The House Homeland Security Committee has held a hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims in U.S. prisons. Several state and local law enforcement officials told the panel that radical Islamic groups abroad are targeting the U.S. prison population for recruits to carry out terrorist attacks against Americans. But some Democrats on the committee protested the narrow focus of the hearing on one religious group, saying there are other serious threats, including prison gangs.
U.S. Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a Republican, strongly defended his decision to hold the second in a series of hearings on the threat of radicalization of Muslim Americans.
This hearing focused on the conversion to radical Islam of some U.S. prison inmates, which King said is an increasing threat. “I will say that again: dozens of ex-cons who became radicalized Muslims inside U.S. prisons have gone to Yemen to join an Al Qaeda group run by a fellow American, Anwar al-Awlaki, whose terrorists have attacked the U.S. homeland several times since 2008 and are generally acknowledged to be Al Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate,” he said.
Most of the Democratic members of the committee objected to the narrow focus of King’s hearings, pointing out that there are many different kinds of violent prison gangs, and white supremacist groups which also operate inside prisons and pose a threat.
The ranking Democratic member, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, said, “Limiting this committee’s oversight of radicalization to one religion ignores threats posed by violent extremists of all stripes. And there are other threats to be concerned about.”
Thompson said the number of violent attacks by people who converted to Islam in prison is small compared to the problem of gang violence emanating from prisons. One of the experts testifying to the panel, Bert Useem of Purdue University, agreed, saying prisons are not fertile ground for those who would seek to recruit Islamic terrorists.
But the other witnesses to the panel disagreed, saying the threat of Islamic radicalization within U.S. prisons is real.