Mercury-News: Charter school chain may have funded terror group

This is a few days old but it flew beneath the blogosphere’s radar. It’s a great example of a newspaper going the extra mile and looking into the story behind the story.

“Sister Khadijah” founded a bunch of charter schools throughout California, and got a hefty state subsidy to run them. But school neighbors and state investigators became suspicious when, for example, the schools reported 100% attendance on days when the school was closed:

The evidence would persuade a jury in July 2006 to convict Ghafur on 13 counts of grand theft, misappropriation, fraud and tax evasion. But the closer [Justice Dep’t. Special Agent] Win looked, the more unusual the case became.

The story could have ended there, but Win and the Merc-News’ Sean Webby and Brandon Bailey were curious about where the money was actually going and dug a little deeper.

The answer could lie in evidence never introduced in court. The Mercury News has learned of several overseas fund transfers, a mysterious letter and a web of connections between Ghafur and an obscure Pakistani cleric known as Sheikh Syed Mubarik Ali Gilani.

Supporters say Gilani is a charitable teacher and spiritual leader who promotes self-improvement. But over the years, state and federal authorities have described him as the head of an international terrorist group who draws financial support from followers in the United States.

Gilani’s group is called Al-Fuqra, and they mostly keep a low profile, establishing outposts in rural America that send money back to the homebase in Pakistan. (Ghafur was not charged on any count related to terrorism and denies connection with terrorist groups.)

There’s more background on Al-Fuqra in the Merc piece, and here’s a Weekly Standard piece on it from 2002. Here’s Baron Boddissey (of Gates of Vienna) looking at an alleged Fuqra compound in rural Virginia–which connects Al-Fuqra with Beltway Sniper John Allen Muhammed. Here’s the Politics of CP’s collection of posts on the possibility of a similar outpost in rural Georgia, with some background links as well. And here’s…Dan Rather?!

Oh, and must-see Sheik Gilani video here.

Wow, this’d make a great Vent, wouldn’t it?

Good work by the Merc News, polishing its sterling reputation as the Least Insane Bay Area Newspaper!