Islamist terror groups are converting, indoctrinating, and recruiting prisoners and it is a rising threat to the U.S. national security, Rep. Peter King warned at a hearing on Muslim radicalization Wednesday which Democrats decried as “racist and discriminatory.”
“A number of cases since 9/11 have involved terrorists who converted to Islam or were radicalized to Islamism in American prisons, then subsequently attempted to launch terror strikes here in the U.S. upon their release from custody,” King, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, said in the opening statement of the hearing entitled, “The Threat of Muslim-American Radicalization in U.S. Prisons.”
The hearing, second in what is expected to be a series of hearings on Muslim radicalization, also saw Patrick Dunleavy, a retired New York prison inspector, testifying to the lawmakers.
“As the former Deputy Inspector General of the Criminal Intelligence Division in the New York State Department of Corrections, I am aware that individuals and groups that subscribe to radical, and sometimes violent, ideology have made sustained efforts over several decades to target inmates for indoctrination,” Dunleavy said in his testimony, which was later posted on Homeland Security’s website.
The retired official also said that some of these groups act as “the certifying bodies responsible for hiring imams into the prison system, thus affording them continuous access to the prison population.”
“In addition, the cycle of radicalization continues through post‐release programs.”
Dunleavy said contrary to what people think, “prison walls are porous.” “Outside influences access those on the inside, and inmates reach from the inside out.”
He added that “although the initial exposure/conversion/indoctrination to extremist jihadi Islam may begin in prison, it often matures and deepens after release through the contacts on the outside that the inmate made while they were serving their sentences in prison.”
King (R-NY) said dozens of ex-cons who became radicalized Muslims inside U.S. prisons had gone to Yemen to join an al-Qaida group run by a fellow American, Anwar al-Awlaqi, believed to be a senior talent recruiter and motivator of al-Qaida.
“We have really done a good job of stopping [al-Qaida] from coming in from overseas, so al-Qaida has now adjusted and is recruiting from within the United States,” King had told Fox News earlier Wednesday.
However, senior Democrat on the Committee, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, disagreed with King. “The U.S. prison system has not become a hotbed for radicalization and terrorist activity – nor is it likely to become one,” he told King.
Thomson said the committee should not be focusing on the people who are already behind bars, but instead should examine the threat of homegrown terrorist cells and lone wolves who often fly under the radar without any formal affiliation to extremist groups, according to The Associated Press.
Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.) recalled how his childhood friends who went to prison were never able to get their lives back on track, saying too many people go to prison when they should be treated for mental illness or drug use.
“We are spending too much money incarcerating young men, young black men whose lives can be saved … It’s not about Islam. It’s about the sentencing policy. It’s about this prison system,” CNN quoted Clarke as saying.
Other Democrats were more blunt.
Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) turned to King during the hearing and said it was “racist and discriminatory.” She said blaming “one particular group on the basis of race or religion is flawed, and should not be done in the House of Representatives,” according to The Los Angeles Times.
In a statement, the National Jewish Democratic Council charged that Republicans were “obsessed” with Muslims. Terming the hearing as “utterly unnecessary,” the Council said, “Once again, King has singled out the adherents of the Muslim faith, calling into question the loyalty of an entire community.”
GOP members have been under fire since Monday night’s presidential debate in which Newt Gingrich defended proposed loyalty tests for Muslims by comparing them with past loyalty tests aimed at ferreting out communists and Nazis. Herman Cain also said he would not be comfortable working with a Muslim in his Cabinet.
King has refused to stop the process or broaden the scope of his enquiry. “We are not going to spread ourselves out, investigate everything, which means investigate nothing … We’re going to focus on a target which threatens the security of this nation.”
Compared to reactions to the first hearing on radicalization of Muslims in March, the second hearing evoked a milder response.