A federal grand jury has indicted four men--two of whom have been prisoners at the California State Prison-Sacramento (New Folsom Prison)--with conspiracy to levy war against the United States, to possess and use firearms in the furtherance of violence, and to kill U.S. and foreign officials. The six-count indictment stems from the alleged plot to attack around two dozen targets in southern California, including National Guard recruitment centers, Israels El Al airline facilities, the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles and. several area synagogues. The attacks were planned to begin on September 11, 2005, with an assault rifle attack on a recruitment center and were to peak during the Jewish High Holy Days in October.
The master planner behind the plot is allegedly New Folsom prisoner Kevin Lamar James, 29. James arrived at New Folsom in 1996. There he joined the largest Muslim group in American prisons, the Nation of Islam (NOI). NOI is currently led by Louis Farrakhan and is known for his anti-Semitic and inflammatory rhetoric and for the groups adherence to the teachings of black separatist Elijah Muhammad. Finding NOI, which opposes armed struggle, too mainstream, within a year of arriving at New Folsom, James founded his own radical Islamic group, Jamiyyat Ul-Isikam Is-Saheeh, (the Academy of Authentic Islam) also known as JIS. California prison officials consider JIS to be a disruptive gang.
James met Levar Harvey Washington, 25, while in prison. The indictment alleges that Washington pledged his loyalty until death by martyrdom. Washington was released from prison in November 2004, allegedly with instructions to recruit others--especially five people without felony criminal histories to purchase firearms and a bomb-maker. The group was then to undergo extensive training and amass an arsenal that included silenced firearms.
After his release, Washington met Gregory Vernon Patterson, 21, a student at El Camino College and Cal State Northridge who worked at the duty-free store at LAX and lived with his parents in a gated community in Gardena. Pattersons father is a college professor and his mother is an administrator at Harbor College.
Washington met Patterson and Hammad Riaz Samana, 21, at the predominately South Asian Jamat-a-Masjidul Islam mosque in Inglewood, California. He was raised Muslim in Pakistan. In 2000, he moved with his family to an apartment across the street from the mosque. He attended Santa Monica College and worked at a Barnes and Noble bookstore.
The plan was allegedly to rob a series of gas stations and use the spoils to finance the purchase of an assault rifle to use in the attacks. Washington and Patterson face state charges of robbing several gas stations, including one in Torrance. Police recovered Pattersons cell phone from the scene of that robbery. The police then staked out Patterson. They observed him and Washington rob a Fullerton gas station on July 5, 2005, and identified Samana as a person of interest from the surveillance.
Evidence of the purported plot was discovered at Washingtons apartment. The evidence included bulletproof vests, knives, radical Islamic literature and potential sites for attacks, along with their addresses, marked on a map. They also discovered that on July 10, 2005, Patterson was to pick up an AR-15, .223 caliber assault rifle (the civilian version of the M-16) he had ordered from a sporting goods store.
The indictment alleges that Patterson conducted internet research on the Israeli national airline, El Al, the Israeli Consulate, and local events planned for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
Armed with a shotgun, Washington and Patterson allegedly began the string of robberies in May, 2005. The state indictment against them listed ten counts of armed robbery and one count of attempted robbery. Washington is also charged by the state with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The investigation into the alleged plot involved over 200 FBI agents, LAPD detectives, and counter-terrorism officials of the state and federal governments. They discovered no evidence that the mosque, which is nondenominational, was involved in the plot.
The idea of prisons being used by radical Islamic groups as recruiting grounds for guerrillas has been discussed in police circles since 2002, when it was alleged that Jose Padilla, whom authorities claim planned to use a radioactive dirty bomb on a American city, had been recruited into Islamic struggle while in prison. Richard Reid, the thwarted shoe bomber of an American Airlines flight in 2001, was also recruited to radical Islam while in prison according to the FBI. One of the suspects in the attempted suicide bombings in London on July 21, 2005, is also believed to have converted to Islam while in prison.
As a result of the prison recruitment angst. FBI agents throughout the U.S. are conducting threat assessments of prisoners. The objective is to identify which prisoners might have become politically radicalized while in prison and might commit armed acts upon their release.
People from the mosque who know the alleged jihadists say they are unlikely candidates for such activities. Samanas friends describe him as studious and mild-mannered. Patterson is described as an overachieving nerd by his ex-high-school principle. Washington is called quiet and respectful by other mosque attendees.
Shakeel Syed, a Muslim prison chaplain for the federal Bureau of Prisons disputes the concept that prisons are breeding Muslim terrorists.
Can they be a breeding ground? Indeed, yes. Has that been the case with the Muslims? Indeed not, said Syed.
Syed and other prison experts note that Islam is generally a positive influence on prisoners. Furthermore, the governments stories about the dangers of prison-recruitment of dissidents is overblown according to some experts, such as New York scholar Robert Dannin.
Its pretty doubtful that a sophisticated international terrorist organization is going to be using the good-old American prison system to do recruiting, said Dannin. Noting that a significant number of prisoners are informants he asks, How can you trust a plot to them? People have taken this tale of Malcom X, the one famous example (of a prison conversion to Islam), and built it into a powerful myth, said Dannin. This often results in false stories of prison conversions.
According to Dannin, Padilla was not converted to Islam while in prison, but rather while working at Taco Bell and living in Florida. Likewise, previous reports of radical infiltration of the ranks of prison and military chaplains proved to be overblown. [PLN, July 2004, p. 8; Sept. 2003, p. 20]. It also remains to be seen how this prosecution fares, as to date, all the governments big terrorism cases have been launched with much fanfare and ended with reduced charges, acquittals and prosecutorial fiascos. When Jose Padilla was actually charged in court, for example, no mention was made of dirty bombs.
Unfortunately, past and present administrations have never let truth get in the way of a reactionary policy decision. Therefore, we can expect a lengthy federal probe of prisoners, especially those professing Islam. We can also expect to hear repeated proclamations about what dangerous recruiting grounds the prisons are.
Sources: Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee, Seattle Times, Washington Post, San Diego Union-Tribune, New York Times.
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