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Muslim terrorists convicted on firearms charges in the US

Muslim terrorists convicted on firearms charges in the US

Author: Jen McCaffery
Publication: The Roanoke Times, Virginia
Date: December 1, 2001

Purchase was illegal for convicted felon  2 guilty of plot to buy pistols

Authorities say the man is linked to a radical  group, though that didn't come up during trial.

Lynchburg - The jurors never heard the words Al-Fuqra.

They did not hear that Vincente Pierre has been linked by federal authorities to Al-Fuqra, a radical Islamic group whose members have been convicted of the firebombing of a Hare Krishna temple in Colorado, and the murder of an imam in Tucson. They did not hear that Pierre pleaded guilty in Colorado in 1993 to workers' compensation fraud in an Al-Fuqra scheme.

Instead, Pierre and his wife, Traci Upshur, were tried on evidence that Pierre, a convicted felon, arranged for his wife to buy firearms for him because it was illegal for him to possess them. Unlike at Pierre's detention hearing, the evidence presented against him at his trial did not hint at Pierre's past.

The jury found the evidence convincing enough to convict the couple, who have eight children, of conspiring to buy two handguns for Pierre. Pierre, 44, and Upshur, 37, were convicted of conspiracy and making false statements. Pierre was convicted of six counts, and Upshur was convicted of four counts and was found not guilty on a fifth count of making false statements on another occasion.

They face up to five years on each count at their sentencing, scheduled for April.

Federal prosecutor Tom Bondurant said he brought up the Al-Fuqra link at Pierre's detention hearing because he argued that Pierre was a flight risk and a danger to the community. But he did not bring it up at the trial because "we had no basis to bring it up. His association with any group has nothing to do with this case."

He declined to say whether he thought any other community members were being investigated. Members of the group have denied any connection to terrorist activity in the past and pointed out that Muslims were killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Pierre and Upshur declined to comment after the verdict, as did some of their supporters in the courtroom.

Susan Fenger, a retired former chief criminal investigator on the case in Colorado, was on hand for the trial and talked about Al-Fuqra. She investigated Pierre in the Colorado case. Pierre was sentenced to probation after his conviction.

Fenger said the leader of the group, Sheikh Jilani, had been met with terrorist organizations in Sudan in 1993. She said the group is still active.

"Its main focus is to purify Islam through force or violence," she said.

The group "paints a face to the public that they are peaceful people," Fenger said. "But that's all a front. Al-Fuqra is set up to defraud various agencies."

The jury found Pierre guilty Friday of conspiring with his wife to buy .45-caliber handguns for him at a shop called the Outpost, outside Appomatox. Pierre would order and pay for the weapons, while Upshur would sign the paperwork. John Massarini, a retired police chief from New Jersey who owns the Outpost, assisted Special Agent Thomas Gallagher of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms with the investigation.

The defendants' case was likely damaged when Upshur took the stand and said she was buying the handguns for herself, even though she displayed little familiarity with the workings of the weapons and admitted she had never fired a gun. Upshur testified that she bought the gun for self-defense, then testified that she kept it at the home of someone else in the community.

Pierre, who Bondurant argued gave a fake name of Rafael Upshur at the gun shop, did not take the stand.

Defense lawyers Thomas Wray of Roanoke and Gary Smith and Carter Foulds of Winchester attacked Massarini for discrepancies in his testimony and about whether he assumed Rafael's last name was Upshur because that was his wife's name or whether Pierre told him that.

Gallagher said he was also assisting with another Al- Fuqra case in California, involving the death of a police officer.
 


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