Edina Lekovic, communications director for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a civil-rights group, said any radicalization might be the result of too few qualified Muslim chaplains for inmates.
"I'm deeply troubled by the possibility that these former inmates, who converted to Islam in prison, may have gone missing overseas," said Lekovic. "Frankly, this case just underscores the necessity for the Bureau of Prisons to hire more Muslim chaplains to teach and guide inmates in their understanding and practice of Islam. Without chaplains, inmates are left to their own devices which may be guided by volatile prison dynamics."
A spokesperson for the New York state prison system said that system was not a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. "We do not have any evidence of anything resembling widespread terrorist-inspired radicalization or recruiting," said Erik Kriss, "but we recognize the potential and therefore remain vigilant in guarding against it."
Kriss said the New York correctional system employs about 40 imams, most of them full-time, and that background checks are conducted on all chaplains prior to hiring. Kriss said there had been "a small handful of isolated incidents" at New York prisons in which Muslim religious leaders were disciplined, primarily just after 9/11. One imam, Sufwan El Hadi, was fired after 9/11 for preaching that God had inflicted his punishment on the wicked. The report of a labor arbitrator after El Hadi's firing, said Kriss, indicated he had run out into the prison yard on September 12, 2001, "pumping his arms above his head and chanting." According to Kriss, a retired imam was banned from further visits to New York prisons after published remarks in the Wall Street Journal seemed to support terrorism.