Tuesday, June 18, 2002

The detention of Abdullah al Muhajir, a U.S. citizen, has highlighted what law enforcement authorities and terrorism analysts believe is a growing threat: the recruitment of home-grown terrorists who can move freely throughout the country.
Al Muhajir, who is accused of conspiring to build and detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb,” probably in the nation’s capital, converted to Islam in Florida after his release from prison in the early 1990s. He later headed to Afghanistan and Pakistan to meet with leaders of the al Qaeda terrorist organization.
The 31-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., native, formerly known as Jose Padilla, falls into a growing cadre of convicted criminals and other disenchanted citizens now being recruited by al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, according to sources.
As U.S. citizens, targeted recruits such as al Muhajir are viewed as potential operatives who can easily blend into the American culture to carry out attacks as part of a jihad, or holy war, against the United States, the sources said.
“We have been very fortunate that the recruiting effort to date has seen limited success,” said Peter J. Brown, veteran domestic and international terrorism consultant. “The trend is very difficult to track, with estimates ranging as high as 1,500 to 2,000 American passport-carrying recruits who have shown up in the ranks of al Qaeda in the past decade.
“Whether we can get an accurate total is another thing, but it should be seen as a reason to devote more resources to understanding recruitment as a unique phenomenon unto itself,” Mr. Brown said. “Terrorists are becoming as sophisticated as we are, and we have provided them with a vast amount of material to study.
“The bottom line? Terrorism is an evolutionary process, and they are evolving right along with us,” he said.
Recruiting new operatives takes up several pages of the al Qaeda training manual, which describes recruiting as “the most dangerous task that an enlisted brother can perform.”
The manual lists as “candidates” for recruitment those persons “disenchanted with their country’s policies”; convicted criminals, especially smugglers; adventurers; workers at coffee shops, restaurants and hotels; security personnel at borders, airports and seaports; and “people in need.”
A key area of recruitment, the sources said, are U.S. prisons and jails, where al Qaeda and other organizations have found men who have already been convicted of violent crimes and have little or no loyalty to the United States.
“It’s literally a captive audience, and many inmates are anxious to hear how they can attack the institutions of America,” said one federal corrections official.
Under federal law, prisons must allow inmates access to religious leaders and texts. But prison conversions to Islam, including radical groups loyal to Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, often take place behind closed doors. Prison officials sometimes have little idea of what is being said by or to the inmates, as well as whether the meetings are religious conversions or recruiting sessions.
Earlier this year, The Washington Times reported that a radical Muslim sect with ties to international terrorism many of whose members had been converted to Islam in prison had created a patchwork of sanctuaries in rural southern Virginia.
Those sanctuaries were established to follow the teachings of Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani, a Pakistani cleric who founded the Muslims of America sect in 1980. The sect has been linked to Jamaat al-Fuqra, a terrorist group committed to bringing jihad against the United States.
Sheik Gilani’s followers, many of them prison converts, have set up rural encampments throughout the United States and Canada that federal authorities have linked to murder, bombings and other felonies.
U.S. intelligence officials have estimated that al Qaeda has placed thousands of operatives in 34 countries, including the United States, and that a number of other terrorist groups, including the Islamic Jihad, have aligned with the bin Laden organization.
Prisons in this country are not the only targeted institutions worldwide. Richard C. Reid, a petty thief, found Islam in a British prison and now is being held in Boston on charges of attempting to bring down a jetliner by detonating explosives hidden in his tennis shoes.
While studying Islam at a London mosque, Reid met Zacarias Moussaoui, the French citizen charged with conspiring with al Qaeda and the 19 hijackers who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Other recruiting targets and techniques have been successful, the sources said, including widespread use of the Internet. Last year, after a Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigation, an Internet site used by Islamic terrorists for recruiting moved its registered base from Montreal to Ann Arbor, Mich.
Law enforcement officials said significant recruiting by terrorist organizations also takes place in the inner cities, where disenchanted minority residents like al Muhajir are specifically targeted for “religious conversions.” Authorities said that al Muhajir came to this country to conduct reconnaissance operations for al Qaeda and they confirmed his ties to al Qaeda from “multiple, independent and corroborating sources.”

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