Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Raheem
Qur’an 4:135 “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.”
James Coates had learned of a plot involving the WhyIslam-Houston Media ‘in-charge’ and producer of ‘Ïslamic Perspectives’ cable public access television show (Kobie Williams) and the ICNA Relief-Houston ‘in-charge’ and general Whyislam associate (Adnan Mirza) to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight against US and coalition forces along-side of local insurgents as well as to send money to the Taliban via their families using local clinic in Pakistan.
James and his family had been living in Houston since 1998 as part of the local Muslim community. He participated in organizing community events, fundraisers and community outreach. James met Kobie Williams, one of the defendants in the Houston Taliban case during one of these community events and they became friends and worked on outreach projects together for the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).
On the way back from a holiday camping trip to Big Bend National Park around 2002, James and Kobie were stopped by US Customs and Border Patrol as part of a routine border check. The border patrol noticed a copy of the Qur’an on the dashboard of the car and performed a detailed check of their vehicle where they noticed firearms (legitimate) which belonged to the men. Therefore, due to the heightened security issues at the time they notified the local FBI field office.
The FBI visited both James and Kobie to enquire about their activities during the camping trip at Big Bend. James assured the FBI that there was no use of the firearms and that it had been an innocent camping trip. This was accepted by the FBI. After that time, the FBI periodically called on James, due to his interaction with the community to see if there is anything of which they should be aware.
When the FBI made contact with Kobie at his home, he initially shut the door in their face. James encouraged Kobie to cooperate with the FBI as it was causing a lot of undue suspicion as they had not been doing anything illegal. Whereas, Kobie and his wife opposed cooperation with the federal government and in fact had to be formally interviewed with a lawyer present about the Big Bend incident.
Several months later at one of their regular WhyIslam planning meetings, James and Kobie discussed general topics about the WhyIslam campaign as they had done ever since the following months after the September 11, 2001 attacks when the group was formed. After the agenda was discussed, as often, they began to talk about non-related and more personal topics. Kobie took the conversation into a new direction as he mentioned that he hatched a plan to go to Iraq to join insurgents in the fight against US and coalition forces. He stated that he felt that this was part of his Islamic duty to defend Muslims from US aggression.
A few weeks later at another Whyislam meeting, this time with Adnan Mirza attending, Kobie and Adnan brought up the topic again. This was the first time James realized they had spoken among themselves privately prior to the meeting and the plan had developed further. Kobie had asked Adnan for help in making contacts in Canada that may help with a stay over prior to traveling to the Middle East and eventually on to Iraq, ideas of where to go, who to meet and ideas for how to train. The stop-over in Canada was intended to help avoid travel suspicions by US authorities. Adnan began engaging in the conversation with ideas to use ICNA Relief, which Adnan had control over in Houston, as a possible reason for travel and made contacts in Canada for Kobie who eventually did travel to Canada to meet them.
That night James discussed with his wife as to how serious the conversation had become and the implications of ignoring it. If it was ignored and something did happen, he and his wife were concerned about the possibility of the government shutting down ICNA and WhyIslam if it came to light that this was done using ICNA via ICNA Relief or WhyIslam as a cover to do it or as a recruitment tool. It would jeopardize, not just ICNA’s future in the US and it’s efforts, but the plight of all Muslims in the greater Houston area. It would jeopardize people and organizations that James had worked very hard to defend and advocate for in the media when difficult times came as a result of extremist Muslims actions (such as Al Qaida and the Taliban) worldwide. Groups like Holy Land Foundation and others have been shut down entirely for alleged links to terror groups even though the allegations seemed convoluted at the time. James was also concerned that if they had succeeded in getting to Iraq or Afghanistan they would have been drawn into the conflicts that were flaring up there and ultimately killing fellow Muslims or other innocent people.
James considered going to the ICNA leadership with his concerns, but was convinced based on previous experience with ICNA’s leadership that the situation would not be able to be handled from within the organization and it would simply cause the activity to go further underground. [See Note A]
Since 2002, prior to even first contact with the FBI, James spent countless hours trying to convince Adnan and Kobie that the Taliban were not good people, distorted Islam and were bad for the population of Afghanistan. It became clear that the two were determined to support the Taliban with discussions often well into the early hours of the morning after regular Whyislam meetings. James knew the discussion to try to deter Kobie and Adnan from supporting them would be a pointless exercise and cause suspicion now that the two were talking about participating in armed jihad and sending money to support the cause.
James deliberated for over 2 months after Kobie mentioned his intention to go to Iraq. He considered Islamic and practical justifications for bringing the matter to the attention of the FBI and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to go away without external help. The next time James met with the FBI he mentioned it thinking that the FBI would talk to them about it and it would discourage them from taking it any further and endangering the entire community.
The FBI became keenly interested in it but could not get anyone in place in time for Kobie’s visit to Canada. More FBI interviews with James were scheduled thereafter. James was encouraged to assist with the investigation, promising that his name would not be released publicly which would destroy his local Islamic work and credibility with the community. As he got more deeply involved and his FBI case handlers changed it turned out it was a promise that later would not be kept.
Kobie and Adnan continued having discussions among themselves often only informing James afterwards, typically during WhyIslam meetings when the whole group would discuss Whyislam matters. It became apparent that the plan had morphed from Kobie going to Iraq on his own to one where he would put together a Jamaat (group) instead. They were concerned that they needed to learn to fight prior to leaving and in the meantime they decided that they could help in the fight by sending money to insurgents. Since James owned and was experienced with firearms from years of hunting trips they decided that they would task him with conducting weapons training camps. Adnan was tasked by Kobie to recruit additional members and send money to insurgents through the contacts he claimed that he had.
The group arranged to use a property partially owned by the Islamic Society of Greater Houston who were not aware of the group’s plans. The training camp had a written agenda and was called the Khalid bin Waleed Camp, after a renowned mujahid in Islamic history Kobie had read about.
The group initially discussed traveling to Iraq and financially supporting Iraq insurgents through Adnan’s contacts in Kuwait. After Adnan had determined that it was too dangerous to go through his Kuwait contacts, instead he decided to research the options for Afghanistan.
The group discussed recruiting a few trusted people for the purpose of going on armed jihad against US forces using word of mouth and the WhyIslam telephone campaign that Adnan had been maintaining for the Texas area.
An undercover FBI agent was then introduced to the group as a potential member. Kobie and Adnan were deeply committed to fighting abroad did not show any signs of changing their mind, so James felt bound to continue to assist in the investigation.
Kobie and Adnan also went to a number of local scholars to see if they would act as spiritual support for the group including the ICNA Whyislam Coordinator West, Northwest Chapter (name withheld) and an Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) scholar at the Mission Bend Mosque. Although there may have been some sympathy for the plight of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan under occupation by the US, the scholars refused to be involved.
Approximately 5 combat training camps were held over the course of the year. Attendees paid for supplies to attend and sometimes brought their own weapons. Many people invited by Adnan attended the camps and practiced firearms training, but only 2 others were actually recruited by Adnan (and subsequently held to charges in connection with intent to violate federal laws).
With the evidence from the training camps and recorded conversations between Adnan, Kobie and the others in late 2006 the FBI had enough evidence to move forward with arrests. The total number of people arrested were four including Adnan and Kobie.
One of the four was a young man recruited by Adnan into the group that James had tried hard to dissuade Adnan from recruiting him into the group due to his youth and James’ friendship with the family. However, Adnan insisted on bringing him in.
Ultimately, Kobie Williams plead guilty to the charges, while Adnan Mirza and his family claimed that he was entrapped. All of the juries (and Kobie’s admission) in connection with the cases rejected the entrapment defence.
In an interview by Adnan Mirza from prison with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, he used his charity work to justify his claim of innocence and claims he was going hunting. He believes he has been defrauded by Kobie and believes Kobie has an, “intellectual disability” and should be diagnosed as having “Aspergers or High Functioning Autism”. Kobie is not known to be mentally handicapped and Adnan’s claim is dubious. Adnan also blames poor public defending on behalf of his counsel, but he has changed lawyers numerous times and is currently serving 15 years because he would not accept a plea. All of the other defendants have served their time and have been released.
A campaign by supporters of Adnan Mirza within ICNA has encouraged the leadership to ban James’ account, BrJimC, from the Whyislam.org website forum where he spent years defending and promoting Islamic topics. He also served as a moderator at the forum for some time. Other members (Muslim and non-Muslim) who supported James during this event and people who since discussed the topic on the website have since been banned by the ICNA National Shurah Council in conjunction with the website’s Shurah Council that governs the administration of the website. Many others have quit the forum in disgust.
A new position of “Forum Cop” has since been created in the wake of these events and members have reported a heavy hand against people who defended James during the organization’s crisis. The website forum has since archived all of the posts leading up to these events and saved them for SEO purposes and can still be found on the website. One of the easiest to find is the Story of BrJimC which lists first on google in a search for “Whyislam BrJimC”.
ICNA continues to condemn terrorism. However, as a result of his involvement in bringing this plot to the authorities, ICNA-National in consultation with ICNA’s Houston chapter expelled James from membership in the organization.
The plot topic and what happened to BrJimC is still a banned topic on their forums.
James maintains that these were not evil individuals and were at one time his friends who he liked and respected very much. However, James felt very strongly that what they were doing was misguided and would put not only themselves into danger but other Muslims and perhaps non-Muslims as well. James remains a committed follower of Islam and supporter of his local community.
Note A: As an example, on an earlier occasion, James organized an event on behalf of ICNA Relief-Houston and WhyIslam-Houston to raise funds for a joint project to purchase property in the 3rd Ward area along side of the I-45/US 288 freeways. The property was to dub as a soup kitchen for ICNA Relief-Houston and WhyIslam dawah activities. It would also build and house a large WhyIslam campaign billboard seen by the highway. At the fundraiser, Imam Siraj Wahaj was brought in to support the event that would be a grand effort to help local non-Muslims as well as the local Islamic community. The event raised roughly $67,000 from local Muslims. Soon afterwards, the money disappeared and the organizers learned that the person handling finances (Manzoor… lastname omitted) had stolen the money and sent it to one of his businesses in Pakistan. After some many months, James had pushed the ICNA Houston chapter leadership to take the matter to the police and/or FBI. Incredible effort was made and eventually the President of ICNA Houston (Abu Ahmad Hanif Harris) did go to the local FBI office with James to discuss how to proceed with such a case. The decision was made by the ICNA-Houston Board of Directors that the President of ICNA Houston would not press criminal charges and involve the authorities. Instead, they would try to beg the individual for the money back. After some months, the individual agreed. Instead of taking the money out of Pakistan, the individual used ICNA’s name (unauthorized) to go to many ISGH Mosques and raise money from them and individuals, under false pretence, claiming it was for a new ICNA Relief project. He used this money to repay his personal debt to ICNA’s Houston chapter. It was after this debt was repayed that the ICNA Relief/Whyislam joint effort was able to purchase the 2 properties on the I-45/US 288 corridor where they planned to eventually build what they named the “Charles Freeman Center” which would house the soup kitchen, ICNA Relief and Whyislam dawah projects.