Amid all the shocking details in the disrupted plot to bomb Bronx synagogues and fire missiles at American military aircraft, one component of the case should come as no surprise - three of the alleged culprits converted to radical Islam in prison.
Radical Islamists have targeted prison populations for recruitment for years. That's where Jose Padilla, suspected of plotting to detonate a dirty bomb and convicted of conspiracy to murder people overseas and of providing material support to terrorists, converted and was radicalized.
That's where a California man, Kevin James, created his own cell, called the Jam'iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS), and recruited other inmates to plot attacks against military and Jewish targets in and around Los Angeles.
In New York, the man who was the head Muslim chaplain for state prisons considered the 9/11 hijackers to be martyrs. Warith Deen Umar spent 20 years working with New York prisons, overseeing the hiring of Muslim chaplains and leading prayer services.
My organization, the Investigative Project on Terrorism, obtained an audio tape of a speech Umar gave in 2004. In it, he told his audience that victory for Islam would not come without loss:
Brothers, be prepared to fight, be prepared to die, be prepared to kill. It's a part of the deen, and this ain't your brother just saying this, this is history, this is Quran, nobody can deny it. and we need to let the enemies know.
"Rise up and fight. And fight them until turmoil is no more and strike terror into their hearts. You think there is no terror in Quran? It's called [word unclear] read it in the 56th surah of the Quran. There's no lack of translation, there's no mistranslation There's not one Sheikh says one thing, no, it's very clear. "When you fight, you strike terror into the heart of the disbeliever.'"
(Both audio clips are available at investigativeproject.org)
According to a 2003 column in the Wall Street Journal, a protégé of Umar's was a man named Salahuddin M. Muhammad, hired by Umar to serve as chaplain at the Fishkill Correctional Facility. Today, Muhammad is an imam at the Masjid Al-Ikhlas in Newburg, NY, where the first conversation about attacking American between defendant James Cromitie and the FBI informant took place (Muhammad is not named in the criminal complaint).
Radicalism in prisons is a problem that has been festering for years. The Department of Justice's Inspector General issued a report in 2004 with a host of recommendations for tamping it down, but there's little sign any action has been taken.
That President Obama now wants to transfer hundreds of hardened jihadists into American prisons is a guarantee that they will serve as emissaries and proselytizers of jihad to the thousands of prisoners they are exposed to. In virtually no time, it is all but certain - based on past patterns of radical Islamic growth in jails that we have investigated - that we will witness the number of radical Islamic inmates multiply by thousands, maybe more.
The Guantanamo prisoners will be looked up as jihadi rock stars and each one could potentially produce a hundred new ticking time bombs ultimately walking the streets of America. Although the President tried to reassure us that no inmate has ever escaped from a super maximum security prison, what about the newly indoctrinated jihadists among the existing inmates who will be certainly released after their terms are up? In light of the massive damage and death that only four converts to Islam in prison could have carried out as witnessed in the interdiction of the recent terror plot, one cannot even begin to imagine the potential for damage and death a thousand times greater were there to be a whole new generation of hardened jihadists walking the streets of the US with an agenda of nothing but murder and destruction. FBI agents with whom I have spoke say that the transfer of prisoners to the US is insane, pure and simple.
Part of the problem is that there is no single agency which can change the nation's prison system, since states are responsible for their own penitentiaries and each has its own religious programming. Imams recruited by the likes of Umar continue to work, library shelves are stocked with the words of radical ideologues like Syyed Qutb and Sayyid Mawlana Abul Ala Maududi. Some prison libraries include the Nobel Quran, an extreme interpretation of Islam's holy book that includes a call for jihad.
These books are not reviewed by prison officials, perhaps due to language differences or because they are perceived simply as religious texts. DOJ, which has oversight over BOP, refuses to acknowledge the problem.
Meanwhile, federal records identified by the Investigative Project on Terrorism and available on the Internet show a number of Muslim Brotherhood-tied organizations receiving government contracts, including contracts with the Bureau of Prisons, to perform work such as chaplain services and Islamic studies.
Some, like the Muslim American Society, have dedicated prison projects in which they specifically collect money to send religious dogma to prisoners and underwrite volunteer chaplains. This effort is aimed not only at existing Muslims convicts but to convert non-Muslim inmates.
In light of the 2004 IG report, these contractual relationships with radical Islamic groups show that there still is very little oversight concerning the messengers importing religion into U.S. prisons.
Wednesday night, we saw what happens when they leave prison and follow an extremist path, buying into propaganda that the America is at war with Islam and they mobilize to act. It is time someone paid attention.
The first thing that needs to be done is to get the Bureau of Prisons to stop being able to stick its head in the sand. The Department of Justice, which oversees the Bureau of Prisons, needs to immediately set national vetting standards for all religious clergy - not just Muslim Imams but Rabbis and Priests - and all religious texts and propaganda being allowed into federal prisons. Congress needs to impose new rules that force BOP to mandate and operate strict investigations of those who preach in the prisons and the material they are allowed to import.
Wahhabist literature, Muslim Brotherhood tracts calling for Jihad, Saudi produced Qurans that exude hatred for Jews and Christians - all of this continues to flow into federal and local prisons unhampered.
To those who say this is a violation of the free practice of religion or free speech, that is pure nonsense: Like government officials who are denied clearances based on background checks, Islamic chaplains who do not pass certain clearance standards can also be denied the right to enter prisons. That does not stop them from practicing their religion; it only stops them from spreading their ideology in government institutions. And, incidentally, the Bureau of Prisons should not be allowed to set the criteria: We found out that in 2004, the way the BOP determined whether an Imam was a radical was to simply ask them if they supported terrorism. If they said no - and of course they all all did - they were granted admission.
Another problem that needs to be fixed is that in jail, Islamist converts generally avoid violence for fear of upsetting the prison authorities. Therefore there is little if any incentive for the warden or prison officials to keep tabs on the activities of the Islamist prisoners - or for that matter Aryan nation prisoners - or what they are being taught or what is in their libraries.
Unless prison authorities start collecting intelligence on those in prison who belong to radical groups and who talk about carrying out violence once they get out, law enforcement is faced with a total blank slate, critically dependent upon confidential informants to help them thwart terrorist attacks. If not for the serendipitous appearance of a confidential informant in the current Bronx case, chances are that today we would be witness terror and death in the Jewish Community Center of Riverdale.