DETROIT — Federal authorities on Wednesday arrested several members of a radical Sunni Islam group in the U.S., killing one of its leaders at a shootout in a Michigan warehouse, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Agents were trying to arrest Luqman Ameen Abdullah, 53, at a Dearborn warehouse on charges that included conspiracy to sell stolen goods and illegal possession and sale of firearms. Authorities also conducted raids elsewhere to try to round up 10 followers named in a federal complaint.
No one was charged with terrorism. But Abdullah was “advocating and encouraging his followers to commit violent acts against the United States,” FBI agent Gary Leone said in an affidavit filed with the 43-page criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday.
FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said Abdullah refused to surrender, fired a weapon and was killed by gunfire from agents.
In the complaint, the FBI said Abdullah, also known as Christopher Thomas, was an imam, or prayer leader, of a radical group named Ummah whose primary mission is to establish an Islamic state within the United States.
He told them it was their “duty to oppose the FBI and the government and it does not matter if they die,” Leone said.
Abdullah regularly preached anti-government rhetoric and was trained, along with his followers, in the use of firearms, martial arts and swords, the agent said.
Leone said members of the national group mostly are black and some converted to Islam while in prisons across the United States.
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“Abdullah preaches that every Muslim should have a weapon, and should not be scared to use their weapon when needed,” Leone wrote.
Seven of the 10 people charged with Abdullah were in custody, including a state prison inmate, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Three were still at large. Another man not named in the complaint also was arrested.
The group believes that a separate Islamic state in the U.S. would be controlled by Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly known as H.
Rap Brown, who is serving a life sentence in a federal prison in Colorado for shooting two police officers in Georgia in 2000, Leone said. Al-Amin, a veteran of the black power movement, started the group after he converted to Islam in prison.
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“They’re not taking their cues from overseas,” said Jimmy Jones, a professor of world religions at Manhattanville College and a longtime Muslim prison chaplain. “This group is very much American born and bred.”
The movement at one time was believed to include a couple of dozen mosques around the country. Ummah is now dwarfed in numbers and influence by other African-American Muslim groups, particularly the mainstream Sunnis who were led by Imam W.D. Mohammed, who recently died.
By evening, authorities still were working the scene near the Detroit-Dearborn border and the warehouse was surrounded by police tape.
The U.S. attorney’s office said an FBI dog was also killed during the shootout.
Abdullah’s mosque is in a brick duplex on a quiet, residential street in Detroit. A sign on the door in English and Arabic reads, in part, “There is no God but Allah.”
Several men congregated on the porch Wednesday night and subsequently attacked a photographer from The Detroit News who was taking pictures from across the street. Ricardo Thomas had his camera equipment smashed and had a bloody lip from the attack.
Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Dearborn, said the FBI had briefed him about Wednesday’s raids and told him they were the result of a two-year investigation.
“We know that this is not something to be projected as something against Muslims,” Hamad said.
The complaint shows the FBI built its case with the help of confidential sources close to Abdullah who recorded conversations.
A source said that Abdullah regularly beat children inside the mosque with sticks, including a boy who was “unable to walk for several days,” Leone said.
The source, according to the agent, regularly listened to a recording of a 2004 sermon in which Abdullah said, “Do not carry a pistol if you’re going to give it up to police. You give them a bullet!”
In January 2009, members were evicted from a former mosque for failing to pay property taxes. An FBI search turned up empty shell casings and large holes in the concrete wall of a “shooting range,” Leone said.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the federal authorities’ description of Abdullah’s extremist links didn’t match what he knew of Abdullah.
“I knew him to be charitable,” Walid said. “He would open up the mosque to homeless people. He used to run a soup kitchen and feed indigent people. … I knew nothing of him that was related to any nefarious or criminal behavior.”
Abdullah had a wife and children, Walid said. A phone number for the family had been disconnected.