- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Recent arrests have focused attention on a potential terrorism danger that federal officials have been warning about — that inmates in state prison systems are particularly susceptible to radical Islamist ideology.

But prison officials across the nation say they so far have seen more potential for recruitment than real threats.

Federal officials have arrested three men in Southern California since early July in a plot that purportedly targeted National Guard facilities, the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles and several synagogues.

Authorities said they believe the plan originated among a shadowy group known as Jamiyyat Ul Islam Is Saheeh inside the California State Prison in Sacramento.

Counterterrorism officials said the danger is not in the number of adherents to radical Islam, but in the potential for small groups of dedicated believers to commit terrorist acts after they are released.

“Nothing I have suggests there is a widespread al Qaeda recruitment movement within the prison system, but all you need is three or four to conduct an attack,” said Gary Winuk, chief deputy director of the state Office of Homeland Security.

Prison officials nationwide are all “sort of hearing the chatter” about efforts to recruit inmates to extremist ideologies, said Martin Horn, commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections. He would not elaborate.

However, prison officials in other states said they have seen no signs of recruiting.

In a report last year, the U.S. Department of Justice’s inspector general found that the federal Bureau of Prisons was doing inadequate background or ideology checks on its Muslim clerics. It found that inmates and religious volunteers had “ample opportunity … to deliver inappropriate and extremist messages without supervision.”

The Southern California case arose after Levar Haley Washington, 25, and another man were arrested July 5 on suspicion of robbing gas stations. Police found jihadist literature and evidence of a target list when they searched Washington’s Los Angeles apartment. Law enforcement officials suspect he was radicalized in prison before he was paroled Nov. 29.

In California, chaplains’ clerks or other inmates lead some religious ceremonies and sometimes preach an inflammatory version of Islam, said Lance Corcoran, executive vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

The California prison system has 30 full- and part-time Muslim chaplains, civil service employees who undergo background checks and must adhere to mainstream Islam, said Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

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