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Jihadi Tentacles The Fertile Soil of Jihad

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Reviewed By: Dr Rupali Jeswal

Patrick T Dunleavy is the former Deputy Inspector General for New York State Department of Corrections and author of The Fertile Soil of Jihad - a book about terrorism recruitment inside the prison, where it starts, how it develops and the belief where one cell ends another begins. The book is a portrayal of a prisoner’s capabilities and using the inside environment to work for their own agenda outside the prison walls.
fertile soil of jihadThe author is a highly accomplished Law Enforcement Professional; he worked as part of an elite team of investigators for more than 26 years, infiltrating criminal enterprise, contract murder conspiracies and negotiating for the release of hostages.


He was a key figure in Operation Hades, a four year joint investigation conducted by United States law enforcement and intelligence agencies that probed the radical Islamic recruitment movement for jihad from both inside and outside the prison walls.


He is not only a prolific writer but his first hand experience with radicalization in American prisons and the vivid details of his investigations is an eye-opener for all Law Enforcement Agencies. His exploration in how the prison subculture fosters radicalization is food for thought, not just restricted to America but globally as the issue of radicalization in prison, transcends all borders. Since the publishing of his book, September 2011, Mr Dunleavy continues to write and speak out on current events and issues related to radicalization and terrorism, which can be viewed at his website In the past weeks, I have been in touch with the author regularly and found him to be most gracious in his attitude and very approachable. He is not only well armed with wits and expertise but with humility and with a great sense of commitment, in his personal and professional life.


While reading The Fertile soil of Jihad and further diving into his published written materials, I have enhanced and enriched my own understandings tremendously and know that all who read his book would feel the same as I did.


The Fertile Soil of Jihad - starts with the Abdel Nasser Zaben, a young Palestinian, arrested for kidnapping and robbery in 1993 and in the consecutive years America witnesses the call and attacks of jihad and war on terrorism begins. Aftermath of 9/11 irked the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to take upon the information from 1999 of how Middle Eastern inmates in the American prison system were recruiting to produce jihadist who would progress to use acts of terrorism in America. The combing through, leads the investigating team to the same man Abdel Nasser Zaben arrested in 1993 and Dunleavy’s fast paced recount of events starts.


The insulated yet permeable environment of prison leads this same young man, Abdel Zaben, seemingly a common criminal, to swear his allegiance to Osama bin Laden and he embarks on his path to recruit and convert selectively other young minds to the cause of jihad.


In TheFertile Soil of Jihad, the reader’s sensation is further amplified, brilliantly, by Patrick Dunleavy’s use of analogy to Dante’s first canto Inferno (Hell), of his 14th century epic poem The Divine Comedy.


The pace of the book is fast, ever developing and magnetic by virtue of its author’s consummate power of analysis and narrative. Meticulously arranged for any reader to grasp the unfolding of events within the primed walls of prisons, it is a book with a case to learn from, for all those who are in Police, Intelligence and Prison and Correctional Services. This effort of Patrick Dunleavy’s will assist us in understanding not “why?” things happen but most importantly “HOW?” things happen.


The author’s keen observational, analytical and rhetorical skills will lead the reader to microscopic details, showing the holes in our system and what must be anticipated and what can be used as a counter-measure to prevent radicalization in prison taking place. In the end, the book leaves us with a foresight with our own thinking pattern changed to “Expect the Unexpected” and work towards anticipating and reinventing counter-measures for prevention, leaving aside basic assumption and false positives.


In Dunleavy’s words “In prison, time often works to the great advantage of the convict. Mainstream society often forgets the most heinous of criminals once they are locked away. But the terrorist never forgets and knows how to manipulate the system.”


In his testimony before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security on “The Threat of Muslim American Radicalization In US Prisons” June 15, 2011, he stated:
"The task force investigation also found that although the initial exposure / conversion / indoctrination to extremist jihadi Islam may begin in prison, it often matures and deepens after release through the contacts on the outside that the inmates made while they were serving their sentences in prison."


He also noted:

“Despite appearances, prison walls are porous. It is easy for outside influences to access those on the inside and for inmates to reach from the inside out.”

“The problem of prison radicalization often begins at the county jail level and continues on through the state prison system and the post release period.”


Law enforcement agencies should cast aside the notion that there is such a term as “Self-radicalization”. Radicalization by definition means to change fundamentally and a “change” takes place due to an insertion. This insertion can be in any form and as Mr Dunleavy, author of TheFertile soil of Jihadeloquently conveys: “The constant interaction that occurs within a prison negates that (Self-radicalization). There is always a facilitator, an influence, or a catalyst. Be that literature, another cellmate or a clergy.


Prison radicalization, unfortunately, is not unique to the United States, this is an issue plaguing many countries and many are conducting research, building case studies and reinventing countermeasures. India lacks literature on Prison Culture and subcultures and the “knowing” of holes in its fabric, it may have.
This book will give us a picture of real-life events that took place in the American prisons and how the negative ripple effect was followed outside the prison walls. Even our best practices are on foundations of other professionals’ trials and errors and the findings of it, so to read this book and understand the mechanics of human capabilities within prison confinement is a lesson to learn from and utilise it in formulating effective counter-measures.


Evidence suggests that Prison and Correctional facilities have been and are increasingly becoming congregations where terrorists and organised criminals establish channels of communication and co-operation and more importantly recruit new members. Here a systematic capturing and analysis of the social processes within detention facilities can enhance intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ understanding of the groups’ operation and behaviour.


Terrorists and organised crime-related inmates are very sophisticated in using the correction environment to their advantage. Incarceration is part of the game for these inmates: it is a time to rest, recoup and recruit. They are model inmates. They are careful to deflect any attention to their schemes and communication strategies.


Police and correction professionals need immersion in the intelligence operations and strategies of their respective agencies. This linkage will result in the production of mutually beneficial intelligence tools and operations.


To prevent “cognitive-sabotage” officials must use their own interpretative lens in their own facilities using this book as a tool of knowledge because what assumptions were appropriate yesterday can easily be null today, misleading us.

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