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.
direction of area man's life
By Karen Branch-Brioso
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
"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
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.
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,"
"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
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
"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
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
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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