal law-enforcement source said. But investigators have not suggested that Fuqra played any official role in the scheme.
The organization is receiving intense scrutiny, however, as federal anti-terrorism forces have made rising Islamic militancy in the United States a priority since the Feb. 26 bombing of the World Trade Center.
"The No. 1 concern is the spread of Islamic fundamental extremism, the very small part of the Muslim movement that is extreme," said Wayne Gilbert, assistant director of the FBI and chief of its intelligence and counterterrorism divisions. "That is where our intelligence resources are focused."
Federal authorities are unusually tight-lipped about Fuqra, and law-enforcement officials in U.S. communities where the group allegedly has struck complain that lack of cooperation by federal investigators over the years has hampered their efforts to monitor the group or prosecute members who committed violence.
Fuqra (pronounced FOO-krah), which means "poverty" in Arabic, was created in 1980. The organization was inspired by radical Pakistani Muslim cleric Mubarik Ali Jilani Hasmi, who has returned to his homeland and formed a new group in Lahore to recruit black American Muslims and train them in terrorist techniques before returning them to the United States, according to reports from Pakistan.
There are "unconfirmed but reliable reports" that the trainers are Sudanese, according to Mira Boland, who monitors extremist and terrorist groups for the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish civil-rights group. Egyptian Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Muslim cleric arrested Friday whose followers include many of those accused in the plot and in the trade-center bombing, holds a Sudanese passport, as do several of the suspects.
Fuqra is estimated to have 1,000 to 3,000 members. Its targets usually have been people and buildings associated with Eastern religions that the group considers heretical, said Jack Killorin, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. But authorities said it considers the U.S. government one of its enemies.
"Confidential informants have told us that Fuqra has declared a "jihad" (holy war) against the United States," said David Bowers, an undersheriff of Chaffee County, Colo., who has been investigating Fuqra since 1986 because the organization had a compound in his area and was suspected of several crimes in Colorado.
"People need to be aware that these things are going on, and not just in New York but around the country," he added. "The average person in the United States didn't used to have to worry about terrorism, but now he does."
Fuqra has managed to avoid detection in part because its members have a high degree of loyalty, making it difficult for investigators to penetrate its ranks, said Jim O'Hern, a detective in Tacoma, Wash., where Fuqra members emerged as suspects in a 1984 triple killing of East Indians.
Once Fuqra members commit a violent act or one of its compounds is searched by police, they seem to disappear, eventually reappearing in a different region of the country, O'Hern added. Members of the group have abandoned compounds in Compton, Calif., and Buena Vista, Colo., authorities said. The current headquarters is in the Catskill Mountains in New York, according to federal authorities.
Information tying Fuqra to the Tacoma slayings was found five years after the fact in a rental locker in Colorado Springs, Colo. Local police investigating burglaries stumbled across a Fuqra cache of explosives, surveillance notes, target lists, detailed strategies for terrorist acts and newspaper articles on the Tacoma murders, authorities said.
Federal officials had already been investigating the possibility that Fuqra was behind the murders, but O'Hern said he was not told. "We did not have the faintest idea what Fuqra was or that they were living in our community."
By the time his office learned of the possible link, so much time had passed that the chance to find the criminals was gone.
While there has been information tying Fuqra to violent acts over many years, "it is only just recently being all put together," Boland said.
Only one Fuqra organizer, Stephen Paster of Los Angeles, has been convicted. He was found guilty in the 1983 bombing of the Hotel Rajneesh in Portland, Ore. But Fuqra members currently face criminal charges that they plotted to bomb a Hindu temple and an East Indian theater in Toronto. They also face charges of murder conspiracy, arson conspiracy, theft of rental property and worker's compensation fraud in Colorado Springs.
While searching the property of Fuqra's remote compound in the Rocky Mountains in October, authorities uncovered more than 60 assault weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition, all buried in a shaft on the side of a mountain, Bowers said. They also found handwritten documents tying the defendants to the 1990 slaying of Rashad Khalifa, a controversial Muslim leader, in Tucson, Ariz., and to the bombing of the Hare Krishna temple in Denver, he added.