Thompson: No need for hearing on radical Islam in US prisons

The ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee is seriously questioning the worth of Wednesday’s hearing to address the radicalization of American Muslims in prisons.  

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told The Hill it would be good for the committee, which he presided over for the last two Congresses, to get a briefing on the matter from experts and government officials, but that it doesn’t warrant a hearing. 

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“A briefing maybe; but I’m not certain about having a hearing,” said Thompson. “A briefing would be good for background purposes, but I’m not chair."

“I’m not certain if the testimony will reflect any nexus to terrorism in prisons. I’m convinced that there are very bad people in prisons, but in terms of an organized effort, with either domestic or international affiliations, beyond the Aryan Brotherhood and a few more … I don’t see a Muslim or an Islamic conflict in the prison system,” Thompson said.

Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) said he called Wednesday’s hearing “The Threat of Muslim-American Radicalization in U.S. Prisons” to try and home in on the risks of radicalization facing the American Muslim population incarcerated in prisons throughout the country.

King defended the hearing in the hours leading up to it, saying that the witness panel will make it clear why the issue is one worthy of the committee’s attention. 

“We have really done a good job of stopping [al Qaeda] from coming in from overseas, so al Qaeda has now adjusted and is recruiting from within the United States,” King told Fox News. 

“Now, as far as the prisons — that is literally a captive audience. And historically, there have been conversions to Islam, which is very good. But the fact is there are also radical imams [and] radical chaplains in the prisons who are converting people not just to Islam, but to radical Islam [and] to jihadism. And we are going to have witnesses tomorrow showing cases in California [and] in New York, where young men became radicalized [and] came out of prison to carry out acts of terrorism,” King said. 

Slated to testify on Wednesday are a retired deputy inspector from the New York Department of Correctional Services’ criminal intelligence unit, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Central District of California and the commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department’s counterterrorism and special operations bureau. 

The hearing is the second in a series of hearings King has said he plans to hold on the issue of radicalization within the American Muslim community. It has garnered far less media attention and scrutiny from King’s congressional colleagues than the first hearing.

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King caused a public furor in March with his first hearing on the issue of radicalization, as nearly 100 of his Democratic House colleagues pleaded with him to cancel it. Critics of the hearing held that it would create further division between Muslim Americans and government officials, including law enforcement agencies.

King called the hearing a success and said that it proved to be “informative and educational.” He said all along that his intent was to spur a more vigorous conversation within the Muslim American community about ways in which it could better help to thwart radicalization efforts. 

King received full backing from his leaders to address the issue, he said. And the 10-term lawmaker said he never wavered from his plan to hold the hearing, even in the face of a stream of threatening phone calls, some from overseas.

An L.A. County sheriff testified, along with the father of an accused terrorist, an uncle of another accused terrorist and the president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.

The first Muslim elected to Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) also testified, and at one point broke into tears as he discussed an American Muslim man who helped save people in and around the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.