FBI: Al Qaida still recruiting
in U.S. prisons

Monday, January 5, 2004

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 2001.

"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.

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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.

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