Should re­lease of U.S. ter­ror in­mates alarm Amer­i­cans?

Ex-con­vict warns of ‘loose can­nons’

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY DEB RIECHMANN

Dozens of con­victs serv­ing time in U.S. pris­ons for ter­ror­ism-re­lated of­fenses are due to be re­leased in the next sev­eral years, rais­ing the ques­tion whether that’s some­thing Amer­i­cans should fear.

There’s no easy an­swer.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks, the United States has worked ag­gres­sively to foil at­tacks and has im­pris­oned hun­dreds of peo­ple who joined or helped mil­i­tant groups. Ex­perts say less at­ten­tion has been paid to what hap­pens once those pris­on­ers com­plete their sen­tences.

Among the in­car­cer­ated, ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of Pris­ons, are 380 linked to in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism and 83 tied to do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism. A Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice re­port said 50 “home­grown vi­o­lent ji­hadists” were to be re­leased be­tween last Jan­uary and the end of 2026.

And more are en­ter­ing prison. For­mer FBI di­rec­tor James B. Comey, who was fired by Pres­i­dent Trump in May, had told Congress that the bureau had more than 900 ac­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­lated to Is­lamic State and other ex­trem­ist ac­tiv­ity in all 50 states.

Most of those con­victed of ter­ror­ism­re­lated crimes are held at the high­se­cu­rity U.S. pen­i­ten­tiary in Florence, Colorado, and fed­eral pris­ons in Terre Haute, In­di­ana, and Mar­ion, Illi­nois. Some are in for life, but the av­er­age sen­tence is 13 years. That means most will walk out of prison with years of free­dom ahead.

“There were peo­ple I was with in prison who you’d be happy to have as a neigh­bor be­cause they were nor­mal, rea­son­able peo­ple,” said Is­mail Royer.

He was re­leased in De­cem­ber after serv­ing more than 13 years on firearms charges con­nected to his work help­ing oth­ers get to a mil­i­tant train­ing camp in Kash­mir, the dis­puted Hi­malayan ter­ri­tory claimed by In­dia and Pak­istan.

“The guys that I’m re­ally, re­ally con­cerned about are the loose can­nons,” Mr. Royer said.

Mr. Royer grew up in a Catholic fam­ily in sub­ur­ban St. Louis. By the time he was 21, he had con­verted to Is­lam and was fight­ing along­side fel­low Mus­lims in Bos­nia. At 31 he was serv­ing a 20-year sen­tence.

Today he lives in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., area, works for the Cen­ter for Is­lam and Re­li­gious Free­dom and wants to help nonex­trem­ist Mus­lim-Amer­i­cans find their foot­ing in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety.

Be­hind bars Mr. Royer got to know in­mates ar­rested for only loose ties to ter­ror­ism. But he also met Richard Reid, the al Qaeda “shoe bomber,” and John Walker Lindh, an Amer­i­can cap­tured in Afghanistan while fight­ing with the Tal­iban.

Some were en­snared in sting op­er­a­tions, Mr. Royer said, or were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oth­ers were up to no good; Mr. Royer said he was happy the FBI ar­rested them.

“At any time, the loose can­non might go to the con­ve­nience store and cut off some­body’s head. You just don’t know. These guys are very prob­lem­atic,” Mr. Royer said while eat­ing grilled cheese at a ho­tel not far from the White House. “I don’t want them as my neigh­bor. You can’t sit there and talk to them and tell them that their views are mis­taken.”

Eric Rosand, who di­rects a pro­gram at the Global Cen­ter on Co­op­er­a­tive Se­cu­rity that’s aimed at com­bat­ing vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism, said not enough is known about the mind­set of the pris­on­ers be­ing re­leased. Ex­perts say there’s been no com­pre­hen­sive re­search to de­ter­mine re­cidi­vism rates for these in­di­vid­u­als.

Karen Green­berg, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter on Na­tional Se­cu­rity at Ford­ham Univer­sity’s School of Law, doesn’t think the pub­lic should panic. Those re­leased will face months to years of su­per­vi­sion. Phone calls and on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tions are mon­i­tored. Travel can be re­stricted. Weekly meet­ings with coun­selors can be re­quired.

“We’re not talk­ing about 9/11 per­pe­tra­tors,” Ms. Green­berg said.

While the State Depart­ment has spent more than $10 mil­lion since 2012 to help other coun­tries deal with an in­crease in sus­pected ter­ror­ists, Mr. Rosand lamented that no sim­i­lar ef­fort is tak­ing place here.

“Peo­ple have to go back to some com­mu­nity once they are re­leased,” said Mr. Rosand, a for­mer se­nior coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cial at the State Depart­ment. “Are we pre­par­ing com­mu­ni­ties for their re­lease? Where are they go­ing to go? Is the com­mu­nity that they came from go­ing to ac­cept them back?”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Is­mail Royer was re­leased from prison after serv­ing more than 13 years on ter­ror-re­lated charges. He say “loose can­nons” should re­main be­hind bars.

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