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Recruiting from the Inside

On a hot day in the Santa Ana California State prison, a group of men congregate in the prison's parole yard area. Although they look like typical prison inmates in orange jumpsuits, what they are talking about is anything but ordinary. They are part of a group called the Jam'iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh (JIS), which translates as "the Assembly for Authentic Islam."25

The group was started by Kevin Lamar James, a wiry African-American who sports cornrows, oval-shaped glasses, and an untrimmed goatee. James has what is known in Muslim circles as a "raisin" in the middle of his forehead—a symbol of a pious man who grinds his forehead to the ground during prayer.26 A California native and 32 years old at the time, James was sentenced for plotting attacks on military recruitment centers, synagogues, the Israeli consulate, and Jewish facilities in 2005. While imprisoned in Folsom in 1997 for gang-related armed robbery, he recruited Levar Washington and Gregory Patterson, who were also sentenced to jail time for assisting James in these attacks. According to an FBI press release, James recruited Washington into the organization by making him swear an oath of loyalty to him and the JIS. A couple weeks after he took the oath, Washington was released from prison and subsequently recruited Patterson and a fourth accomplice, Hammad Samana (a Pakistani native), to form a cell. The three would rob gas stations (because of oil and its political symbolism). They took everything from money to personal care items and over-the-counter medicine for the purpose of reselling it and raising money for the organization. The men stole upwards of $50,000 within ten months. And that's just three people.

"Prisons literally provide a captive audience of disaffected young men easily influenced by charismatic extremist leaders," explained FBI Deputy Assistant Director Donald Van Duyn in a statement before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Related Agencies. "These inmates, mostly minorities, feel that the United States has discriminated against them or against minorities and Muslims overseas. This perceived oppression, combined with a limited knowledge of Islam, makes this population vulnerable for extremists looking to radicalize and recruit."27

Anti-American sentiment has been historically prevalent in immigrant communities—especially Latin American communities—dating as far back as the early 19th century. A poll done by UNESCO and USIA provided statistical confirmation that U.S. values had great appeal for much of the world's population.28 Data from the 1958 National Intelligence Estimate found that Latin American attitudes "expressed envy by disparaging U.S. materialism, yet wanted our consumer goods and capital; they espoused pan-Americanism, but engaged in petty nationalism; they chafed at our military power but wanted our protection."29 Clearly anti-American sentiment has been long-standing and was deep-rooted. (9/11 only accelerated this sentiment worldwide. In a survey done by the Pew Trust in 2001, opinion leaders in many countries stated that U.S. policies were a principal cause of the 9/11 attacks. 58% of the Latin Americans who responded in the survey agreed.30)

James wasn't the only inmate to recruit or be recruited out of a California prison. Jose Padilla, a native Puerto Rican who was also a U.S. citizen, converted to a radical form of Islam while in jail. He had been involved in many crimes connected to gang activities in Chicago. Padilla (aka Abdullah al Muhajir) admitted he had ties to the Maniac Latin Disciples, the largest Latin street gang in Chicago. He was arrested at Chicago O'Hare airport for plotting a terrorist attack with a dirty bomb.31 According to Chicago authorities, Padilla was tagged as a potential al Qaeda terrorist and trained with the network.32

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