TCS Daily

Ujaama and Muhammad

By Greg Buete - October 24, 2002 12:00 AM

Late Wednesday night authorities began searching for two "people of interest" in relation to the Beltway Sniper. What's interesting is that one of the two "persons of interest" was identified as a Tacoma, Washington man connected with Fort Lewis. Stuck in the middle of this story is something even more interesting. The FBI is also searching a militia training camp in Marion, Alabama, in possible connection to the sniper case.

Step back for a moment. What's the common link between Tacoma, Washington and Marion, Alabama?

It could be James Ujaama, Zain-ul-abidin, and Abu Hamza.

James Ujaama is currently being held without bond as a material witness and has been indicted for attempting to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon. Once a model citizen and entrepreneur, Ujaama crossed over into the dark world of Abu Hamza, a man that Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Hamilton recently called "perhaps the best known terrorist in the world." Hamza is associated with the Islamic Army of Aden, a Yemeni terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the USS Cole bombing in October of 2000. The FBI believes that Hamza is an al-Qaeda recruiter, whose London mosque was even visited by Zacarias Moussaoui.

The US government believes that after moving to London in the late 1990s Ujaama became a disciple of Hamza, who personally wrote a letter of recommendation that Ujaama used to enter an Afghanistan training camp. For the past five years Ujaama has studied from one of the best terrorists around. In return Ujaama offered his computer expertise to help Hamza maintain militant anti-American web sites. This is nothing new to Ujaama, creator of, a Web site that is highly critical of US foreign policy. It wasn't always so; Washington state lawmakers named June 10, 1994, James Ujaama Day, in recognition for his community service. That day he also received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition. My, how times have changed.

Enter Semi Osman. Back home, Ujaama was a frequent patron of a mosque in Seattle, whose imam was a vocal Lebanese man named Semi Osman. Searching for an Islamic commune, Osman discovered some property outside of Bly through a friend of his wife. What Osman saw as a commune, Ujaama saw as an opportunity for business with his old master Abu Hamza.

Authorities believe that Ujaama faxed Hamza a proposal to use the property in Bly as a safehouse and terrorist training camp, remarking how the Bly terrain was very similar to that of Afghanistan. An intrigued Hamza sent a pair of operatives to evaluate the Bly property. They were Oussama Kassir, a Lebanese Swede who claimed to be a hitman of Osama bin Laden, and Haroon Aswat, a British Indian. Looking back, Hamza must have been thrilled at the prospect of a new terror camp in the US. Indeed, he once told ABC News that America's laws make these camps easy to run, "like a picnic." But, alas, the training camp never blossomed as he hoped. In the two weeks that Hamza's trainers occupied Bly not a single recruit showed. The Seattle operators spent their time horseback riding, while Hamza's associates fumed. Oussama Kassir was so frustrated and angry with Ujaama that he threatened to shoot him.

Ujaama eventually returned to London. That could have been the end of the story. However, on September 11, 2001, 19 Middle Eastern hijackers executed the worst terrorist event in history. It was only then that the Bly cell began to unravel.

Part of their bad fortune included a Guantanamo Bay prisoner, Feroz Abbasi, who was able to finger Ujaama to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. This path led to other members of the Bly cell, including Osman, who was traced to Bly by investigators through a late 1999 routine traffic stop. The word was out. Immigration authorities arrested Osman when he appeared for a citizenship interview in Seattle. He was charged with possessing a handgun with removed serial number, and fraudulently trying to become a US citizen. The FBI obtained a search warrant for Osman's apartment and found weapons, military maps, instructions on poisoning water supplies, propaganda of Abu Hamza, and other materials related to Islamic extremism.

The apartment was located in Tacoma, Washington.

Osman, a Navy reservist, cooperated with authorities. When Ujaama returned to the US, the Feds were watching his every step.

Shift to Alabama. Over the summer, Scotland Yard charged Sulayman Balal Zain-ul-abidin, an alleged member of the al-Qaeda network, under Britain's Prevention of Terrorism Act for inviting individuals to undergo terrorist training. Zain-ul-abidin, aka Frank Etim, operated Sakina Security Services, an obvious front for Islamic militancy that included advertising on its Web site a combat course titled "Ultimate Jihad Challenge." The "Ultimate Jihad Challenge" was a two-week course on a 1,000-acre property in Marion, Alabama, called "Ground Zero, USA." The Alabama camp was not owned or operated by Zain-ul-abidin; Authorities believe that the British owners were used by men like Zain-ul-abidin to lure Islamic militants to learn combat training for future Islamic causes. Mark Yates and Berkeley & Associates - the company that operates the camp - have both repeatedly denied any relationship with Sakina Security Services. Both the prosecution and defense in the Zain-ul-abidin case have accepted that Yates ran a legitimate firearms course in Marion. I'm not sure if that will fly with Marion Police Chief Tony Buford. He said he became suspicious when he learned the course used buses and police vehicles as targets.

Although his lawyers deny it, authorities say that James Ujaama designed the Sakina Security Services Web site, which advertised the "Ultimate Jihad Challenge," thus linking Ujaama to Zain-ul-abidin. Furthermore, Zain-ul-abidin is known to have trained bodyguards for Abu Hamza.

By Thursday morning the police had found and arrested their two "persons of interest." John Allen Muhammad, aka John Allen Williams, and a juvenile who is possibly Muhammad's stepson, Lee Malvo, were sleeping in their vehicle when police swooped upon them. The case had been broken because the credit card that the sniper asked authorities to transfer $10 million in ransom money had been stolen in a Montgomery, Alabama liquor store double shooting about a month before. At the scene police found Lee Malvo's fingerprint. Not too bright.

An expert in combat support missions, Muhammad was "connected to" Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington - a premier Army sniper training facility. Is it possible that we will learn that Muhammed is linked to the Bly cell or even to naval reservist Semi Osman, who had an apartment in Tacoma, Washington? Why was the FBI searching "Ground Zero USA" in Marion, Alabama? Could Muhammed ever have been recruited to train at "Ground Zero USA" through Zain-ul-abidin's Web site? Last week the FBI questioned detainees at Guantanamo Bay in order to find a possible terrorism link to the sniper. At Guantanamo, did the Feds speak with Feroz Abbasi, and could he have fingered Muhammad as attending an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, or being an associate of Ujaama?

This case changes by the hour so stay tuned. It's possible that the FBI is only looking at "Ground Zero USA" to cover their bases. Given that authorities recently traveled to Guantanamo to question the terrorism angle I suppose it could be a coincidence that John Muhammad is linked to Tacoma, Washington, and Marion, Alabama - but it'd be an awfully big one.



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