The Enemy Within [site home page]
homelodi casepreparednesssite mapdiscussion

kevin james and the jis conspiracy by Rob Harris

Here is a summary of the only post-9/11 "operational" homegrown terror plot, which led investigators inside the walls of the California prison system. The group's alleged ringleader makes his first public response to the charges.

Rob Harris is an associate producer on "The Enemy Within."

In August 2005, four men were indicted in Orange County, Calif. for a terror plot described by FBI Assistant Director of Public Affairs John Miller as "the one that operationally was closest to actually occurring" since 9/11.

Three of the alleged conspirators -- Levar Haney Washington, 26; Gregory Vernon Patterson, 22; and Hammad Riaz Samana, 22, a Pakistani national -- have confessed to 11 gas station robberies that the FBI alleges were perpetrated to finance terrorist attacks on military recruitment centers, synagogues and the Israeli consulate. The fourth man indicted is Kevin Lamar James, 29, who has been housed in California State Prison, Sacramento since 1996 for committing a gang-related armed robbery. All the defendants have pled not guilty. Their trial is scheduled for August 2007.

In public comments, FBI Director Robert Mueller has singled out James as the ringleader of the conspiracy, masterminding terrorist attacks from prison.

The Case against JIS

Among the crimes with which the defendants are charged is seditious conspiracy: a statute dating from 1790 which allows the government to charge people who plan but do not carry out crimes against the United States. Originally drafted to try those who advocated secession, it has been used recently in several counterterrorism cases, including the successful conviction of the so-called "blind sheik," Omar Abdel-Rahman, and co-defendants who plotted to blow up the United Nations. Since 9/11, Jeffrey Battle and Patrice Lumumba Ford, two defendants in the "Portland Cell" terrorism case, pled guilty to the charge, and members of the "Sea of David" group arrested in Miami in June 2006 have been charged with seditious conspiracy, among other charges.

james on tv

Kevin Lamar James, the alleged JIS ringleader

The Orange County indictment accuses James of founding a radical Muslim group known as Jam'yyat Al-Islam Al-Saheeh, or JIS, which translates from the Arabic as "The Association of True Islam." James is also accused of recruiting Washington, at one time a fellow inmate at Folsom and a recent convert to Islam, to commit violent acts of jihad.

Washington was released on parole in the fall of 2004. Less than a year later, he and Patterson were arrested for the gas station robberies. When police searched the Los Angeles apartment Washington and Patterson shared, they found documents and plans detailing the terrorist conspiracy, including a poster of Osama bin Laden, ammunition, a bulletproof vest and a list of potential targets. The documents implicated Samana, who confessed to robbing two gas stations.

According to the government's indictment, while in prison, James wrote and distributed a document known as the "JIS Protocol." Randy Parsons, the FBI special agent in charge of counterterrorism in Los Angeles during the JIS investigation, says, "The protocol specifically outlines the justification for their attacks. It gives direction to both persons inside and outside [prison] as well as tactical guidance: Acquire weapons; they did that." (Parsons, who recently retired, told FRONTLINE that his statements reflect his personal opinion and not that of the FBI.)

However, according to lawyers for the defense, the government's only physical evidence linking James directly to the terrorist plans is a letter that James sent to Washington. Ellen Barry, Washington's attorney said, "It's not a smoking gun, nothing like, 'Here is your directive: Kill all infidels.'"

Kevin James Responds

A California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) employee who knew James before the JIS conspiracy allegedly unfolded, described James as forthright, honest and a calming and rational voice in group counseling sessions. "The only thing I can say about the character of Kevin James is that he's all man. Guys in prison are under a lot of pressure and he never appeared to buckle," said the CDCR source. "He always tried to work the program."

For the past decade, terrorists linked to violent jihadi activities have been routinely placed under Special Administrative Measures, or SAMs, that severely restrict visitation and communication with the outside world. However, FRONTLINE and The New York Times have been allowed, on numerous occasions, to walk into the Santa Ana City Jail where James is being held and interview this alleged terrorist ringleader.

James is a wiry African-American man with two large cornrows running down back from his forehead and an untrimmed goatee. He wears oval-shaped wire rimmed glasses and has a prominent "raisin'' in the middle of his forehead, the mark of a pious Muslim who grinds his forehead into the ground during prayer. A thick tattoo reading "Allah" in Arabic dominates his right forearm, while a crescent and star decorate his left hand. He said the crescent covers a large tatoo marking a former gang membership.

At the time James would not speak on the record about his case, but later relayed a letter to FRONTLINE for publication. In it, James denies the charges against him. "I didn't found any radical Islamic group, J.I.S. is a name used by prison Sunni's to distinguish themselves from the N.O.I [Nation of Islam], Shi'ites and other sects," wrote James.

He also denies that Washington had pledged any loyalties to him, as is alleged in the indictment. "I met him 4 weeks before he paroled in the yard," James wrote, describing Washington as a member of an "enemy" gang who had recently converted to Islam.

Radical Islam in Prison

Inmates and CDCR officers told FRONTLINE that JIS was virtually unknown before the FBI brought the case. Lawrence Owens, a Muslim inmate at Folsom State Prison and a convicted murderer, says he had heard from his contacts at the Sacramento prison that "these guys weren't trying to form a prison network or a Muslim terrorist plot in prison or anything like that."

LAPD Deputy Chief of Counterterrorism Mark Leap acknowledges that JIS was, "below the radar screen when it comes to prison intelligence. Prison intelligence was focused on violent groups such as the Aryan Brotherhood or the Black Guerilla Family or the Mexican Mafia. Those groups that create havoc and commit violence inside the prison walls."

Salem Mohamed, the Muslim chaplain at Folsom State Prison, said that although he does not know Kevin James, he sees Islam as generally a positive force in prison, "They are ex-gang members who have been violent throughout their lives. ... They feel it is time for them to quit that. They are seeking peace within themselves; stability, discipline, justice, and they see in Islam a way that provides them that."

There are fears, however, about radical Islam spreading in prisons. Terrorist shoe-bomber Richard Reid and Jose Padilla, who was held as an enemy combatant for attempting to detonate a "dirty bomb" before being charged with material support of terrorism and conspiracy to murder individuals in a foreign country, were both radicalized during stints in prison.

Still, a September 2006 report by George Washington University and the University of Virginia found the extent of the threat inside America's prisons is hard to measure. "The potential for radicalization of prison inmates in the United States poses a threat of unknown magnitude to the national security of the U.S.," according to the report.

Neil MacFarquhar of The New York Times contributed reporting to this article.

home + introduction + discussion + lodi, calif. case + preparedness + interviews
readings & links + dvds & transcript + site map + teacher's guide
press reaction + credits + privacy policy + journalistic guidelines + FRONTLINE series home + wgbh + pbs

posted oct. 10, 2006

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
photo copyright © getty images
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation