Muslim Converts, Meet the FBI

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, August 20, 2005

Shortly after the London bombings, it became fashionable for some American commentators to cite the alienation of British Muslims as an example of a massive failure of assimilation -- a state of affairs, they asserted, that is inconceivable in the United States.

Americanization, went their argument, has virtually eliminated teeming groups of disaffected Islamic immigrants within our shores.

Well, that may be true but it's not the whole truth concerning American Muslims.

Islam in the United States is not solely the province of immigrants from North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. The largest and fastest-growing ethnic group of American Muslims is African Americans, whose estimated numbers range between 1.3 million and 2 million. Most, by the way, are Sunni Muslims and not followers of Minister Louis Farrakhan's racially exclusive Nation of Islam.

What's more, the group within the African American Muslim community that is experiencing the most explosive growth is probably the least assimilated: black inmates. Good statistics are hard to come by, but one estimate places the number of Muslim converts in prison above 250,000. What brings them to Islam? Survival? Acceptance? Rejection of Christianity? Spiritual transformation?

One thing for sure: It's not Americanization.

Which gets us to the FBI, converts to Islam and a possible terrorist plot in California.

When FBI director Robert S. Mueller III joined us at The Post for lunch in June 2002, Muslim converts in prison seemed to be the last folks on his mind. At the time, Mueller was preoccupied with discussing the bureau's new post-9/11 mandate to detect and foil terrorist actions against American targets before they happened.

Not so today.

Mueller recently told Congress that one area of the war on terrorism that causes him great concern is the potential for extremist groups such as al Qaeda to recruit radicalized American Muslim converts. Mueller drew a bead on the American prison system, which he described in written testimony as "fertile ground for extremists who exploit both a prisoner's conversion to Islam while still in prison, as well as their socioeconomic status and placement in the community upon their release."

That concern is no longer theoretical.

This week brought news that three California men are currently being investigated as part of a possible plot to launch assaults against National Guard facilities this Sept. 11 and against Jewish targets on Yom Kippur.

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