Above: An image of Islamberg children released by Islamberg and The Muslims of America on May 16, 2015.
Islamberg, a rural Muslim community in the Delaware County town of Tompkins, has allowed a reporter from Reuters to visit its usually off-limits campus in the wake of the discovery of a plot to attack and kill its residents.
Islamberg is the worldwide headquarters of The Muslims of America, an American religious Muslim organization that was founded in 1980. Last month, the FBI and federal prosecutors revealed that Robert R. Doggart, a 63-year-old Tennessee man who ran for U.S. Congress in 2014, had been arrested for planning to attack Islamberg and its residents.
In the wake of news about the plot, residents of Islamberg held a press conference (see video below) and allowed Reuters, an international news agency, to visit their hamlet. (The Watershed Post has also requested permission to visit, but so far that request has not been granted.)
Right-wing organizations have circulated rumors that Islamberg is a jihadist training ground, and those rumors appear to have motivated Doggart's plan to attack the hamlet.
The Reuters article describes Islamberg as a small, tranquil community where residents spoke freely with a reporter:
Just beyond the gated entrance to the tiny Catskills community of Holy Islamberg, population 200, cows graze and ducks glide on a tranquil pond. Modest houses of wood and cinder block sit along the hamlet's single thoroughfare, a rutted dirt road without traffic signs ...
During a recent several-hour visit by a Reuters reporter, the community seemed organized and placid. Women tended vegetables in planter boxes, while young girls in head scarves and boys in knitted caps played nearby. Several Muslims of America leaders and two of the group's lawyers remained present, but did not try to control what other residents said ...
At a dinner gathering in an Islamberg home, residents dismissed the idea that they are training for a holy war or engaged in violence of any sort. "If you come here, you see that there's no threat," said Bilqees Abdallah, a nurse practitioner.
The Reuters article delves more deeply into Islamberg's history and theology, including its brushes with controversy.
Muslims of America, Islamberg's parent organization, has been investigated in the past for possible links to terrorist plots and groups, and has always been cleared of any wrongdoing. Its founder, Pakistani Sufi cleric Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani, was investigated in connection with the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl:
Gilani came under renewed scrutiny after the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was working on a story about "shoe bomber" Richard Reid at the time. On the morning he was abducted, Pearl believed he was going to meet with Gilani. Gilani was later cleared from involvement both with Reid and with the Pearl murder.
The article ends by interviewing Catskills locals about Islamberg, all of whom say that the community's residents are low-profile but friendly:
"We haven't really had any big issues with them," said Delaware County Sheriff Thomas Mills, adding that he couldn't recall a time when law enforcers had responded to a civil or criminal matter in Islamberg during his 17 years as sheriff.
And although the traditional Muslim attire of the group's residents makes them stand out in nearby working-class towns that favor flannel shirts and fishing waders, neighbors reported that the people of Islamberg generally keep a low profile.
Michelle Phoenix, town clerk in nearby Tompkins, says her exchanges with the Muslim group have been friendly, though she knows its members make some residents nervous.
Hancock resident Rose Mulqueen, 56, summed up the most common sentiment heard in the area. "I don't know much about them," she said "All I know is that they don't bother anyone."
Correction: Islamberg is located in the Delaware County town of Tompkins, not the town of Hancock.
Below: Video taken at a press conference held in Binghamton on May 18 by the Muslims of America, residents of the Tompkins community of Islamberg. Video shot and edited by Jessica Vecchione of Vecc Videography.