Belgium Terror Attack Mirrors an All Too Familiar Pattern

by Patrick Dunleavy
IPT News
May 31, 2018

Watching summer reruns on TV can be entertaining. Watching reoccurring patterns in Islamic terrorist attacks is not. The latest terror attack in the European Union occurred Tuesday in Liege, Belgium, and appears to follow an all too familiar pattern.

A petty criminal, radicalized in prison and released prematurely, carries out a deadly attack on law enforcement officers and civilians shouting “Allah Akbar” before he is brought down by a hail of bullets.

Benjamin Herman was a career criminal on a temporary release program from prison. Hours after being released, he stabbed two Liege police officers and then executed them in cold blood with their own service weapons. Herman also shot and killed Cyril Vangriecken, a 22-year-old school custodian. He is suspected of having murdered a fourth individual, Michael Wilmet, a former prison cellmate, prior to the attack on the police officers.

Reports indicate he converted to Islam while in prison, where he had spent most of the past 15 years, for drug, assault and theft convictions, and interacted with extremist inmates.

Whether the source of radicalization in prison was literature, an incarcerated terrorist, or an unvetted chaplain or religious volunteer, the outcome is the same. More than a decade ago, I was able to review reports by two U.S. intelligence agencies which examined the radicalization process. They noted that radical Islamic ideology offers an inmate predisposed to violence with a “convenient outlet” for his violent tendencies. It gives him a sense of pseudo-legitimacy for attacking others in the name of Allah. For those people, conversion may be for opportunistic rather than idealistic reasons.

Herman reportedly belonged “to the entourage of an Islamist recruiter,” a source close to the investigation told AFP. Police found a Quran and prayer mat in his cell.

Prison officials also say they placed him on list of radicalized prisoners. It is unclear whether this information was shared with the law enforcement or counter terrorism community.

We do know that Belgium officials have long acknowledged the connection between prison radicalization and recent terror attacks in the EU.

For example, Abdelhamid Abaaoud was a former Belgian inmate who mastermindedthe 2015 Paris terror attacks that left 130 dead and more than 400 wounded.

Belgian brothers Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui, two of the suicide bombers who blew up a train station and an airport terminal in Brussels in 2016, had also spent time in Belgian prisons for the violent crimes of carjacking and armed robbery.

The list of recent terror cases involving ex-cons continues to grow and includes cities like BarcelonaBerlinCopenhagenLondonParis, and yes, here in the United Statesas well.

The danger posed by prison radicalization is often misunderstood. It is not, as some would imagine, a thousand inmates in the yard at Attica screaming jihad.

The real threat posed by prison radicalization lies beyond the walls.

“Prison radicalization does not mean that terrorist plots are being routinely hatched in prison (although this has occasionally happened),” Quilliam Foundation senior research fellow James Brandon wrote in 2009. “More often, however, it leads to inmates adopting Islamist ideologies that may ultimately lead to terrorism after their release.”

U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., was vilified and accused of bias when he first proposed hearings on the possible threat of Islamic radicalization in the prison system,. Certain Islamic clergy went so far as to claim that prison radicalization was a “myth.”

Ironically, seven years after the hearings, Rep. King’s concerns have been validated by the numerous terror plots carried out by people who, while incarcerated, were converted to a radical Islamic ideology that promoted violent acts against innocent citizens both here, in the EU, and the UK.

Unfortunately, just knowing the threat exists does not prevent it. Decisive action must be taken before the violent acts are carried out. Removing the radicalizing elements from the prison system is the first step. That includes jihadi literature and some religious volunteers. Corrections officials, law enforcement and intelligence agencies must do a better job sharing information on radicalized inmates. A strict post-release program that monitors convicted terrorists also is necessary, because most terrorists eventually are set free.

In less than a year, John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, will be a free man. And there is a good chance that radical Islamic clergyman Anjem Choudary, convicted of providing material support to ISIS, will walk out of jail soon, despite receiving a 5½ year sentence in a UK prison in 2016.

Failure to take the necessary actions to monitor these radicals, and to try to identify and isolate other inmates from their radical mentors will only increase the threat of additional terror attacks involving radicalized ex-cons in the near future.

When it comes to combating radical Islamic terrorism we cannot sit for another season of reruns.

IPT Senior Fellow Patrick Dunleavy is the former Deputy Inspector General for New York State Department of Corrections and author of The Fertile Soil of Jihad. He currently teaches a class on terrorism for the United States Military Special Operations School.

Barcelona Terror Imam’s Familiar Path From Prison to ISIS Soldier

by Patrick Dunleavy
IPT News
August 23, 2017

In the wake of the horrific terror attacks in Barcelona that killed 15 people and injured as many as 120, including 7-year-old Julian Cadman, authorities are trying to understand how a group of young Moroccan men went from football teammates who occasionally smoked marijuana together to radical Islamic terrorists.

The man who has emerged as the leader of the group and most influential in their radicalization is the imam from the Annur Islamic mosque in Ripoll, a small Spanish town near the French border.

Abdelbaki Es Satty was hired by the Annur Islamic Community in 2016. But before that, authorities have learned, he was an inmate in the Spanish prison system, convicted in 2012 for smuggling hashish from Morocco into Spain. People who knew him then said that he was not religious and occasionally smoked marijuana. Then he met several al-Qaida members in prison, including Rachid Aglif. Also known as “The Rabbit,” Aglif was serving an 18-year sentence for his part in the 2004 Madrid train bombing that killed 190 people and injured more than 1,000.

It was there in prison where Abdelbaki Es Satty was believed to have been radicalized. Authorities from the Annur Islamic mosque said that they were unaware of Es Satty’s criminal history and admitted that they did not properly vet him. They simply examined his knowledge of the Quran and felt that was sufficient.

They also seemed unaware that Es Satty became known to counterterrorism officials during an investigation into radical Islamic influences in the small seaside towns surrounding Barcelona. The investigation, dubbed “Operation Jackal,” resulted in the arrest and conviction of five radical Islamists for attempting to send young men to Iraq to fight alongside ISIS.

So, two important themes in understanding radical Islamic terrorists are surfacing again, prison radicalization and someone “known to authorities.” There is a third: Immigration. Following his release from prison, Spanish authorities attempted to deport Es Satty back to Morocco. An order for his expulsion from Spain was issued in April 2014 citing his criminal history as a narcotics trafficker. Spanish immigration law subjects any foreign national who is sentenced to a year or more in prison to deportation.

Es Satty argued that deportation violated his human rights and won an appeal.

He then was granted asylum, which gave him the right to travel throughout the European Union. He used this privilege to make several trips to Belgium, spending three months in a Brussels suburb called Vilvoorde in early 2016. That town has seen its share of radical Islamic influences, with as many as 30 young men leaving to fightwith ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Just after Es Satty left Vilvoorde, two coordinated terrorist attacks took place in Brussels that left as many as 35 dead and 300 injured. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Abdelbaki Es Satty became an imam at the Ripoll mosque after returning from Belgium and began to draw young men to the jihadi cause. The process took at least a year. Small groups met in a van, and sometimes in Es Satty’s sixth-floor apartment. When group members attended the local mosque, they took precautions to mask both their radical beliefs and their intimate relationship with each other.

Two months before last week’s the attacks, Es Satty told the mosque he was returning to Morocco.

In fact, Es Satty went to a house in Alcanar, a town 120 miles south of Barcelona. There, along with several others, he began to construct improvised explosive devices to be placed in vehicles as car bombs. They used gas canisters and a highly explosive substance made from acetone and hydrogen peroxide known as TATP.

This was the same substance that was used in the Brussels attacks.

One week ago, an explosion rocked Alcanar, destroying the house where the bombs were being built. Authorities first thought it was the result of a gas leak but, upon investigation, forensic trace evidence of TATP was found. Several charred bodies also were found in the house.

A lone survivor, Mohamed Houli Chemlal, was taken in to custody by police. Authorities believe Imam Abdelbaki Es Satty was killed in the explosion.

It was a fitting conclusion for someone whose life traversed the path from common criminal to radicalized inmate to a religious leader who deceived the minds of the young men of Ripoll.

Prison radicalization, open borders, lax immigration laws and the all-too-familiar case of a terrorist previously “known to authorities” have come to the surface once again immediately following a terror attack.

At some point, authorities must focus on these three areas and come up with a strategy to tighten the loopholes that allow radical Islamic terrorists to thrive.

With ISIS’s continued losses in Syria and Iraq, it has now turned its attention and remaining assets toward the West, inspiring and exhorting people to attack in their home countries. They really don’t care how many plots are thwarted or how many young lives are wasted. Death is their goal.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for these latest attacks and has hailed the Barcelona terrorists as soldiers of the Islamic State and “Caliphate soldiers in Spain.”

If that is so then we must treat them as such – enemy combatants whether captured or killed.

Anything less is both foolish and dangerous.

UK’s Flawed Solution to Prison Radicalization – Terrorist Group Therapy

by Patrick Dunleavy
IPT News
August 7, 2017

While the most positive news in the war on Islamic terrorism has come from military successes against ISIS in Mosul and Syria, the overlooked recent failures by authorities to effectively deal with home grown Islamists is a cause for growing concern.

Whether it is by downplaying the threat or attempting to come up with snappy-sounding strategies to deal with the growing list of suspected terrorists “known to the authorities,” the West is struggling to reverse the tide of radicalization, particularly in the prison system. The latest example is the UK’s plan to deal with imprisoned Islamic terrorists by creating “separation centers” that would “…have an individualized care and management plan which sets out realistic, achievable targets, while also taking into account the complex, ideological/political nature of some of the risks that need to be targeted.”

What a bunch of gobbledygook.

Keep in mind that the type of inmates they are talking about include the likes of Michael Adebolajo, convicted in the brutal killing of British Army soldier Lee Rigby, and Anjem Choudary, the bigoted radical Islamic clergy who inspired countless attendees at his Finsbury Mosque to jihad, including ex-con “Shoe Bomber” Richard Reid. Choudary was convicted of providing material support to the Islamic State terrorist organization.

And what does the new care and management plan include? Well, one element is developing “positive personal goals.” This sounds good, until you consider that the personal goal of a jihadist is to kill infidels even if it means killing themselves as well. And the method prison officials would use to attain these positive personal goals is a “collaborative approach to expressing concerns and resolving disagreements.” In other words, group therapy for terrorists.

And who will oversee the progress these coddled killers are making? According to the UK Ministry of Justice, there will be a panel of experts, “including a psychologist, a chaplain, and lawyer” who will review the inmate’s progression (or regression) every three months. This sounds like making of a joke – you know, “A priest, a shrink, and a legal beagle go into a bar looking for a terrorist…” Only radical Islamic terrorism is no joking matter.

One of the problems with this type of panel is the inclusion of clergy who may not have been properly vetted. The presence of radical Islamic clergy in the U.S. prison system is well documented, most recently in the case of Edwin Lemmons and the Virginia Department of Corrections. Lemmons was arrested by the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) after having been radicalized in a New York State prison and traveling overseas for “underground tactical training.” Despite clear evidence of extremist views, he was hired after his release from the Florida Bureau of Prisons by the Muslim Chaplains Services of Virginia to be an imam and Arabic instructor in Virginia prisons.

The number of violent terrorist attacks in the West carried out by people radicalized in prison is growing. In April, Karim Cheurfi opened fire on a group of French police officers, killing Capt. Xavier Jugele. Responding officers shot and killed Cheurfi. Investigators found a letter in his pocket praising ISIS, along with a list of other police stations he planned to attack. Cheurfi previously spent 12 years in French prisons for attempting to kill police officers. He was “known to authorities” and was on France’s radicalization and terror prevention and alert list, a notification system that was created in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Just prior to the attack, he traveled to Algeria in violation of his parole conditions. Yet upon his return a French judge refused to revoke his parole and return him to prison.

In June, Blaine Robert Erb opened fire on a group of Baltimore police officers wounding one before being shot and killed by the responding officers. Erb was a career criminal. Video of the attack shows that, when he opened fire, Erb was wearing what appeared to be Muslim thobe and head covering, along with a long, red beard. These are indications of a conversion to radical Islam, but this is unconfirmed.

Nevertheless, his attire and methodology was similar to career criminal Edward Archer’s attack on Philadelphia police officer Jesse Hartnett in January of 2016. Archer’s stated motivation was to obey Allah and defend the Quran. Still, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenny tried to argue that the violent crime had nothing to do with Islam.

And just last week, four radical Islamic terrorists were sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of plotting to bomb military, police, and civilians in the UK. Three of them, Khobaib Hussain, 25, Naweed Ali, 29, and Mohibur Rahman, 33, dubbed the “Three Musketeers” had already spent time in British prisons for terrorist-related crimes. Now as they return to jail, they can look forward to living in a newly constructed “separation center” where they will be able to work on “positive personal goals” and meet together daily to “collaborate on expressing concerns and resolving disagreements.

That does not sound like a strong deterrent to future radicalized terrorists or returning ISIS members bent on carrying out attacks on their homelands.

Right now, the United States has approximately 450 people in prison for terrorism-related crimes. Many will be released in the next few years. We had better have a well-defined strategy in place to deal with them in prison and a more stringent supervised release program than currently exists. Simply asking them to develop “positive personal goals” will not cut it.

IPT Senior Fellow Patrick Dunleavy is the former Deputy Inspector General for New York State Department of Corrections and author of The Fertile Soil of Jihad. He currently teaches a class on terrorism for the United States Military Special Operations School

Grooming Jihadists: The Ladder of Radicalization and Its Antidote

Gatestone Institute, by Saher Fares, June 1, 2017:

  • What you find is that behind every jihadist, who usually starts out as a young, often angry, Muslim seeking a purpose, lies a pulpit ideologue promising rewards and threatening punishments both on earth and in the afterlife.
  • Violent jihad may be postponed not out of concern for its victims, but rather if it might adversely affect a Muslim community. This view is frequently mistaken as “moderate.”
  • Use the press and social media to expose young Muslims to facts other than those they are fed in mosques and the textbooks of their native countries, including the humanistic values of the West, such as freedom of speech and of the press; equal justice under the law — especially due process and the presumption of innocence; property rights; separation of religion and state; an independent judiciary; an independent educational system and freedom of religion and from religion — for a start.

On March 22, when Khalid Masood rammed his vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in London before attempting to stab his way to the Parliament building, it was as if the heart and soul of British democracy were under assault.

As horrifying as the terrorist attack was, however — murdering four innocent people and wounding scores of others — it belied the magnitude of a much larger problem that has been plaguing Europe and creeping up on the rest of the West. Jihadists committing murder in the name of Islam have left a trail of blood across North America, the Middle East, Australia, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe.

Police officers stand guard on London’s Westminster Bridge on March 29, 2017, a week after Khalid Masood began his murderous car-ramming and stabbing attack at the site. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

In November 2015, a suicide-bombing and shooting spree in Paris left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded; in March 2016, three coordinated suicide bombings targeting travelers in Brussels killed 32 and wounded hundreds; and last December, a truck-ramming at the Christmas market in Berlin left 12 people dead and another 56 injured.

These were just a few of the successful attacks; those thwarted were more numerous.

France’s prime minister said last September that authorities were foiling plots “daily,” while some 15,000 people “in the process of radicalization” were being monitored. Last year, British security services prevented no fewer than 12 other assaults.

The average European now knows the names of Masood and those of other publicized terrorists. But few in the West are familiar with the many people who put those terrorists on their path by leading them up the rungs of a ladder of radicalization.

If you spend hours listening to speeches and sermons — and reading countless articles by “respectable” local imams, community leaders and Islamic scholars — you can see a pattern emerge. What you find is that behind every jihadist, who usually starts out as a young, often angry, Muslim seeking a purpose, lies a pulpit ideologue promising rewards and threatening punishments both on earth and in the afterlife.

The following is a description of the ladder of radicalization, based on material from 45 detailed case studies, covering the period 2012-2015, compiled by the author from U.K. government sources:

  • A radical preacher commonly employs theological “carrots and sticks” as a spur to action. He attempts to terrorize audiences with passages from religious literature about the horrors of hell. He shames those he brands complacent or reluctant to engage in jihad, and instills a heightened sense of crisis. He does this while harping on the notion of Muslim superiority and providing an idealized reading of history that emphasizes “glorious Islamic conquests.”
  • The preacher quotes passages from the Quran and hadith [the sayings and deeds of Muhammad], gradually ratcheting up his rhetoric until openly calling for the restoration of the caliphate through global jihad. The preacher determines whether jihad is beneficial at a given time — or whether it needs to be deferred — depending on the clout a Muslim community has attained in a host country or culture. In other words, he decides whether to “declare jihad” based on what he deems possible for the Muslim ummah [community] at that time. Violent jihad may be postponed not out of concern for its victims, but rather if it might adversely affect a Muslim community. This view is frequently mistaken as “moderate.”
  • The preacher presents stark, simplistic choices, cornering his audience into accepting his particular reading of Islam, and leaving no option but jihad. He does this by using language that evokes gut emotions. He presents the Quran, hadiths and Islamic history in a way he knows his audience is in no position to challenge. He juxtaposes, for instance, incidents in Muhammad’s life to explain modern geopolitics — such as the Arab-Israeli conflict — and that point to a particular course of action. Or he uses ancient Islamic conquests as an inspirational model for current jihadist attacks against the West.

At the root of such preaching is a totalitarian worldview. According to it, there is no distinction between private freedoms and the public good. The past and the present are on a continuum. Secular matters are meticulously “guided” by clerical judgements. The nation state, he alleges, will give way to the caliphate. Morality is stressed, but expressed more in outward appearance (such as modest dress) than as an internal spiritual goal. And he emphasizes that the purpose of public worship is to consolidate al-mumeneen (the believers) into a unified bloc in the cause of jihad — which ultimately entails physical warfare. The underlying theme is that all “infidels” are to be held in perpetual hostility until, as is written in the Quran, “Allah’s word reigns supreme.”

One reason that this radicalization process has gone undetected in the West has to do with language. Imams and Islamist intellectuals use terms that are seemingly identical to those of Judeo-Christian or secular-liberal discourse, but which have an entirely different connotation in Arabic.

Salaam, “peace,” means the peace that will reign only after the whole world has accepted living under the rule of Islam.

Shihada, for example, often translated as “martyrdom,” usually refers to the act of those who kill or are killed in battle for a religiously-sanctioned cause. It is not a testimony of faith in laying down one’s life instead of recanting under pressure.

Iman, translated as “faith,” is proven by total submission to Allah, His Messenger Mohammed and the edicts of sharia as propagated by the leader. It is of great “faith” not to waver in battle against Allah’s enemies.

Qassas, wrongly interpreted as “justice”, often entails a sense of vindictiveness, and “eye-for-an-eye” revenge. It is also circumscribed by Islamic law, sharia: whatever is inside sharia is just; whatever is outside sharia is not just.

Fight them; Allah will torment [not “punish” as many current translations claim] them by your hands… and will give you victory over them and satisfy the breasts (give a great sense of satisfaction, relief) of a believing people. — Quran, 9:14, after Sahih International

Power is elevated as an Allah-given right to the believers, whereas humility is scorned as a sign of weakness. The goal toward which you are urged to aspire is not equality but ascendancy.

It is a matter of ihssan, or “benevolence” of Muslims that they tolerate the life and severely limited “liberties” of dhimmis (subjugated non-Muslims) so long as the latter pay a “protection” tax, the jizya, and abide by a covenant of inferiority “while feeling themselves subdued”. In a state ruled by sharia, equal citizenship between Muslims and non-Muslims is unthinkable.

To challenge Islam’s authority, its prophet’s character or received tradition, or to critique the religion, is construed as ihanah, or “insult”; sabb-e-Rasul, “disparaging the Prophet,” is a libelous offense worthy of death. Failure to accept Islam is also regarded as an “insult” that justifies attack:

As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help. — Quran (3:56)

Counteracting the radicalization of vulnerable Muslims requires a multi-pronged effort on the part of governments, academic institutions and community leaders. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Discourage voluntary segregation in Muslim communities. Establish initiatives that introduce genuine multiculturalism into classrooms, neighborhoods and community centers. This is the only way that insular, extremist thought can be debated and challenged openly by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
  • Prevent fundamentalist Muslim community leaders from hiding behind a “moderate” or “mainstream” façade. Hold preachers accountable for the content of their sermons, and make sure that what they are promoting in Arabic aligns with their public statements in English.
  • Subject the history of early Islam — the conquests of Persia, the Byzantine Empire, the Middle East, North Africa, Greece, Spain and most of Eastern Europe — to the same academic rigors to which Western history has been subjected. Do not allow a romantic view of it as a “superior” model to go unchallenged, and do not shy away from examining similarities between current and centuries-old jihadism. The same goes for religious texts and their modern-day interpretations.
  • Use the press and social media to expose young Muslims to facts other than those they are fed in mosques and the textbooks of their native countries, including the humanistic values of the West, such as freedom of speech and of the press; equal justice under the law — especially due process and the presumption of innocence; property rights; separation of religion and state; an independent judiciary; an independent educational system, and freedom of religion and from religion — for a start.

Those who preach hate simply build on ahistorical, uncontested narratives to spread the messages that inspired the Manchester, London, Paris, Brussels and Berlin terrorists and that groom the terrorists of tomorrow. When will correcting the record and addressing the root causes please start?

Saher Fares is an Arabic linguist and researcher from the Middle East.

Half of Prominent Jihadis Tied to “Non-Violent” Islamism, New Study Shows

by IPT News  •  Apr 30, 2017

Half of the prominent jihadists profiled in a new study by The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics had ties to supposedly non-violent Islamists prior to joining terrorist organizations.

The study’s authors – Mubaraz Ahmed, Milo Comerford, and Emman El-Badawy – explore pathways to militancy among 100 prominent figures within the wider Salafi-Jihadi movement. The individuals examined derive from the Middle East and Africa, across multiple generations. Some of the findings suggest that membership or ties to non-violent Islamist organizations can be associated with an individual’s trajectory towards violence and terrorism.

51 percent of the terrorists under study were previously connected to Islamist groups that claim to be non-violent, including “bodies that are not necessarily political activist organizations but form a functioning arm of existing Islamist groups, such as youth wings, student associations, and other societies.” Since membership in Islamist groups is often secretive and sometimes prohibited in various Middle Eastern countries, the authors acknowledge that the proportion of jihadists with Islamist affiliations are likely higher.

Some of the case studies explored in the report include Djamel Zitouni, the leader of the Armed Islamic Group who was previously a member of an Islamist organization that supposedly eschewed violence – the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). Senior Al-Qaeda leaders, including Abdullah Azzam and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, were involved with or direct members of the Muslim Brotherhood before turning to violent jihad.

One in four of the jihadists examined had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood or its affiliated groups.

Another interesting finding shows that 65 percent of the sample had been imprisoned at some point throughout their lives, some of whom served time before engaging in violent jihad. There has been growing concern for years about Islamist radicalization of potential terrorist recruits in prisons worldwide.

The study shows that personal networks are critical in the formation and development of the global Salafi-jihadi movement.

“Our data links the leaders of Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS today to the forefathers of the movement through people they met in prison, at university, and on the battlefield,” write the authors.

Purportedly non-violent Islamist groups not only serve as potential incubators for radicalization and violence – they also continue to engage in violent incitement, encouraging others to carry out terrorist attacks.

For example, on Wednesday, a senior Muslim Brotherhood member, ‘Izz Al-Din Dwedar, called for an “intifada” targeting Egyptian embassies around the world, in a Facebook post translated by The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

In protest of death sentences handed to members of the Brotherhood in Egypt, Dwedar suggested for violent action on May 3.

Egyptians abroad should “protest [outside] Egyptian embassies and lay siege to them, and steadily escalate [their actions], up to and including raiding the embassies in some countries, disrupting their work and occupying them if possible, in order to raises awareness to our cause,” wrote Dwedar.

Karim Cheurfi: From the Cauldron of Prison to the Streets of Paris

by Patrick Dunleavy
IPT News
April 24, 2017

The initial reports regarding Islamic terrorist Karim Cheurfi, the man responsible for the latest attack that killed French police officer Xavier Jugele and wounded several others, contained the all-too-familiar phrase – “known to authorities.”

What actually was known? Cheurfi had a predisposition for violence, animosity toward authority – he had tried to kill police officers twice before – and a sense of alienation. They also knew that he had spent a significant period of his life in a place that some authorities called a radicalizing cauldron, the French prison system. Inside those prisons, a small group of Islamic terrorists was effectively radicalizing other inmates who came in as petty criminals with no religious leanings, said Pascal Mailhos, past director of France’s domestic intelligence agency.

Mailhos’ warning proved prophetic as French prisons spawned terrorists like Mohammed Merah, who in 2012 murdered police officers and Jewish school children in Toulouse, and Amedy Coulibaly, who killed a police trainee before storming the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket and killing four hostages. Charlie Hebdo attacker Said Kouachi, like Karim Cheurfi, came out of the joint radicalized and ready to kill law enforcement, military personnel and innocent civilians in the name of Allah.

This problem is not unique to France. Former inmates who turned to the violent path of jihad plotted or carried out terrorist attacks in the United States, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom.

For some, particularly for those who have spent time in prison, the radicalization process from conversion to violence is more accelerated. “Some individuals, particularly those who convert in prison, may be attracted directly to jihadi violence…for this group, jihad represents a convenient outlet for (their) aggressive behavior,” the Central Intelligence Agency said in a report, “Homegrown Jihad – Pathway to Terrorism.”

When you combine the ingredients of violent aggressive behavior, animosity toward authority, incarceration, and radical Islamic ideology, you will almost certainly produce a deadly toxin. French prosecutor Francois Molins insisted that Cheurfi showed no signs of radicalization prior to the attack. Missing the signs could be the result of bad eyesight or, a lack of training. “We don’t have anyone trained for anti-radicalization,” said David Dulondel, the head of the union representing officers at France’s Fleury-Merogis maximum security prison. “We can’t say whether someone is in the process of radicalizing or not.”

Despite an acknowledged problem with insufficient training, groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) seek to censor any mention of Islamic radicalization from American law enforcement and military training.

In 2004, the FBI’s official definition of radicalization was “the process of attracting and possibly converting inmates to radical Islam.” They since have been pressured to change the term to “violent extremism.”

Removing warning labels from canisters containing caustic material does not render the substance inside harmless. It only increases the risk of a deadly incident. Toxic waste spills are often the result of carelessness.

Prison radicalization should not be treated this way. We must put the tools in place to monitor and control this threat. Others have done it. Following last month’s Westminster Bridge attack by Khalid Masood, British authorities announced the formation of a task force that will combine intelligence, law enforcement, corrections and probation personnel to look at literature, clergy, and other influences available in prisons. The task force will also closely monitor recently released inmates for changes in behavior or association with known radical mosques or people. France, which has suffered its share of jihadi violence carried out by ex-inmates, had to admit that its program to address prison radicalization had been an utter failure. Yet it has not made any significant changes.

Here in the United States, it is imperative that the Justice Department and the FBI revise the Correctional Intelligence Initiative Program to include the proper vetting of clergy and a post release component to track people who were radicalized or previously incarcerated for terrorist crimes. The initiative started in 2003 with a mission to “detect, deter, and disrupt efforts by terrorist and extremist groups to radicalize or recruit within all federal, state, territorial, tribal and local prison populations.”

Failure to effectively address the ongoing threat is not an acceptable option. At some point there will be a price to pay.

IPT Senior Fellow Patrick Dunleavy is the former Deputy Inspector General for New York State Department of Corrections and author of The Fertile Soil of Jihad. He currently teaches a class on terrorism for the United States Military Special Operations School.

Terror ‘Defector’ Stories Hyped by Media Collapse Underneath the ‘Deradicalization’ Narrative


The “deradicalization” narrative — and a whole industry of academics pursuing large cash grants from governments looking to set up such programs — are built upon the premise that the right set of information and conditions can not only turn terrorists away from violence, but even into respectable and productive citizens.

More often than not, it seems, reality demonstrates the premise’s naivety.

In my previous article, I looked at the current case of Brooklyn native Mohimanul Alam Bhuiya, a former ISIS fighter who defected from the group and is now being enlisted by the Justice Department to help “deradicalize” other terror recruits. Having already plead guilty to his crimes, he is looking for reduced sentencing in exchange for his assistance.

I noted that many “deradicalization” programs established by Western governments have been fraught with repeated and embarrassing failures. But these programs have failed in the Muslim world, too — including in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population of any country, and Saudi Arabia, which arguably has the most global influence. If Muslim countries can’t figure out how to craft effective Islamic “deradicalization” programs, what hope do Western countries have?

Two recent high-profile cases of former terrorists turned defectors touted by the international media represented the promise of “deradicalization” programs, but delivered the predictable failure that seems the dominant pattern with such efforts.


Last August, national and international media organizations were abuzz with the news that a former Al-Qaeda recruiter, Jesse Morton aka Younus Abdullah Muhammed, was given early release from his 12-year federal prison sentence so that he could take up an academic research position at the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

Now Morton was not your average material support for terrorism jihadist wannabe. Not only was he in direct communications with senior Al-Qaeda leaders over seas, but as one of the leaders of the New York-based Revolution Muslim network, he was responsible for recruiting an eye-popping number of now-convicted domestic terror supporters.

As the FBI press release published at the time of his conviction on terror charges states, he openly supported the 9/11 attacks and the November 2009 massacre at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Hasan, as well as directed his supporters to commit violence against Jewish organizations and the creators of the “South Park” Comedy Central Network TV program.

Amidst a PR effort by the GWU Program on Extremism, the media adored Jesse Morton’s story of radicalization and redemption:

Morton was sought after for interviews by media organizations all over the world…


It was no surprise when, exactly five months after Morton’s hiring was announced by GWU, news broke that he had been arrested again, this time for vice:

In their rush to garner media, did the GWU Program on Extremism push Morton out into the public eye far too soon? How much confidence did they have in his “conversion” story? Was the narrative that “deradicalization” was possible in such a high-profile case too tempting for the media to apply basic journalistic scrutiny?

The answer to the first two questions may never be known. But the media’s haste to push the “deradicalization” narrative again exposed their ideological bias when all the evidence urged caution.


Chasing the “Deradicalization” Unicorn

There are endless calls for governments to increase funding for “deradicalization” programs, and there are many NGOs, researchers, and academics seeking those funds. Yet as I noted in Part 1, these government-sponsored “deradicalization” programs are failing everywhere. Worse, there are not many ways to objectively measure success when something doesn’t happen.

In the recent cases of Jesse Morton and Harry Sarfo, the media failed in their basic journalistic responsibilities — in both instances they advanced the “deradicalization” narrative that fell apart in the matter of months.

Needless to say, the follow-up reporting that undercuts the initial stories did not get anywhere near the hype or attention of the original sensational stories.

It should also be noted that in virtually all of these cases of “reformed” or “deradicalized” terror recruits and operatives lies the threat of criminal prosecution. The suspects themselves have a real-world incentive beyond media recognition to spin personal stories of redemption: avoiding prison time.

Which brings us back to the case of Mohimanul Alam Bhuiya.

The Justice Department enlisted this former ISIS fighter as part of a “deradicalization” program. However, even in his initial communication with the FBI when he sought to return from Syria, he made clear that his intention was to eliminate any legal consequences for having joined the most lethal terrorist organization in the world.

He faces sentencing in federal court later this year.

An examination of these “deradicalization” programs in the U.S., other Western countries, and even in the Muslim world shows that the Justice Department’s chances of success are risky at best. Yet now we have the media, yet again, pushing a sensational story of a “reformed” former terrorist operative.

Why are they so insistent on not learning any lessons?

While the Justice Department and the media chase the mythical “deradicalization” unicorn, Americans face greater risk because of their pursuit.

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