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Harvesting jihadists from within the federal prison system


"Groups promoting extremist brands of Islam have gained a foothold in American prisons." No surprise here, Black separatists and White Supremacists have long preceded them, so why not this growing prison minority of 9,000. The only surprise is that the DoJ inspector general and US authorities were surprised that recruitment and radicalization was in play in the federal prison system and that no one had looked for said actions in the system since 11 September..

The problem mimics that of Europe in which there are too few religious leaders to minister to their flock and that there is insufficient vetting of all those leading prison prayer sessions, be they authorized chaplains, contractors, volunteers or inmates. Add to that the FBI's traditional unwillingness to share information on those who might have terrorist connections.

Prison chapels are a popular locale to transmit a message, religious or secular, as they are among the few areas in which inmate groups can meet, often without guard supervision. Add to that parts of prayer sessions conducted in Arabic, a general lack of sensitivity on the part of guards as to detect what constitutes a radical religious message, and you have an opportunity for abuse. While some but not all chapel services are videotaped, I think it doubtful that a hostile message could be trapped. Prison officials have admitted as much in noting that they might not be in a position to detect radical religious messages. In an unintended bit of understatement, an associate warden said, "Not a whole lot of folks are in tune with that stuff."

The guilty will hide among legitimate Muslim clergy and leaders who reasonably profess "unfair scrutiny and criticism because of their religious beliefs." It is a tall order for prison authorities to discriminate the perps. Early data indicates that unsupervised inmates allowed to lead worship meetings are a major offender.

Still, it must be watched as this is another disenfranchised, alienated group that could wrap themselves in a rigid religious blanket.

Report Warns of Infiltration by Al Qaeda in U.S. Prisons
New York Times
May 5, 2004

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Terrorism Public  


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