On the Trail of an Islamist Enclave in South Texas

Located off a county road in South Texas, what some believe is an ISIS terror compound known as “Mahmoudberg” doesn’t look like a place where terrorists would train. It looks more like a small community of rundown homes and older trailer houses. In other words, it looks like a lot of rural Texas.

Built decades ago, the Mahmoudberg's homes are hidden in the thick woodland of Brazoria County where trees sweat and floodwaters pool. Abandoned cars and overfilled trash cans act as lawn ornaments in the overgrown yards of what many conservative bloggers call “an Islamist terror enclave” near the Texas coast.

A beheading of a South Texas man named Jubal Alexander is the reason for this expedition to the ISIS terror compound about 47 miles from the bridge where the decapitated body was found. A pipefitter by trade, he’d been employed at his job fewer than 30 days when someone killed him on April 27. His head is still missing.

A fisherman discovered his headless body on May 3. The 24-year-old Port Arthur resident's body was sitting in his blue Chevy pickup, where he’d been sleeping parked under a bridge near the Brazoria River. His company paid him a per diem, his father says, but he was saving the money and sending it to his girlfriend back home in Port Arthur.

“He was murdered in a terroristic way, in a way that is indicative to ISIS,” his father posted on Facebook in early May. “They cut his head off and took it. I believe it was Islamic Extremists. ... We should not live in a country where our children and families’ heads are cut off. ... Please take a stand against extreme Islam.” He wrote “jihadists and cartel” mules are crossing the river all the time because it channels into the Gulf of Mexico. “No VISA or passport is required,” he wrote.

“It is so hard!!!” he added. “I cannot bury all of my son!!! The fear that some Islamic extremists will use it as a prop ... Me and his mother are broken …”

His fear is grounded in a dubious claim that the FBI had found terrorist cells across the country, even deep within conservative states like Texas. The report was by the Clarion Project, a maker of films that drum up fear of an Islamic effort to take over America. The project is part of what the Center for American Progress calls the Islamophobia network drumming up anti-Muslim hysteria.

“New Terror Compound Found In Heart of Texas,” “Exclusive: Islamist Terror Enclave Discovered in Texas,” “Mahmoudberg: Jihadist Camp Near Sweeny, Texas,” headlines read on websites such as WND, the largest Christian website in the world and blogs like Creeping Sharia, a site dedicated to Islamic terror. It’s a place where, they say, Muslims shoot firearms “without interference from law enforcement,” as if they dared to claim the same Constitutional freedoms as other Texans.

The Brazoria Sheriff’s Office doesn’t know who beheaded Alexander or the exact cause of death (other than the obvious), but Chris Kincheloe, the captain of investigations, disagrees with conservative bloggers. “Buddy, there’s no link to cartels or ISIS other than what’s been put on Facebook,” he says several times during a phone conversation. “There is no link other than the bizarre way that he was found and how he's dead. …”

Some people in Brazoria County claim Alexander’s beheading was cartel related since severed heads have been appearing in ice chests just south of the Texas/Mexican border for several years now. Buzzy, a gas station attendant who resembles Gandalf, but shorter in stature and beard length, told the Observer that he’s seen “all kinds of shit” come through West Columbia, a small town north of the alleged ISIS terror compound. 

A 9-year-veteran of the gas station industry, the former wrecker driver recalled one stormy night when an SUV pulling an old boat trailer without a boat was stopped by local police. Four Mexicans, he says, jumped out and took off running like jackrabbits. Police searched the vehicle and discovered 120 pounds of dope stuffed in the back of the SUV.
Buzzy speculated that Alexander’s son probably saw something he wasn’t supposed to see sleeping in his pickup underneath the bridge. It's a place, he says, where smugglers transport drugs along the river, which drains into the Gulf of Mexico. “To me, that’s just idiotic to sleep in your car,” he said as he stocked an ice chest.

The ISIS terror compound, he says, isn’t a place for jihadists like conservative bloggers claim, but a 40-year-old community of Muslims called “Mahmoudberg,” whose assorted residents include a former police officer, an-ex constable, an ER nurse and plant workers like Alexander’s son. (It’s unclear if they still work in those professions, and access to the community is limited.)

“But folks around here don’t want the real news,” Buzzy says.

No gunfire erupted when I parked in front of the gate leading into Mahmoundberg. Several minutes pass, yet no jihadists rush out with raised machetes and “For the glory of Allah” on their tongues. Mismatched curtains remain drawn, and faded signs read “Private Property” and “No Trespassing.” A small African-American child playing basketball is the only Muslim to make an appearance on this Sunday afternoon. Dark hair in braids, she wears mismatched clothes and sandals and dribbles the ball atop the dirt road, aiming for a basketball goal that leans a little too far to the left.

Finding the community took some time. Some of its neighbors weren’t sure of its exact location, other than it was “somewhere down the road.” Only one neighbor seemed to know exactly how to find it. “There’s a bunch of sand niggers going, ‘Ahbhbhbhb’ down the road,” he said as if he were making a whooping sound like an Indian from an old Western movie. He didn’t smile or make any kind of expression as he described seeing black Muslims often jogging down County Road 3. "If you're going there, good luck," he said, pointing out the landmarks that led to the alleged ISIS terror compound before he headed back toward his boat with his young son in tow.
The neighbor's bigotry isn't a surprise. It’s the same bigotry many conservative online commenters spewed on blogs publishing stories about Mahmoundberg. 

“If Texas will tolerate this (liberal area or not), is there anyplace that won’t?” one conservative desperately wrote. “Even conservative areas are being infiltrated with progressives and Muslims. God help us!”

“The handy situation about the way they operate is that they do commune together,” wrote another. “While it makes it easier for them to plot against us, it also makes them easier to target. We are fools for having allowed this to get to this point but it’s high time to raise civil disobedience hell about it.”

“I imagine that some neighborhood ‘good old boys’ are keeping an eye on them — at least I hope so,” another wrote. “I’d sure want to know it if muzzies were creating a training camp in my backyard.”

But the only training that seems to be occurring on this Sunday afternoon in the small community of Mahmoundberg is the girl trying to perfect her basketball technique on a dirt road
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.