The Fertile Soil of Jihad: Terrorism’s Prison Connection

The Fertile Soil of Jihad: Terrorism's Prison Connection

Author: Patrick T. Dunleavy
Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2011. 143 p.
Reviewer: Brittany E. Hayes | May 2012

Patrick T. Dunleavy, in The fertile soil of Jihad: Terrorism’s prison connection, examines the terrorism recruitment process inside the United States prison system. Though it is presumed that prisons isolate convicts from the public, in the ever-expanding global world, “convicts today are not isolated from society” (p.100). Operation Hades, the focus of the book, exposed the ease with which Abdel Nasser Zaben was able to recruit and convert prisoners, all the while maintaining contact with the outside world.

Dunleavy describes in detail how Zaben’s background contributed to his radicalization, especially once he entered the prison system. Zaben’s ever widening net is uncovered over the course of the book. Throughout this process, Dunleavy exposes points where the United States government had the opportunity to intervene. These repeatedly missed opportunities allowed Zaben to gain more power in the prison system while adding more recruits.

How then does the United States identify the next Zaben? Dunleavy highlights a number of issues with the prison system as exemplified by the New York experience. First, many of the imams in New York State correctional facilities had radical views. In fact, Warith Deen Umar, who was in charge of approving Muslim chaplains, hired clergy who espoused radical views. Second, Dunleavy highlights the ability of religious clergy to use the components of the religious system to further illegal actions. For instance, the monetary system was used to funnel money to terrorist organizations. Third, individuals used apprentice roles in the prison chaplain’s office to mask their radicalization while using resources in these offices to further terrorism. Fourth, prisoners were able to use the visitor system, especially female visitors. Zaben’s wife, to whom he was introduced by another inmate, did what Zaben himself could not do from prison. These are just some of the factors associated with that prison subculture that seemed to advance terrorism.

While Dunleavy provides a lot of depth regarding the radicalization process in prisons since 1993, the reader is left with more questions than answers at the end. What can we change about the prison system to limit radicalization? For instance, if alone the “New York State Inmate Commissary Account System handles more than $25 million per year (p. 33), how does one keep track of all the monetary transactions in prisons to limit terrorism funding across the country? While agencies are striving to work together, especially with Operation Hades, can law enforcement officials realistically achieve this goal?

Dunleavy provides an excellent portrayal of the radicalization process in the United States prison system. Now it seems incumbent on practitioners to begin making changes to combat this process. Having identified the factors that allowed Zaben to use the prison system to further terrorism, the author has given that system some specific deficiencies that need to be addressed in order to limit the radicalization process in prison. Nevertheless, Dunleavy cautions that jihad is global in nature. Even though law enforcement officials target prison radicalization, radical individuals will continue to find ways to further their goals. This book opens up discussion on the existence of prison radicalization as well as the current level of threat. It should provide a springboard to discussing working policy initiatives so as to target prison radicalization.

Brittany E. Hayes, Doctoral Student, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

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