On June 1, 2009, a Tennessee man born Carlos Bledsoe — but who changed his name to Abdul Hakim Muhammad — walked up to a military recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas, and opened fire. He killed a 23-year-old private named William Long and wounded another man, Private Quinton Ezeagwula, who was eighteen. At the time of the shooting, Muhammad was under investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) for having traveled to Yemen, where he spent time in prison.
According to police reports, after the shooting Muhammad waved his Miranda rights, and on video “stated that he was a practicing Muslim … [and] that he was mad at the U.S. military because of what they had done to Muslims in the past.” According to a detective on the case, Tommy Hudson, Muhammad said that he had “fired several rounds at the soldiers with the intent of killing them.”
He pleaded not guilty.
Last week, on January 12, this same man sat down and wrote a letter to the judge presiding over his capital murder case. Abdul Hakim Muhammad asked that the judge change his plea to guilty. In the letter, Muhammad says he was trained in Yemen by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the same group believed to have trained Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day.
Abdul Hakim Muhammad told the judge:
My lawyer has no defense. … I wasn’t insane or post-traumatic nor was I forced to do this act. Which I believe and it is justified according to Islamic laws and the Islamic religion jihad — to fight those who wage war on Islam and Muslims.
Muhammad’s father, Melvin Bledsoe, told the New York Times that he does not believe his son has ties to al-Qaeda. This despite the fact that in the fall of 2007, his son went to Yemen, where he lived for 16 months. He married a woman from Yemen and was imprisoned for using a false passport. Sometime after his release from the Yemeni prison he returned to America, where the JTTF picked up his trail.
In his interview with the Times, Melvin Beldsoe “suggested that [his son] might be trying to link himself to al-Qaeda because he believes it will lead to his execution and make him a martyr.” Bledsoe said he considers his son “unable to process” reality and that he has been “brainwashed.”
Regardless of what the father thinks of his son, those tasked with reading the recent Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report on the Yemen/al-Qaeda/American jihad connection will have to take note of this new information. The 21-page report deals with Americans radicalized for jihad in prisons, largely in the state of New York. Abdul Hakim Muhammad presents the scenario in reverse — a Muslim convert who gets radicalized in America, goes to Yemen, and winds up in prison there.
The report released last Monday speaks of as many as 36 American ex-cons, all of whom “arrived in Yemen in the past year ostensibly to study Arabic,” but actually were studying how to be terrorists. The men fell off the radar, the Committee on Foreign Relations says. They never returned to America, but instead “disappeared and are suspected of having gone to al-Qaeda training camps in ungoverned portions of the impoverished country.” These are not 36 isolated incidents, the report says. Patrick Dunleavy, a former deputy inspector general of New York’s prison system, explains: “There is a network that steers them once they are out of prison through a series of proving grounds until they end up in Yemen.”
Terrorism analysts and experts have been writing about this problem for years: American prisons have become a breeding ground for Muslim extremists. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross has written several investigative reports on prison jihad, including a series for the Weekly Standard. In “Revenge of the Shoe Bomber” at the Wall Street Journal, Debra Burlingame explains how shoe bomber Richard Reid has resumed jihad from prison. The Investigative Project on Terrorism has gone undercover to learn more about the roots of radical Islam in prison.
One wonders why it takes a near-miss on a Detroit-bound airplane for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to take note of what is already known. Important questions remain. Will action be taken? Will the Muslim clerics who foster radicalism inside prisons be shut down, and will the networks who help the ex-cons travel overseas for jihad be investigated and held accountable?
Or is Congress in CYA mode?