Bomb Case Raises Issue Of Islam In Jails

May 23, 2009

Author: Gary Fields and Suzanne Sataline

Source: The Wall Street Journal

The possibility that the alleged New York bomb plotters converted to Islam in prison and adopted radical views could provide evidence of how the criminal-justice system can be fertile ground for terrorist recruitment.

Authorities said they believed all four men charged in the attack were Muslim and that some may have converted in prison. It isn't clear whether these conversions were linked to the radical views officials say they espoused while plotting to bomb two New York City synagogues and shoot down U.S. military planes.

The men were arrested Wednesday in a months-long undercover operation that ended with them allegedly placing what they thought were real explosives in front of the synagogues. The plot was monitored by federal authorities who provided the suspects with fake explosives. The men remain in custody and face federal conspiracy charges.

According to New York state corrections records, alleged ringleader James Cromitie and David Williams gave their religion as Muslim during their most recent prison sentences. Onta Williams listed his religion as Baptist and Laguerre Payen said he was Roman Catholic. Police believe two or more of the suspects converted to Islam while in prison.

Concern about jail-house recruitment intensified after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Authorities in the U.S. maintain the practice isn't widespread, but say they are watching closely the pattern in other parts of the world, especially in the U.K., where prison radicalization is a recognized problem.

Mitchell Silber, director of intelligence analysis for the New York City Police Department, said there wasn't a "fire hose" of people coming out of the prison system who have turned to radical Islam. Most inmates tend to follow what Mr. Silber's colleagues call "Prislam" -- religion practiced behind bars but dropped upon release. Nonetheless, he estimated about 10 inmates a year in New York are paroled and give authorities "some level of concern."

The federal Bureau of Prisons sits on the National Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes about 40 government agencies. With the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it has developed a nationwide initiative to detect and disrupt attempts to radicalize and recruit members in U.S. prisons and jails.