Islamists in U.S. Prisons Pose Threat, Report Says; Congress Told to Take Action to Curtail Inmate Radicalization

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 20, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Islamists in U.S. Prisons Pose Threat, Report Says; Congress Told to Take Action to Curtail Inmate Radicalization


Byline: Jerry Seper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Islamic extremists in U.S. prisons have taken advantage of a lack of religious monitoring to embrace violent interpretations of the Koran, posing a threat of "unknown magnitude" to national security, a report said yesterday.

"Prisons have long been places where extremist ideology and calls to violence could find a willing ear, and conditions are often conducive to radicalization," according to a study by George Washington University and the University of Virginia.

"With the world's largest prison population and highest incarceration rate, America faces what could be an enormous challenge every radicalized prisoner becomes a potential terrorist recruit," said the study, which was conducted for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

An estimated 2 million people are imprisoned in the United States, and 6 percent of them are Muslim, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the committee's ranking Democrat, said homegrown terrorism is a "grave enough concern" that Congress needs to consider whether to focus more attention and resources on it.

"What controls can we put into place to curtail such conversions? Unfortunately, the number of qualified Islamic chaplains, or imams, is insufficient," Mr. Lieberman said, noting that although more than 80 percent of religious conversions in prison are to some form of Islam, only 10 of the 200 chaplains in the federal system are devoted to Islam.

The study said that just as young people may become radicalized by "cut-and-paste" versions of the Koran via the Internet, "new inmates may gain the same distorted understanding of the faith from gang leaders or other influential inmates."

Although radicalization is neither unique to Islam nor a recent phenomenon, an inadequate number of Muslim religious services providers increases the risk, the study said.

Additionally, it said, the inability to track inmates after their release and a lack of social support to reintegrate them into the community give rise to a "vulnerable moment" in which they may be recruited by radical groups posing as social support organizations.

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