Jails are the Jihadist jack-in-the-box
A huge percentage of prison inmates at the state and local level will be coming out one day — and some of them could be seduced by radicalized Islamist militants
Jury selection has begun in the trial of James Cromitie (also known as Abdul Rahman), David Williams (aka Daoud), Onta Williams (aka Hamza), and Laguerre Payen (aka Amin). The four men were arrested in 2009 for their suspected roles an attempted terrorist attack. The plot targeted two synagogues — the Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx — and military aircraft at the Air National Guard base in Newburgh, N.Y., some 70 miles north. Cromitie, the apparent ringleader of the terrorist cell, was raised as a Muslim — the other three men converted to Islam in prison. They reportedly met in a mosque and bonded over the fact that each man had spent time in prison.
Born Behind Bars
Robert Hood — the former warden for the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum (Supermax) in Florence, Colorado — told PoliceOne that the threat of jihadists being born behind bars is a real one.
“Is [prison] a breeding ground? Without question I think that it is — it always has been,” says Hood. “We have a lot of folks who will be coming out of prison — 95 percent will be coming out one day — and those that are coming out could be radicalized.”
The prisoners in his former institution are most certainly not going to see the outside of a correctional institution ever again. Among the inmates housed during his watch, Hood can list individuals like ‘Unibomber’ Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City plotter Terry Nichols, as well as co-conspirators in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, Nidal Ayyad, Mohammed A. Salameh, and Clement Rodney Hampton-El.
Inmates such as Zacarias Moussaoui, José Padilla, Richard Reid, and “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh are reportedly among the 40+ convicted terrorists who now call Florence, Colo. “home.”
Watching the Weak
“When you’re sitting in prison dwelling on things, you end up looking for a cause,” Hood says. “Or you’re so weak that you need to join the gang or the peer group around you applying pressure.”
As a general rule, prison inmates in are interested in having security from gangs. They are trying to exist in an environment of sometimes extreme pressure from peer groups. In many, many cases, there is also the dynamic of severe personal crises or emotional tumult that they’re going through. Some are earnestly searching for a genuine religious experience. Some are searching simply because they’re lost.
Hood explains, “Using the prime example you would know — Richard Reed — I spoke to him every day. Did he become radical — a radical Islamist — while in a UK prison? In my opinion, yes. If you look at those characteristics of conversion, he had personal crisis, he couldn’t handle himself very well in the prison setting, and he was searching for identity. I could go on and on and make that into a sad story, but the bottom line is, if I was going to recruit someone, Richard Reed is the kind of guy you want to grab. There are some really susceptible people who want to find a cause, and they’re all over the place. I’m not suggesting that all of them are going to fit these characteristics, but if you took 2.3 million inmates in the country, a good percentage of them would be susceptible.”
On Fertile Ground
“As a member of the public,” asks Hood, “am I worried about the guys at the Supermax? To be honest with you, no, not at all. Those guys are never getting out — they’re not going anywhere... But you break that down to the local jail, you break it down to the state systems. We have folks in there that clearly have a great potential to be radical — that would endorse violence for the purpose of fear, disruption of the social order — the classic definition [of terrorism]. Because they [feel feel] have nothing to lose, even though they’re doing a ten-year sentence or a 15-year sentence, and they will come out one day...
“There’s such a large number who don’t have cause, don’t have a reason. They’re not working on their GED. They’re thinking, ‘Okay, it would be hard enough for me when I get out in five years. People can’t find jobs.’ They’re creating some of their own problems but the reality is, in their eyes, the world sucks. Now it’s a matter of, ‘what do I do with that?’ It wouldn’t take much to manipulate that person.”
That 00.01 Percent
While American citizens in large numbers appear to be perfectly willing to turn the crank on the toy and listen to the pretty music it produces, police officers in the United States cannot afford to be “surprised” when that jack-in-the-box “springs up out of nowhere.”
The world is a bad place in which bad men do bad things. American cops, as has been reported in this space before, are truly on the front lines in domestic counterterrorism.
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