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Richard Reid (a.k.a. Abdel Raheem and Tariq Raja), became a radical Islamist while incarcerated in a UK prison. He attempted to ignite explosives in his shoes and thereby blow up an American Airlines plane in mid-flight during Christmastime in 2001.

Jose Padilla, a former Chicago IL street gang member also became a radical Islamist while in prison. He was arrested in 2002 on suspicion of planning to explode a "dirty bomb."

Some American Muslim groups and law enforcement organizations are concerned that one or more radical, Fundamentalist and potentially violent religious group in some U.S. prisons may be radicalizing Muslim inmates and gaining terrorist recruits.  1

The LA Times reported in 2005-AUG that:

"The possibility of connections between prison gangs and potential terrorists has been a worry for U.S. officials for some time."

"There are at least several significant investigations into the alleged use of federal and state prisons as bases for recruiting potential Islamic terrorists, according to a senior FBI counter-terrorism official in Washington." 2

Earlier in 2005, Robert Mueller, Director of the F.B.I. told the Senate Intelligence Committee that "prisons continue to be fertile ground for extremists who exploit both a prisoner's conversion to Islam while still in prison, as well as their socioeconomic status and placement in the community upon their release."

However, some investigators reject the concept that prisons in the U.S. are breeding grounds for terrorists.

bulletOne questioned why a terrorist group would select prisoners, knowing that their fingerprints and full personal data is recorded in government files.
bulletThe LA times mentioned that: "David Shwartz, retired religious services administrator for the federal Bureau of Prisons,...argues that Islam is a positive force in the rehabilitation of inmates." 2

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California armed robberies which may be linked to terrorism:

Three male Muslim suspects in their early to mid 20's -- one Pakistani citizen and two U.S. citizens -- were arrested during 2005-JUL and AUG in connection with a series of gas station robberies which had occurred during the spring of 2005. As of 2005-AUG-18, the three were being held in jail on ten counts of robbery and attempted robbery.

While investigating the apartment of one of the American suspects, police found bulletproof vests, what they described as radical jihadist literature, and the addresses of almost two dozen locations in Southern California that might have been selected for future terrorist attacks. These sites included a National Guard recruitment center, the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles, several synagogues, and the El Al ticket counter at the LAX Airport in Los Angeles. Investigators suspect that the group might possibly be members of a terrorist cell who may have planned to attack these locations either on or about 2005-SEP-11, the anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, or later during the Jewish High Holidays which fall during 2005 on OCT-04 to 13. Investigators speculate that the armed robberies may have been motivated by the need for money to finance these terrorist attacks. 2

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The potential prison link:

The F.B.I. has linked the three men to a group "Jamiyyat Ul Islam Is Saheeh," (a.k.a. JIS; Assembly of Authentic Islam) which is active in the California prison system. Rod Hickman, the Corrections Secretary, said at a press conference that "JIS is a disruptive group ... within the institutions of California." Hickman said: "The reality is that disruptive groups in prisons have been doing this for years" He compared the JIS to the Black Panther Party in the 1960s and the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 1970s as well as to the  more traditional and less politically oriented prison gangs such as the Mexican Mafia, the Nuestra Familia and the Aryan Brotherhood. He said: "No matter what the name is, they all have the same objective - to commit crimes and victimize the citizens of this state and our nation."

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Press conference by Muslim advocacy groups:

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California and the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) held a joint news conference on 2005-AUG-19. Their goal was to persuade the Federal Bureau of Prisons to hire more Muslim chaplains to combat the possibility of radicalization among Muslim inmates.

Shakeel Syed, a contractor chaplain with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said: "The suggestion by the Rand Corporation, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, and several legislators that federal prisons are being used as bases for recruiting what they call Islamic terrorists is not true and is unsubstantiated.  I have not come across even one instance where such a suggestion is true in the course of my 15 years with the Bureau of Prisons as a volunteer or contractor."

Syed and Salam Al-Marayati, the Executive Director of  MPAC, described the content of a federal report on the selection of Muslim chaplains. According to MPAC:

"The report found that radicalization took place when inmates followed Islam without direction or analysis – allowing inmates to distort Islam to encompass prison values such as gangs and loyalty to other inmates. In these institutions, Muslim inmates often lead Friday prayer services, and inmates who engage in radicalization have the opportunity to teach and lead other inmates without the countervailing influence of a mainstream Muslim chaplain, contractor, or volunteer." 4

The report states:

"We believe that the Muslim chaplains are a valuable resource within the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for preventing inmate radicalization and can assist with the recruitment and selection of Muslims who have mainstream Islamic beliefs. No other group of BOP employees has as much expertise and experience with Islam as the chaplains." 5

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Dorothy Korber and Andy Furillo, "Terror case eyes Folsom prisoners. Officials say plot targeted sites in L.A. area," Sacramento Bee, 2005-AUG-18, at: http://www.sacbee.com/
  2. Greg Krikorian and Jenifer Warren, "Terror Probe Targets Prison in olsom. Alleged plot to attack Southland sites may have been conceived inside the facility." LA Times, 2005-AUG-17, at: http://www.latimes.com/
  3. John Broder, "F.B.I. Hunts Terror Clues in California," New York Times, 2005-AUG-18, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  4. "Outraged by government leaks, Muslim leaders underscore value of Chaplains," Muslim Public Affairs Council, 2005-AUG-19, at: http://app.e2ma.net/
  5. "A Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Selection of Muslim Religious Services Providers," Department of Justice, 2004-APR, at: http://www.usdoj.gov/

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Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-AUG-20
Latest update: 2005-AUG-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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