Toronto, Canada could have been the original "ground zero" of Islamist terrorism in North America, the Toronto Star reminded readers Tuesday.
In 1991, five members of the Jamaat ul-Fuqra movement were indicted for conspiring to blow up the India Centre cinema and the Vishnu Hindu temple. Jamaat ul-Fuqra originated in Pakistan, and its followers adhere to the teachings of Sheikh Mubarik Ali Gilani. The group advocates the use of force and violence in trying to reach its goal of purifying Islam.
The Fuqra members' alleged plan was to destroy the buildings simultaneously during the Hindu Festival of Lights, when they were expected to be at full capacity. The attack, had it been executed, could have killed up to 4,500 people.
When several of the Fuqra members tried to enter the United States in 1991, U.S. border guards found aerial photos, videotaped interiors, entry plans and instructions for bomb-building. Though five suspects stood trial, none were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. Only three were convicted of conspiring to commit mischief endangering life. They were sentenced to 12 years in prison.
At the time of the 1991 Fuqra prosecution, it appeared to be an isolated incident. As the Star points out, "only now can it be seen as a part of a series of alleged and proven cases of homegrown Islamic terror in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa."
In January, several members of the "Toronto 18" terror cell were sentenced for their role in a conspiracy to attack public buildings and kill Canadian politicians. The plan involved detonating truck bombs near offices of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Toronto Stock Exchange and a military base in Ontario. The leader of the group was sentenced to life in prison, while other members received various shorter sentences.
Just last week, Canadian police arrested three individuals suspected of having links to al-Qaida. The three have now been charged with alleged involvement in a conspiracy to carry out a terrorist attack on Canadian targets. Canadian authorities say that they found over 50 circuit boards designed to remotely detonate explosive devices, terrorist literature and instructional documents.
The group behind Canada's 1991 terrorist plot, Jamaat ul-Fuqra, has also plotted, and in some cases carried out, terrorist attacks inside the United States. A 2001 State Department report noted that:
"Fuqra members have attacked a variety of targets that they view as enemies of Islam, including Muslims they regard as heretics and Hindus. Attacks during the 1980s included assassinations and firebombings across the United States"
One of these Fuqra attacks was carried out by Stephen Paster, who was convicted in 1983 for firebombing an Oregon hotel owned by an Indian guru. Paster served only four years of a 20-year sentence. Authorities believe that Paster traveled to Pakistan after his release, where he is now suspected of providing explosives training to Fuqra members.
In the late 1980s, the Colorado Attorney General's Office prosecuted several Fuqra members after a search a storage locker revealed a gold mine of radical materials. Among the items found in the locker were 30 to 40 pounds of explosives, three large pipe bombs, handguns with removed serial numbers, military training and bomb-building manuals, Fuqra-related publications and blank government documents such as social security cards and birth certificates. The search even turned up a silhouette for firearms target practice with the words "FBI Anti-terrorist team" printed above the target's bull's-eye.
These materials led to several convictions of Fuqra leaders, including James D. Williams, who acted as a Colorado Fuqra leader from the mid-1980s until 1990. Williams was convicted in 1993 for conspiracy to commit first degree murder, racketeering and forgery.
Williams fled after his conviction. He was living at a Fuqra compound in Red House, Virginia when he was apprehended in 2000. The next year, he was sentenced to 69 years in prison.