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Hearing on Muslim radicalization in US prisons receives mixed review

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After receiving sustained criticism from democrats who accused him of being biased against Muslims, Rep. Peter King, the Republican chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, continued to insist radicalization in the Muslim-American community was a “danger that is real and present.”

Mr. King held the second of a series of hearings aimed to discuss the topic. Wednesday’s hearing focused on the issue of Islamic extremism in US prison systems.

Representative King says that once released from prison, Islamic extremists later retain the potential to become active members of terrorist organizations currently waging war against the United States, such as Al Qaeda.

“Dozens of ex-cons who became radicalized Muslims inside US prisons have gone to Yemen to join an Al Qaeda group run by a fellow American, Anwar al-Awlaki, whose terrorists have attacked the US homeland several times since 2008 and are generally acknowledged to be Al Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate,” Mr. King said.

His handpicked witness panel included current and retired law enforcement officials.

“Instead of providing a balanced, peaceful, contemporary perspective of one of the great and peaceful religions of the world, we are left with a hijacked, cut-and-paste version known to the counterterrorism practitioners as ‘Prislam,’” said Michael Downing, an officer at the Los Angeles Police’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau, who testified at the hearing.

Mr. Downing said Islam brings strength and value to the lives of many converting Muslims in the California prison system he now serves, but said the issue of “homeland radicalization” was still a concern.

Islam is the fastest growing religion among prisoners and about 80 percent of all persons who convert in US prisons, turn to Islam.

But Bert Useem, a Purdue university scholar whose background includes studies on prison organization and violence argued that US prison systems are not a viable source of jihadist radicalization.

“If prisons were a major cause of terrorism, we would see a large proportion of jihad terrorists linked to prison. That’s not the case,” he said.

According to Mr. Useem, of 178 cases of Muslims prosecuted on terrorism related charges since 9/11, only 12 show evidence of radicalization behind bars. Mr. Useem added that as long as law enforcement continues to recognize terrorist acts and work collaboratively with counterterrorism agencies that terrorism will continue to be diminished.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, criticized the hearing and said Representative King had an ulterior motive.

“Congressman King has been shown very clearly to have made anti-Muslim statements and a number of false allegations toward the American-Muslim community. The most famous was his assertion that 80-to-85 percent of American-Muslim leadership is extremist. He has never produced a shred of evidence to back that up,” said CAIR Director of Government Affairs, Corey Saylor.

Mr. Saylor believes there is a threat of radicalization in prisons that should be considered, but “there are some radicals in the American-Muslim community, but this is being blown out of proportion to serve Peter King’s agenda. The issue is valid….just not prevalent.”