Al Qaida continues to
recruit members in U.S. prisons despite a government crackdown, FBI officials told a congressional panel.
U.S. officials said Al Qaida's recruitment has been facilitated by
Muslim clergy with access to federal and state prisons. They said the
organization has succeeded in winning new members despite tighter rules
instituted by authorities since the Al Qaida suicide attacks in September
"These terrorists seek to exploit our freedom to exercise religion to
their advantage by using radical forms of Islam to recruit operatives," FBI
counter-terrorism chief John Pistole said. "Unfortunately, U.S. correctional
institutions are a viable venue for such radicalization and recruitment."
Officials said Muslim chaplains have facilitated Al Qaida recruitment, Middle East Newsline reported.
They cited the case of Warith Deen Umar, the administrative chaplain for the
New York State Corrections Department, said to have preached that the Al
Qaida suicide attackers who killed more than 3,000 Americans were heroes.
At the congressional hearing, a Pentagon official, principal deputy
defense undersecretary Charles Abell, said the U.S. government has ended
exclusivity granted to three Saudi-financed organizations for the training
of Muslim chaplains. The Graduate School of Islamic and Social
Sciences, in Leesburg, Va., and the American Muslim Armed Forces and
Veterans Affairs Council, in Arlington, Va., recommend chaplains to the
military. The Islamic Society of North America, based in Plainfield, Ind.,
refers Muslim clerics to the Bureau of Prisons.
Pistole told a recent session of the Senate subcommittee on terrorism,
technology and homeland security that federal and state authorities have
faced an uphill battle to halt Al Qaida recruitment in prisons. He said Al
Qaida and other insurgency groups have exploited the isolation of inmates
and offer them protection, positions of influence and a network they can
correspond with both inside and outside of prison.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons maintains a presence on the National
Joint Terrorism Taskforce as part of an effort to identify Al Qaida and
recruiters for other insurgency groups in the federal prison service.
Officials said the federal prison system contains 9,600 Muslims, or 5.5
percent of the inmate population. The figure does not include members of
such groups as the Nation of Islam or the Moorish Science Temple.
"The percent of federal inmates who identify themselves as Muslim has
remained very stable for close to a decade," Harley Lappin, director of the
Federal Bureau of Prisons, said. "We have been managing inmates with ties to
terrorism for over a decade by confining them in secure conditions and
monitoring their communications closely. All inmates with terrorist ties are
clearly identified and tracked in our information systems."
Lappin said his agency has not hired any new Muslim chaplains since
August 2001. He said the hiring freeze would continue until the completion
of federal investigations.
Officials also told the Senate hearing that Al Qaida has sought to
infiltrate the U.S. military, including personnel that work at Camp Delta.
About 660 Al Qaida and Taliban detainees have been interrogated at the naval
facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Pistole said the FBI sees the Al Qaida effort as a serious breach of
national security. He said the FBI has launched an effort with the Defense
Department and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to assess the units that
examine the backgrounds of prospective chaplains and translators.
"In addition, the FBI is evaluating the protocols for ongoing security
assessments of such employees during sensitive assignments, such as more
frequent polygraph examinations," Pistole said.