The four men accused of plotting to blow up synagogues and shoot down a plane all did stretches in state prisons–a major breeding ground for Islamic radicalization.
At least two of the suspects, James Cromitie and Onta Williams, entered the system as Baptists and were paroled as Muslims.
FBI Director Robert Mueller has called America’s prisons “fertile ground for extremists.”
A 2006 study called “Out of the Shadows” found “tight-knit communities of Muslims in prison are ripe for radicalization, and could easily become terrorist cells.”
The harshness of life behind bars “can be a radicalizing experience,” said Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, an advocacy group.
“A lot of inmates convert to Islam–or Christianity. Most people in upstate prisons are not politicized, but they can be when they see injustice, and use their time to develop a political outlook.”
Still, he said, there is not a lot of concern about people being radicalized to the point that they become terrorists.
Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, imam at Masjid al-Ikhlas Islamic Learning Center of Orange County, the Newburgh mosque where the suspects sometimes worshiped, said Muslims behind bars are not being radicalized.
The NYPD’s Intelligence Division maintains a liaison with correction facilities in the city and state to gauge possible radicalization activities.
In 2006, city correction officials created a specialized intelligence unit on Rikers Island to stop fanatics before they can indoctrinate others.