The Shooting of Luqman Abdullah

By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Madelein Gruen
National Post (Canada)
Nov. 26, 2010

In late October, a shootout at a warehouse in Dearborn, Michigan, claimed the life of Luqman Abdullah — the imam of Detroit’s Masjid al-Haqq and a representative of a movement known as al-Ummah. The late Abdullah’s teachings represented an ideological fusion of fundamentalist Islam, black nationalism and common criminality. They conjured visions of government conspiracies against African-American Muslims, an impending violent clash with authorities and the need for revolution.

The shootout occurred during an FBI raid that was designed to disrupt the illegal activities of Abdullah and at least 10 associates — activities revealed by an undercover investigation stretching back about three years. Abdullah did not surrender when ordered; instead, he opened fire. He was shot to death, as was an FBI dog. The four men with Abdullah were arrested without incident.

Of the arrests that followed the shootout, three occurred in Canada: Abdullah’s son Mujahid Carswell and Canadians Yassir Ali Khan and Mohammad Philistine were arrested in Windsor, Ont. They face charges that include conspiracy to receive and sell goods that the defendants believed were stolen, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, providing firearms to a known convicted felon and tampering with motor vehicle identification numbers.

Observers disagree about al-Ummah’s ideology. A criminal complaint describes the movement as “a nationwide radical fundamentalist Sunni group consisting primarily of African-Americans.” The Muslim Alliance in North America, which had Abdullah on its consultative council, claims that this depiction “is an offensive mischaracterization.”

We do know that at one point, al-Ummah was led by Jamil al-Amin, 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 serving a life sentence following his 2002 conviction for shooting two police officers, one fatally. Multiple sources have estimated that al-Ummah had around 30 branches under al-Amin.

The three-year investigation of Luqman Abdullah did yield a great amount of information about his own ideology. It became clear that Abdullah saw the world as sharply divided in a struggle between good and evil, with Islam representing the good and the forces of disbelief representing the evil that must be opposed. To him, secular government was of the infidel.

In October 2008, when the African-American community was full of optimism about Barack Obama’s impending electoral victory, Abdullah emphasized that an Obama presidency would change nothing: “Obama is a Kafir [infidel]. Mc-Cain, all the rest of them Kuffar, are Kuffars. You can’t make them a good Kafir, bad Kafir.’”

In the face of this corrupt system, Abdullah insisted that violence was necessary, and emphasized that “you cannot have a non-violent revolution.” He expressed approval for transnational jihadi movements, telling his followers that “they need to be with the Taliban, Hizballah, and with Sheikh bin Laden.”

A special place was reserved for law enforcement in Abdullah’s rhetoric. He encouraged his followers to always be armed–even though many were convicted felons — in order to prepare for a confrontation. And Abdullah told an FBI 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, shouting “shoot cops in the head” and “pop, pop.”

Other North American leaders can be described as part of the same sort of “cause celebre” Islamic movement. For example, Abdul Alim Musa, an associate of Jamil al-Amin and the leader of the Washington, D.C.-based group As-Sabiqun, frequently emphasizes the themes of government machinations against African-American Muslims, inevitable clashes with authorities and the impending revolution. Following Abdullah’s shooting, Musa declared him a movement martyr, claiming that “what the government is doing by assassinating Imam Luqman is it’s trying to intimidate the Muslim community, especially the black community.”

In his public statements, Musa often warns of a war on African-American Muslims by the FBI at the behest of a “Zionist-controlled U.S. government,” and uses every

His brand of religion fused Sunni Islam with black nationalist grievances incident involving law enforcement actions against African-American Muslims as an opportunity to bolster his claim. One of Musa’s favorite themes is the use of “snitches and FBI informants” as a tool of government to eliminate the movement’s leaders.

As-Sabiqun’s stated goal is to establish the “Islamic State of North America” no later than 2050. However, Musa has given somewhat contradictory guidance about this. On the one hand, he tells his followers to invite people to Islam peacefully; on the other, he glorifies suicide bombers as heroes. Musa may be suggesting that violence is now justifiable, given the extremes to which the Muslim community in the U.S. has been “pushed.”

Clearly, the shooting of Luqman Abdullah did not eliminate the potential for violent groups that fuse Islamism with black nationalist grievances. It is a movement that must remain on the radar of those who are concerned about the possibility of homegrown terrorism.

- Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is director, and Madeleine Gruen deputy director, of the Center for Terrorism Research (CTR) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The most recent issue of the Center’s regular publication, CTR Vantage, is devoted to the Abdullah shooting.