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News ::
Islam Set Direction in Man's Life ()
10 Jul 2003
WASHINGTON - Randall Royer converted to Islam in St. Louis just after the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, with racial tensions high nationwide. When the 19-year-old Caucasian kid from Manchester walked into a mosque on the St. Louis University campus, he felt those tensions subside.
Islam set direction of area man's life
By Karen Branch-Brioso
06/28/2003

WASHINGTON - Randall Royer converted to Islam in St. Louis just after the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, with racial tensions high nationwide. When the 19-year-old Caucasian kid from Manchester walked into a mosque on the St. Louis University campus, he felt those tensions subside.

"It was me and this guy, who was white, and a guy who was black . . . and then an Arab and a Pakistani guy came, and we were all there talking," recalls Royer, who has since taken the name of Ismail Royer. "And I was like, 'This is amazing. We're all talking. There are no barriers between us.' It was really amazing to me how that could be. I just felt something."

Today, Royer and a similarly diverse group of 10 other Muslim men - most from his mosque in Falls Church, Va. - are now facing charges together that they conspired to fight with militant Islamic groups abroad.

They come from Yemen, South Korea, Pakistan and the United States. Some are white U.S. citizens, like Royer. Some are African-American converts. They played paintball together, attended Islamic lectures together, and, on one scholar's urging, many left the country after Sept. 11, 2001, to travel to Muslim countries.

The indictment says seven of them also traveled to Pakistan to take up arms against a U.S. ally - India. Royer was said to be the first of the group to go, in 2000, and then urged others to do the same.

Prosecutors portray Royer, 30, as a ringleader who "recruited conspirators for service with the Lashkar-e-Taiba": the Pakistani-based militant Muslim group fighting Indian forces in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Royer told the Post-Dispatch that he had done nothing illegal.

Being militant or outspoken on Muslim issues has been Royer's way for most of his life as a convert. He rejected Christianity early in life after disputing with schoolteacher nuns the logic of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - all being the same God.

Later, after arguing for a month over God's existence at all with a new Muslim friend, he gave in as a bird singing in a Manchester park interrupted their conversation.

"I said, 'Wow, that's a very beautiful bird.' And he said, 'In Islam, that bird is Muslim, because the bird follows God's laws and can do nothing but follow God's laws. And if you see how beautiful and peaceful that bird is, that's the kind of peace that human beings can achieve if they follow God's laws,'" Royer recalled in a recent interview with the Post-Dispatch. He said his next move was to consult the phone book for the nearest mosque.

Defending Bosnians

He said his parents, Ramon Royer, a Baptist, and Nancy Royer, a former Roman Catholic nun, "first thought it was a stage."

But, clearly, it was not. When Royer left St. Louis to study at American University in Washington, he also did office work on the side with the nation's largest Muslim civil rights group - the Council on American-Islamic Relations - the first of many stints he'd work there over the years.

Royer almost immediately found another motivation from his religion. In 1994, he quit college for a semester to enlist with Bosnian forces warring with the Serbs.

"I just kept seeing on the news about women in rape camps and pregnant women having their children carved out of their womb and it was really disturbing to me, and I saw that no one was really helping them anywhere in the world," he said.

"So I just kind of got on a plane and went over. . . . I wound up with a unit mixed with Arabs and Bosnians, the most beautiful people I've ever met in my life, and stayed there for about six months or so, until the end of the war.

"Some of the same people were there that wound up in Kashmir. That's how I wound up knowing the Lashkar-e-Taiba people. So that's why it wasn't anything strange that I did go to Pakistan."

Royer began a cycle of travel between Bosnia and Washington that would become routine. After the war ended in 1995, he returned to Washington and took a research job with the American Muslim Council. He returned to Bosnia, met and married his wife, Mirsada, and then returned to the United States in 1997 to rejoin the staff of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He became a civil rights coordinator there until he left for Bosnia again - soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - but this time at the suggestion of an Islamic scholar who lectured all the men in the indicted group.

The scholar, Ali al-Timimi, suggested they go abroad to Muslim countries to avoid backlash on Muslims in the United States. The indictment, however, says al-Timimi - referred to as "Unindicted Conspirator No. 1" - urged them to wage jihad, or holy war, abroad in Muslim countries.

According to the indictment, Royer already had gone to Pakistan in May 2000 to fire on Indian targets with the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant fighters. Royer said that his role with the group was only in providing communications aid: setting up a global e-mail list to promote the cause and writing news releases to boost the group's image abroad.

But in one area, the prosecutors and Royer's versions converge: He said he did link some of the other indicted men with Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders for their own later trips to Pakistan, where he assumed they underwent military training. At least one went with his help before the Sept. 11 attacks. Another went afterwards - like many, at the urging of scholar Al-Timimi.

Royer responded to the scholar's advice by traveling to Bosnia instead.

"I went to Bosnia to take myself out of the situation of being in a country that was going to war. I didn't like the way things were headed" after Sept. 11, Royer said. "Suddenly, my neighbor's children weren't talking to my children. I was the civil rights guy at CAIR, taking phone calls about women getting spit on, the FBI barging into houses where a woman was taking a shower and yanking her out of the shower, INS agents showing up at African-American Muslim houses because they had Arabic names.

"I just didn't like the direction this was all headed, so I was just like, 'Let me get the heck out of here.'"

An end to paintball

He and several members of the group, who played paintball in a rural Virginia field, stopped the games immediately. He said it was harmless fun, but they feared how it would be viewed after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The indictment says the paintball games were meant to "simulate actual combat in preparation for violent jihad."

Royer said that in addition to stopping the paintball games, he and his friends decided to sell their guns - also for appearance' sake. But the day he said he went to sell the gun - an AK-47 he'd bought in 2000 - Alexandria police pulled him over, confiscated the gun and arrested him for driving with a suspended license.

"When they pulled me over, I had a copy of the Quran, they were looking at that strange. I had my passport in a briefcase because I was preparing to leave for Bosnia. I had a gun for hunting I was going to sell," Royer said. "It was all very innocent, but the circumstances, all together, didn't look good."

Ramon Royer, his father, remembered the incident well. He was at his son's Virginia town house about the same time, when three FBI agents showed up "to ask about Randy's friends - and none too nicely." Ramon Royer said Alexandria police later informed his son that he could retrieve the gun they confiscated since he legally owned it but that his son didn't bother.

The gun came back to haunt him in the indictment, which states that several of the men bought AK-47-style weapons to prepare them for fighting with the weapon of choice for Muslim jihad fighters abroad.

"I came back in April of 2002 to the United States," he said. "When I came back, that's when these guys, the FBI, started back in earnest."

Some of Royer's life patterns continued. He returned to work for another Muslim group - this time the Muslim American Society. He and his wife had a fourth child. And Royer continued to travel to Islamic conferences.

But, like most everything else in his life since the FBI searched his home this spring, much has changed. He left his job at the Muslim American Society, an exit prompted by the investigation. And Royer's travel was sharply curtailed. As Royer tried to board a plane in Chicago to return home from a recent conference, security refused to let him on the plane. His name was placed on the "no-fly" list kept by the Transportation Security Administration - and he took a train home to Washington.
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