El Rukns had early terror ties

It's not the first time gangs have been linked to terrorism.

Chicago Sun Times/June 11, 2002
By Carlos Sadovi

Before the al-Qaida terrorist network became a blip on watchdogs' radar screens, a high-ranking leader of the notorious El Rukn street gang reached out to buy anti-tank rocket launchers as part of a plot to commit terrorist acts in the United States for Libya in exchange for cash.

It's unclear whether Jose Padilla a k a Abdullah al Muhajir was using his gang affiliation to sponsor terrorism. But Padilla--an admitted Latin Disciple--was nabbed at O'Hare last month and tagged as an al-Qaida terrorist. The FBI said he had changed his name, converted to Islam and trained with the terrorist network.

While street gangs are known for causing havoc on city streets, Padilla was set to inflict major damage by conspiring to build and detonate a "dirty'' bomb in the United States, the FBI said.

"Like all American gangs, [terrorist groups] have this combative, hate-the-system, tear-it-up, blow-it-up attitude,'' said George Knox, director of the National Gang Crime Research Center. "What drives gangs is conflict ... it's like they made it big time, they want to wreak havoc.''

Knox said the first link between gangs and terrorist groups surfaced when El Rukn leader Jeff Fort was convicted in 1987 of plotting to carry out terrorism against the United States on behalf of Libya for a $2.5 million payment to the South Side street gang. No terrorist acts were carried out, Knox said.

Knox also pointed to the relationship between the Latin Kings and the FALN, the Spanish acronym for the Armed Forces of National Liberation, the terrorist group that fought for the independence of Puerto Rico.

Officials also suspect a link between local street gangs and terrorist groups through the purchase and sale of illegal drugs, said Tom Donahue, executive director of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federally funded agency that works to help combat the problem.

Knox called prisons terrorist training camps and said many inmates convert to Islam there but sometimes only discover a "gang's version of Islam,'' which has little connection to the faith.

A U.S. official said Padilla converted to Islam after serving time in Florida.

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