Jailhouse Jihad

Should we bring Guantanamo inmates to U.S. prisons, as the Obama administration has proposed? FBI Director Robert Mueller doesn’t think that it would be wise to house such prisoners even in the ultra-high security Supermax facility: “The concerns we have about individuals who may support terrorism being in the United States run from concerns about providing financing, radicalizing others.” Radicalizing others is a real possibility: two of the four Muslims, James “Abdul Rahman” Cromitie and Onta “Hamza” Williams, who were arrested last week for plotting to blow up synagogues in the Bronx and shoot down an airplane, converted to Islam while in prison. When they went to prison, both were Baptists.

This really shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. Mueller sounded the warning some time ago, saying that America’s prisons were “fertile ground for extremists.” And a new Rand Corporation study, released just this month, has found that Islamic jihad groups have long targeted prisons as key centers for recruitment.

That recruitment has proceeded in many forms, but primarily it has come from proselytizing by prison chaplains who are tied in to jihadist groups or their allies. For years the principal organization that approved Muslim chaplains for U.S. prisons was the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Despite continuing to enjoy a reputation as a moderate Muslim group, ISNA was in 2007 named an unindicted co-conspirator in a terrorism case involving funding of the jihadist group Hamas. During that trial, authorities released an internal document of the international Islamic organization known as the Muslim Brotherhood that named ISNA as an allied group in “a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying Western civilization from within, and sabotaging its miserable house….so that God’s religion” — Islam — “is victorious over other religions.”

Nor were Cromitie and Williams the first to emerge from prison as warriors of jihad. Four years ago authorities discovered and foiled a jihadist plot that appeared to have been directed from New Folsom Prison in California. Levar Hanley Washington, a parolee from prison, and his accomplice Gregory Patterson — both jailhouse converts to Islam — were arrested after being implicated in a series of robberies. They had a document with them that detailed how to set off bombs by remote control and get silencers for pistols. Investigators followed the trail to the cell of a New Folsom Prison inmate, Kevin Lamar James — another convert to Islam. In his cell was the draft of a press release that declared jihad in Southern California and stated that one of the planned attacks would be just the first in a series: “This incident is the first in a series of incidents to come in a plight to defend and propagate traditional Islam in its purity.”

Prison officials began to consider the possibility that James got his ideas about Islam from books in the prison library and thus started — belatedly — to pay attention to the kind of religious books were being stocked in prison libraries in general. Islamic groups have for years made sure that prison libraries are full of jihadist literature. And even when officials have moved to remove such literature from prison libraries, when it comes to Islam they have difficulty distinguishing religious texts from those that contain calls to make war against and subjugate unbelievers.

For example, Islamic groups have placed in many prison libraries books by a thirteenth-century Islamic scholar, Ibn Taymiyya. A dusty seven hundred year-old book isn’t going to be of anything more than historical interest, right? It isn’t likely to be an instrument of subversion and an incitement to violence in 2009, is it? In fact, there is no reason why not: Ibn Taymiyya enunciates jihad violence as a central principle of Islam, declaring that “since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God’s entirely and God’s word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought.” Ibn Taymiyya is a favorite scholar of Osama bin Laden and other latter-day Islamic jihadists.

The Guantanamo inmates are generally true believers in a virulent, violent form of Islam. Can America really afford to bring such recruiters for the jihad stateside?