Jailhouse Islam – The Radicals Among Us

Last May, Philadelphians were stunned when police officer Stephen Liczbinski was shot in cold blood during an altercation with burqa-wearing robbers. But that murder, and other recent violent acts in the city, has its roots in a form of Islam being taught in our prisons — and being funded by Middle Eastern extremists

That was apparently the case with Cain, Warner and Floyd, who went in as disjointed criminals and came out more organized. More disciplined. After their respective releases, when the trio met in their North Philadelphia neighborhood, they didn’t take long to devise a bold plan: bank robbery. They would use high-powered semi-automatic weaponry, the full covering of Muslim women’s dress, and the hesitancies of Western society.

It’s tempting to think their plan was a cynical aberration. To the contrary, it was just the latest in a rapid new trend.

In January 2007, someone wearing Muslim covering walked into the Wachovia Bank at Broad and Walnut streets and handed the teller a note demanding cash, then escaped.

A month later, the same: Just across the Delaware state line, someone in a burqa entered a bank and demanded cash, then got away.

Four months after that, in North Philadelphia, a woman wearing a burqa and gold-rimmed eyeglasses did the same at another bank and ran away on foot.

This past May, two men dressed as Muslim women robbed a real estate leasing office in Southwest Philadelphia, carjacked a van, and escaped. Police caught up to them, though, and when one of the men allegedly pointed a gun, police shot him in the arm and arrested him.

So, just two days after that incident, the three men in question — Cain, Warner and Floyd — set in motion a plan that fit the emerging pattern. And for the first half-hour, at least, their plan went well.

THE OTHER INTELLECTUAL temptation, aside from the question of aberration, is to assume that because such men are Philadelphians, their actions are merely local.

Is homegrown crime coincidental to radical and “jailhouse” Islam, and discrete from terrorism? Or are crime and terrorism just two points on the same continuum?

Authorities disagree. “Yes, the first can tip over to the other,” Inspector O’Connor says. “If you study the targets these guys select — banks, armored cars — and their relative sophistication, I think you start to get a sense there’s something more than street crime happening there.”

Greg Montanaro, a terrorism expert with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a think tank with a highly conservative view on the subject, disagrees. While foreign extremists may penetrate American prisons, he said, “They would never trust operational or strategic details to a black American convert. There’s a great deal of distrust between the two groups.”

Whatever the relationship between Arabic and black Muslims, terrorism is quite possible in Philadelphia, the FBI says.

In January 2006, an employee at a Circuit City store in Cherry Hill realized the tape he was duplicating for a customer contained video of men training with assault rifles, and shouting “Allahu akbar!” He took it to police, who turned it over to the FBI. And so began a year-long sting operation to capture what would eventually become known as the Fort Dix Six: half a dozen men from in and around Philadelphia accused of plotting to infiltrate Fort Dix and “kill as many soldiers as possible.” In December a federal jury convicted five of them of conspiracy to murder the soldiers.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10< Previous Next >View as One Page

Around the Web

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.