Finding religion in prison brings comfort to many but can it lead to deadly consequences of mass proportions?
That’s what Rep. Peter King (R-NY) will examine when his House Homeland Security Committee convenes on Wednesday for the second in a series of hearings on the radicalization of Muslim Americans and homegrown terrorism.
“We have seen cases in which inmates have been radicalized at the hands of already locked-up terrorists or by extremist imam chaplains,” King said.
“We will focus on a number of the serious cases in which radicalized current and former inmates have planned and launched attacks or attempted to join overseas Islamic terrorist organizations,” King said.
Although the witness list has not been announced, King says it will include testimony from both U.S. and international experts, and individuals who are intimately involved in recent prison radicalization cases.
His first hearing in March drew criticism from the political left, and King was called a racist who was attacking the entire religion and unfairly singling out Muslims.
“This radicalization hearing, like the one in March, will be a deliberate and thoughtful examination of an issue that is too important for our security to ignore,” King said.
Dr. M. Zudhi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, participated in the first round of hearings and said the government oversight is essential to learning about radicalization among Muslims in the U.S.
“The threat of homegrown Islamist terrorism has never been greater and while we yet have a long way to go in countering the process of radicalization continuing the hearings is a major first step,” Dr. Jasser said.
“These hearings addressing the hotbed of radicalization which our American prison system has become are an essential component in this investigation. A number of homegrown terror cells have had individuals whose Islamist radicalization came to fruition within our prisons,” Dr. Jasser said.
Notable terrorists who became radicalized in prison include shoe-bomber Richard Reid, who found his religion in a UK prison, and Jose Padilla a Chicago gang member accused of plotting to explode a dirty bomb.
“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,” FBI Director Robert Mueller told a Senate Committee in 2005.
A report by the New York City Police Department issued August 2007 included prisons on its list of “incubators” that become meeting places for homegrown terrorists.
According to an October 2010 FBI publication, one such radical prison organization called the Jam’iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS), supports the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the U.S. and targets the American and Israeli governments in retaliation for their policies regarding Muslims.
“Prison Islam incorporates violent inmate culture with religious practice,” the FBI publication said.
“Prisons literally provide a captive audience of disaffected young men easily influenced by charismatic extremist leaders,” the FBI publication said
“These inmates, mostly minorities, feel that the United States has discriminated against them or against minorities and Muslims overseas. This perceived oppression, combined with a limited knowledge of Islam, makes this population vulnerable for extremists looking to radicalize and recruit,” the FBI publication said.