The shootout occurred during an FBI raid designed to disrupt a variety of illegal activities being carried out by Abdullah and at least ten of his associates—activities that were uncovered by an undercover investigation stretching back for about three years, and a series of transactions pursuant to a Group I Undercover Operation.4 According to local news reports, the shooting came after FBI agents and police from the Joint Terrorism Task Force “surrounded a warehouse and trucking firm on Miller Road near Michigan Avenue where Abdullah and four of his followers were hiding.”5
Abdullah did not surrender when ordered to; instead, he opened fire. He was shot to death, as was an FBI K-9, a three-year-old Belgian Malinois named Freddy. Although press reports do not detail how the dog was shot, it is common practice for the FBI to introduce a K-9 to “locate and detain” a suspect who refuses to surrender. The four men with Abdullah did lay down their arms and allow themselves to be arrested, although the DOJ’s press release leaves some ambiguity as to whether they did so before or after Abdullah was killed.6
The FBI has arrested ten of Abdullah’s associates, most of whom were members of his mosque and the al-Ummah movement. Three of them—Yassir Ali Khan, Mohammad Philistine, and Abdullah’s son Mujahid Carswell—were arrested in Windsor, Ontario following the raids.7 Windsor is located directly across from Detroit, over the U.S.-Canada border.
The arrested men face charges that include conspiracy to receive and sell goods that the defendants believed were stolen from interstate shipments, conspiracy to commit mail fraud through an insurance scam involving arson, providing firearms to a known convicted felon, and tampering with motor vehicle identification numbers to further the theft of a vehicle.
The Al-Ummah Movement
Al-Ummah—which is either a splinter from, or a cover for, the Darul Islam movement (see this issue’s article on the history of Darul Islam)—had been led by Jamil al-Amin, who was formerly known as 1960s firebrand H. Rap Brown. Though al-Amin is reportedly still considered al-Ummah’s leader by the group’s members, he has not been involved in day-to-day operations for some time: he is currently serving a life sentence at the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, following his 2002 conviction for shooting two police officers in Georgia.
In May 2009 in Alabama, Luqman Abdullah claimed while under surveillance that al-Amin had created al-Ummah out of fear of government interference. Two years before Abdullah became part of the movement, several Darul members were killed in a shooting in New York. “Jamil Al-Amin said they had to divide the group because having too many people in one organization made them an easy target,” the criminal complaint against Abdullah recounts. “According to Abdullah, the group is still Dar-Ul, but this is not widely known because of the United States government. The Ummah is a cover name for Dar-Ul.”8
Multiple sources estimate that al-Ummah under al-Amin had “approximately thirty branches in America and the Caribbean.”9 Muslim journalist Steven Barboza stated that al-Amin’s “followers are said to number around 10,000 Muslims.”10
Detroit’s Masjid Al-Haqq, which had been located at 4118 Joy Road, was an al-Ummah mosque. It was not only used for prayer services but also for weapons and combat training. Abdullah also lived on the premises with his family. In January 2009, Abdullah and his followers were evicted from the mosque for nonpayment of property taxes. Authorities recovered firearms, knives and martial arts weapons from Abdullah’s apartment in the mosque, and observed “empty shell casings on the basement floor, and large holes in the concrete wall of the ‘shooting range.’”11 Although the mosque was located in an urban environment, it was surrounded by empty lots on all sides, and was thus relatively secluded.
In addition to describing al-Ummah as a nationwide fundamentalist group, the criminal complaint filed against Abdullah asserts that it has the goal of establishing “a separate, sovereign Islamic state … within the borders of the United States, governed by Shariah law. The Ummah is to be ruled over by Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin.”12 MANA, which had Luqman Abdullah on its majlis ash-shura, claims that this depiction of al-Ummah “is an offensive mis-characterization.”13
It is difficult, from available open-source information, to make a definitive judgment about al-Ummah’s religious ideology. However, the three-year criminal investigation of Luqman Abdullah and his associates yielded a great deal of information about Abdullah’s ideas.
Luqman Abdullah’s Teachings
Luqman Abdullah seemed to blend Islamist ideology with black nationalist grievances, supplemented by a healthy dose of criminality that was afforded a thin veneer of religious justification.
Abdullah saw the world as sharply divided in a struggle between good and evil. He understood those concepts not in racial terms, but rather saw Islam as good and the forces of disbelief as the evil that must be opposed. To him the entire system of the United States was of the kuffar (infidels; singular, kafir). “The U.S. government,” he said, “is nothing but Kuffars.”14 In October 2008, when the black community was abuzz with excitement over Barack Obama’s impending victory (as was the U.S. Muslim community writ large), Abdullah emphasized that an Obama presidency would change nothing: “Obama is a Kafir. McCain, all the rest of them Kuffar, are Kuffars. You can’t make them a good Kafir, bad Kafir…. The premise of Allah, and Islam said, ‘the worst of [unintelligible], the worst Muslim is better than the best Kafir.”15
In the face of this corrupt, kafir system, Abdullah insisted that violence was necessary. “[W]e should be trying to figure out how to fight the Kuffar,” he said. “You see, we need to figure out how to be a bullet.”16 He has also emphasized that “you cannot have a non-violent revolution.”17 In part, he taught that violence was needed because the system was conspiring against attempts to establish Islam. He compared Washington to the Quraish, a Meccan tribe that had viciously opposed the Prophet Muhammad because his strict monotheism posed a challenge to their practice of idol worship. Abdullah said that just as “the government plots and plans against them so they need to plot and plan in return and ‘do whatever it takes.’”18
What would replace the U.S. government? Abdullah was rather unclear on this point, although he clearly endorsed the idea of revolution. In this way, he was similar to his associate Jamil al-Amin. Before al-Amin’s conversion to Islam, when he was still known as H. Rap Brown, he spoke often of the U.S.’s inherently evil nature. Though Brown said that “America’s very existence offends me,” and suggested that he endorsed a Communist-style revolution, he never discussed in any detail the new order he wanted to impose.19
Abdullah at one point suggested that perhaps small Islamic states could separate from the U.S., “like the Amish and the Mormons in Utah.”20 Of course, neither the Amish nor the Mormons are actually separate from the United States. Abdullah echoed this theme of separatism in August 2008, stating that “just as states and cities are separate entities under the U.S. Government, the members of Masjid Al Haqq are also a separate entity independent of the government under their own set of laws.”21 At other times Abdullah suggested that rather than separating, the Muslims should seize power. An FBI confidential source stated that in a May 2009 sermon, Abdullah said his followers “should make America like Saudi Arabia, where the Muslims took control by fighting and dying.”22
Abdullah expressed his approval for transnational jihadi movements. He told his followers in February 2009 that “they need to be with the Taliban, Hizballah, and with Sheikh bin Laden.”23 This was based on his binary view of the world: that Muslims are the party of God, while all else is the party of the devil. He likewise gave one FBI source a CD that the source described as “pro-Taliban propaganda.”24
A special place was reserved for law enforcement in Abdullah’s teachings. He encouraged his followers to always be armed, even though many were convicted felons, to prepare for a confrontation with law enforcement. In April 2008 he described law enforcement as “being the devil and evil.”25 He also suggested to an FBI source that they should stalk and kill FBI “super Agents.”26 And in January 2009, Abdullah told the same source that if they wanted a bullet proof vest, they should shoot a police officer in the head and take it. He proceeded to jump around the room making shooting motions with his hands, while shouting “shoot cops in the head” and “pop, pop.”27
One thing the agents and officers charged with arresting Abdullah must have had in mind was his promise that if law enforcement came after him, there would be a reckoning. At one point he said that if law enforcement tried to arrest him, it would be worse than Waco—“a straight up war.”28 He also said: “These pigs don’t even know, their department will have a bad day when they deal with me.”29
Though there are several disturbing aspects to Abdullah’s teachings and ideology, this was not a terrorism case. Rather, the criminal complaint describes a pattern of criminal activity culminating in a major undercover operation.
Some of this criminality involved crimes of violence by Abdullah and his followers. One FBI source testified that he saw Muhammad Abdul Salaam, who is believed to be Masjid Al-Haqq’s First Emir, murder a person whom he thought had killed his brother.30 Abdullah loved to boast about murdering people. In May 2009 he visited another al-Ummah mosque in Montgomery, Alabama, and prior to a study session that he was to lead he told the attendees about his experiences shooting other people. Abdullah, quite animated, illustrated how their bodies reacted when shot.31 At another al-Ummah mosque in Gainesville, Georgia, Abdullah sat with the imam’s children, who were between ages 9 and 11, and “told them stories about his shooting people with a 9mm gun.”32 Surveillance also revealed that he had handguns on him, even though this was illegal because he was a convicted felon.
In addition to possessing and training with firearms, Abdullah also expressed an interest in creating TNT-based explosive material, which he believed one of the FBI informants could make for him. Abdullah later expressed an interest in C4 or another type of explosive that could help him do “what he needed to do.”33
Abdullah helped arrange for a new VIN for a truck that he believed to be stolen. He even justified this on religious grounds, arguing it was a form of jihad “because the kuffar would harm them if they were to get caught.”34 Likewise, Abdullah provided religious sanction for an arson orchestrated by Ummah member Mohammad Abdul Bassir: in order to collect insurance money, Bassir hired his neighbor’s nephew to burn down his house while he was working as a DJ at a cabaret (and thus had an alibi).35
Based on this pattern of criminal activity, as well as several mosque members’ expressions of willingness to fence stolen merchandise, the FBI obtained the necessary approval to conduct a Group I Undercover Operation. The operation was designed to give members of Masjid Al-Haqq the opportunity to fence merchandise that they believed to be stolen. At first Abdullah gave religious sanction to these acts, insisting repeatedly that he should be given one fifth of the proceeds because “they need to keep Allah first,” and by giving 20% to Abdullah “the ‘dirty’ money is purified.”36 Later, he became more directly involved in the process. Overall, the undercover operation featured ten transactions, with the merchandise that Masjid Al-Haqq members were involved in fencing including stolen furs, laptop computers, LCD television sets, and loads of cigarettes.
Following Abdullah’s death, some American Muslim organizations jumped into the fray. MANA, for example, issued a press release:
To those who have worked with Imam Luqman A. Abdullah, allegations of illegal activity, resisting arrest, and “offensive jihad against the American government” are shocking and inconsistent. In his ministry he consistently advocated for the downtrodden and always spoke about the importance of connecting with the needs of the poor…. We urge the Muslim community and all Americans committed to justice to actively monitor both the investigation and trial of the accused.37
The American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT), a coalition of major U.S.-based Islamic organizations, has also called for an independent investigation into the shooting that “makes[s] public the exact circumstances in which he died.”38 The AMT is an umbrella organization that includes such groups as the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), and MAS-Freedom.
Josh Bronfman contributed research to this article.
4Unlike a Group II Undercover Operation, which can be approved by the Special Agent in Charge in the relevant FBI field office along with the local U.S. Attorney, a Group I Undercover Operation requires “painstaking planning, substantial amounts of documentation, lots of coordination, and minute review by a panel of senior FBI Headquarters and Department of Justice officials.” Joseph W. Koletar, The FBI Career Guide: Inside Information on Getting Chosen for and Succeeding in One of the Toughest, Most Prestigious Jobs in the World (New York: AMACOM, 2006), p. 77.return
13MANA, “The FBI Raid and Shooting Death of Imam Luqman.” Abdullah is listed as a member of MANA’s majlis ash-shura on its web site. See http://www.mana-net.org/subpage.php?ID=about (accessed Nov. 16, 2009).return
19H. Rap Brown, Die Nigger Die! (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 1969), p. 135. For examples of Brown’s endorsement of the need for revolutionary action, without a specific revolutionary program, see pp. 128-29. Another intellectual thread that the Brown in his black nationalist days and Abdullah had in common is the idea that necessary change could only be obtained through “long, protracted, bloody, brutal and violent wars with our oppressors.” Ibid., p. 128.return