WASHINGTON- U.S. prisons are becoming major breeding grounds for Islamic terrorists, but state and local authorities are too cash-strapped to prevent or track recruiting, a new report concludes.
The report, to be released Tuesday, found there aren't enough legitimately trained Muslim religious leaders to counsel an estimated 9,000 U.S. prison inmates who want Islamic services. That allows Islamist extremists to target their vulnerable prison-mates with distorted versions of the Quran and other Muslim readings that urge radicalization and violence.
"Radicalized prisoners are a potential pool of recruits by terrorist groups," concludes the joint study by George Washington University and the University of Virginia. "The U.S., with its large prison population, is at risk of facing the sort of homegrown terrorism currently plaguing other countries."
Additionally, state and local prison officials struggle to track radical behavior changes of inmates or religious counselors. And staff and funding shortages limit preventative programs, the report found, noting that California officials "report that every investigation into radical groups in their prisons uncovers new leads, but they simply do not have enough investigators to follow every case of radicalization."
An estimated 2 million people are imprisoned in the United States; 6 percent of them are Muslim, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Prisons have long been considered recruiting stations for gangs and, more recently, terrorists, but little has been done throughout government to combat them. The report, which will be released at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, comes as law enforcement and intelligence officials focus on finding out how and why extremist sympathizers cross a line to become operational terrorists.
The report cited several high-profile cases of terrorists who became radicalized while incarcerated, including British shoe bomber Richard Reid. It also noted what authorities call a foiled plot of a potential shooting rampage against California military facilities, synagogues and the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles by followers of Kevin James, who founded the radical group Jamiyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh, or JIS, as an inmate at California State Prison in Sacramento.
Researchers interviewed federal, state and local prison officials, religious counselors and counterterror authorities in four states _ California, New York, South Carolina and Ohio _ and the District of Columbia. They concluded that federal prison authorities have made significant strides in collecting and sharing information to help monitor whether inmates are becoming radicalized.
But state and local prison officials have largely relied on contractors and volunteers to lead Islamic services because of a lack of well-trained Muslim chaplains, the report found. In New York, that led to several cases of "imams espousing violent views," it said.
The report noted a 2004 study that found that about half of 193 prisons surveyed supervised religious services or monitored them with video or audio recorders. "In the absence of monitoring by authoritative Islamic chaplains, materials that advocate violence have infiltrated the prison system undetected," it found.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a counterterrorism consultant, said "chilling" interpretations of the Quran were given to prison inmates when he worked for the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, an international charity that served as a major al-Qaida financier.
The readings urged Muslims "to wage war against non-Muslims who have not submitted to Islamic rule," Gartenstein-Ross said in prepared testimony to the Senate panel, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
"I know of only a few instances in which prisons rejected the literature we attempted to distribute _ and it was never because of the literature's radicalism," said Gartenstein-Ross, who left the charity and converted to Christianity before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Al-Haramain also created a database of names, release dates and forwarding addresses of 15,000 inmates considered to be ripe for recruitment, but it was never used, he said.