Fox in the Hen House: Al­low­ing Ter­ror­ists to Re-En­ter Prisons

The Jewish Voice - - NEWS IN REVIEW - By: Pa­trick Dun­leavy

Re­cent articles by the IPT and other news or­ga­ni­za­tions have ad­dressed the grow­ing con­cerns re­gard­ing the up­com­ing re­lease of over a hun­dred in­mates con­victed of ter­ror­ism re­lated crimes. Ex­perts have spo­ken on the lack of a bona fide strat­egy that will ad­dress the unique se­cu­rity is­sues pre­sented when a ter­ror­ist is re­leased. The need for post re­lease spe­cial­ized su­per­vi­sion pro­grams is clear.

The one idea that should not be on the table is to al­low them to re-en­ter prisons to speak with in­mates as a re­li­gious vol­un­teer. Yet this is ex­actly what has hap­pened in the Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions (VADOC) for the last two years.

Ed­win Lorenzo Lem­mons, also known as Asad al Salaam, is an em­ployee of the Mus­lim Chap­lain Ser­vices of Vir­ginia. He is li­censed in the state as an Is­lamic cler­gy­man au­tho­rized to per­form mar­riages and other re­li­gious cer­e­monies. He has been is­sued a statewide pass to en­ter any VADOC fa­cil­ity and speak with in­mates. He is cur­rently teach­ing a class in Ara­bic for in­mates. He is also an ex-of­fender. While that in it­self is not un­usual, many ex-of­fend­ers, in a de­sire to give back and help oth­ers in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions, have suc­cess­fully done so. This par­tic­u­lar ex-of­fender, Ed­win Lorenzo Lem­mons, (FBI # 939113RA3), is quite unique.

Lem­mons' crim­i­nal history be­gan in a small ru­ral com­mu­nity in up­state New York. His par­ents had sent him there from Chicago in hopes of pro­tect­ing him from the scourge of gang vi­o­lence and drugs. His first ar­rest oc­curred when he was a teenager, and for the next two years he amassed charges rang­ing from DUI to Bur­glary, As­sault, and fi­nally, Rob­bery. The last charge re­sulted in his be­ing sen­tenced to a term of 2-4 years in a New York State prison. Upon his en­trance to a Re­cep­tion and Clas­si­fi­ca­tion fa­cil­ity in April of 1996, he de­clared his re­li­gion as Chris­tian. A few months later, af­ter meet­ing with sev­eral in­mates of Mid­dle Eastern de­scent, one, a for­mer Colonel in the Ye­meni army and the other, a mem­ber of Ha­mas, Mr. Lem­mons in­formed his coun­selor that he was chang­ing his re­li­gious af­fil­i­a­tion to Is­lam. Fol­low­ing that de­vel­op­ment, he be­gan to at­tend Ara­bic classes taught by an­other in­mate in the Cayuga Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity. The in­mate teacher's name was Ab­del Nasser Zaben.

Ab­del Zaben, a Pales­tinian, was born in Jor­dan in 1969. He il­le­gally en­tered the United States in 1990, ar­rested by the NYPD in 1993 for Kid­nap­ping and Rob­bery, and sen­tenced to 18 years in prison. Zaben was also the tar­get of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Joint Ter­ror­ism Task Force who had re­ceived con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion that he had sworn al­le­giance to Osama bin Laden and was re­cruit­ing dis­en­fran­chised in­mates to his group for train­ing and to fight in the Ji­had. At the time he first met with Ed­win Lem­mons, Zaben worked as a clerk for the prison's Is­lamic Chap­lain . For the next two years he tu­tored Lem­mons in both Ara­bic and the Ko­ran. When the time for Lem­mons' re­lease from prison drew near, in­mate Zaben pro­vided him with names and con­tact in­for­ma­tion of in­di­vid­u­als in the Mid­dle East who would as­sist Lem­mons in his travel and stud­ies.

Fol­low­ing his re­lease, in the fall of 1998, Lem­mons had his pa­role su­per­vi­sion trans­ferred to Flor­ida, and en­rolled in the Is­lamic Cen­ter of Gainesville. In March 2000, Lem­mons made his first trip over­seas to the Mid­dle East. Upon his re­turn from Jor­dan through New York's JFK Air­port and then on to Gainesville, Flor­ida, he ap­proached the pres­i­dent of the Is­lamic cen­ter and asked about fight­ing in the ji­had over­seas. The then-pres­i­dent, Mo­hamed Bah­maid, in an in­ter­view with mem­bers of the Joint Ter­ror­ism Task Force, stated that he tried to dis­cour­age Lem­mons from any fu­ture over­seas travel. Lem­mons did not heed his ad­vice. Four months later Lem­mons made an­other trip over­seas, this time to Egypt. He stayed for three months and while there, ac­cord­ing to a re­li­able source who knew both Lem­mons and Zaben, he re­ceived "un­der­ground tac­ti­cal train­ing."

Later, while un­der sur­veil­lance by the JTTF, Lem­mons was ob­served at a fir­ing range in Mel­bourne, Flor­ida with two other in­di­vid­u­als, fir­ing AK 47's and SKS as­sault ri­fles. They were prac­tic­ing tac­ti­cal ma­neu­vers known as "cover & con­ceal­ment." In ad­di­tion, au­thor­i­ties re­ceived cred­i­ble in­for­ma­tion from a re­li­able source that de­scribed Lem­mons as some­one with ex­trem­ist Is­lamic views sim­i­lar to that of the Tal­iban. Lem­mons him­self ad­mit­ted to ex­trem­ist views in a recorded con­ver­sa­tion with in­mate Ab­del Zaben.

The ma­jor­ity of Lem­mon's con­ver­sa­tions with Zaben were in Ara­bic and re­quired the use of gov­ern­ment trans­la­tors. The trans­la­tors of­ten re­marked as to the skill and schol­arly ap­proach to the lan­guage that Lem­mons had ac­quired. That de­vel­op­ment caused con­cern with in­ves­ti­ga­tors in June 2003 when mon­i­tor­ing a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Lem­mons and Zaben. Lem­mons kept say­ing over and over to Zaben that he needed to learn how to say "Big Truck" in Ara­bic. He was flu­ent in Ara­bic and knew pre­cisely how to say those words. Why was he re­peat­ing the phrase, "Big Truck"? In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieved this was a coded mes­sage about a pos­si­ble fu­ture at­tack that Lem­mons was to be in­volved with.

That is why on Septem­ber 6, 2003, mem­bers of the FBI's Joint Ter­ror­ism Task Force ar­rested Lem­mons in the Or­lando air­port as he re­turned from yet an­other trip to the Mid­dle East. He was charged with pos­ses­sion of a firearm by a con­victed felon. But this was no or­di­nary gun case. This was the re­sult of a joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion dubbed "Op­er­a­tion Hades" which in­cluded in­ves­ti­ga­tors from my Of­fice, the NYPD, the NYSP, and the JTTF. The goal of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was to de­ter­mine the level of Is­lamic rad­i­cal­iza­tion in the prison sys­tem both here and abroad and also to iden­tify and neu­tral­ize any rad­i­cal­iz­ing in­flu­ences.

Lem­mons was only one of the many rad­i­cals we un­cov­ered.

As a re­sult of his plea ar­range­ment, he re­ceived a sen­tence of twenty seven months in the Fed­eral Bu­reau of Prisons. He was re­leased from prison on May 12, 2006. He con­tin­ued to have con­tact with Ab­del Zaben and other in­di­vid­u­als in the Mid­dle East whom he met dur­ing his trav­els. He has never re­canted his ex­trem­ist views.

The question arises as to why the Mus­lim Chap­lains Ser­vices of Vir­ginia would hire some­one hold­ing such ex­trem­ist views. Per­haps they were un­aware of Lem­mons' back­ground, or per­haps they share the same be­liefs as Mr. Lem­mons. The MCSVA is a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion in­cor­po­rated in 2003 whose stated mis­sion is "to serve in­car­cer­ated in­di­vid­u­als, ex-of­fend­ers, and their fam­i­lies." To ac­com­plish that goal, MCSVA has re­ceived fund­ing from var­i­ous or­ga­ni­za­tions in­clud­ing the Is­lamic Re­lief (IRUSA), an or­ga­ni­za­tion with ties to the Mus­lim Brother­hood. Its for­mer global af­fil­i­ate and cur­rent part­ner or­ga­ni­za­tion Is­lamic Re­lief World­wide (IRW) was banned from op­er­at­ing in Is­rael on al­le­ga­tions the char­ity fun­neled funds to Ha­mas. Later the same year, the United Arab Emi­rates de­clared IRW to be a ter­ror­ist group.

One of the MCSVA board mem­bers, Sa'ad El-Amin, pled guilty to Tax Fraud and sen­tenced to 37 months in a fed­eral

prison. Adding to this, MCSVA is now em­ploy­ing an in­di­vid­ual who was rad­i­cal­ized in prison and has spo­ken of fight­ing and dy­ing for ji­had, namely Ed­win Lorenzo Lem­mons, also known as Asad al Salaam

Al­low­ing an in­di­vid­ual with such rad­i­cal Is­lamic views to meet, teach, and in­flu­ence a par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble group of so­ci­ety, in­car­cer­ated men and women, is in di­rect op­po­si­tion to the FBI's Cor­rec­tional In­tel­li­gence Ini­tia­tive which seeks to de­tect, de­ter, and dis­rupt the level of vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism and rad­i­cal­iza­tion in cor­rec­tional in­sti­tu­tions. It specif­i­cally speaks of pre­vent­ing un-vet­ted re­li­gious clergy and vol­un­teers with ex­trem­ist views from any in­ter­ac­tion with in­mates. The DOJ In­spec­tor Gen­eral's Of­fice has also spo­ken of this se­cu­rity con­cern. That in­mates could be rad­i­cal­ized while in­car­cer­ated and then carry out ter­ror­ist at­tacks af­ter re­lease is a very real con­cern both here and in abroad.

IPT Se­nior Fel­low Pa­trick Dun­leavy is the for­mer Deputy In­spec­tor Gen­eral for New York State Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions and au­thor of The Fer­tile Soil of Ji­had. He cur­rently teaches a class on ter­ror­ism for the United States Mil­i­tary Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions School.

Ed­win Lorenzo Lem­mons was ob­served at a fir­ing range in Mel­bourne, Flor­ida with two other in­di­vid­u­als, fir­ing

AK 47's and SKS as­sault ri­fles. They were prac­tic­ing tac­ti­cal ma­neu­vers known as "cover & con­ceal­ment."

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.