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The Fertile Soil of Jihad
Reviewed by
BERNIE BELLAN
A couple of months ago my friend Irwin Lipnowski gave me this book to read, saying it was a very important book.

I had other books on my reading list ahead of The Fertile Soil of Jihad so I didn’t get around to reading it right away. In fact, since I knew the book was written in 2011, I wondered how current its discussion of jihad might be in light of rapidly changing events in the world today, especially the rise of ISIS.
Let me quote from the book’s jacket though, to give you an idea what this book is all about:
 ‘On January, 26, 1993, a young Palestinian man named Abdel Nasser Zaben was arrested and incarcerated in New York City for kidnapping and robbery. Just thirty days later, while he remained locked up, radical Islamic fundamentalists detonated a bomb in the World Trade Center. These two events, connected by common threads, signaled the coming of jihad to America. From the seemingly insular environment of prison, this same young man, thought to have been merely a common criminal, swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden and began to convert other young minds to the cause. A dangerous terrorist recruitment “cell” had been born . How did it happen?’
How it happened becomes the theme of this very interesting, albeit extremely confusing book. The author, Patrick T. Dunleavy, is the former deputy inspector general of the Criminal Intelligence Unit of the New York State Department of Correctional Services.
Dunleavy became a key figure in something called “Operation Hades”, which was an investigation of radical Islamic movements that were born within prison walls, particularly in New York State.
In many ways The Fertile Soil of Jihad reads like a thriller novel. As noted, the key figure throughout the book is this Abdel Zaben character, who eventually is found to have developed an enormous ring of contacts within the New York State prison system, all dedicated to the cause of jihad.
How Zaben was able to circumvent the ostensible strictures that one would think might be able to prevent someone from, for all intents and purposes, waging war against the very state in which he lived while imprisoned, provides a fascinating lesson in bureaucratic inertia. That Dunleavy was able to piece together the most minute details of what Zaben was apparently up to from almost the very moment he was imprisoned in 1993 is a testament to Dunleavy’s own very impressive investigative abilities.
Yet, as I kept reading this book – and with growing frustration at how easily Zaben and his acolytes were able to make total fools of their supposed captors, I had to keep asking myself: How ridiculously far has the defense of civil liberties gone in the Unites States to the point that imprisoned inmates are able to hatch – and carry out – conspiracies with such terrible consequences without fear of getting caught?
One particular aspect of Dunleavy’s investigation that gave me the most cause for concern was the pivotal role that Islamic chaplains played in aiding and abetting Zaben’s ongoing campaign of jihad. Many of those chaplains were themselves former inmates in the very same prisons in which Zaben found himself - as he was moved around within the New York State prison system over the years. Not only were these chaplains co-conspirators, it turns out that their Muslim supervisors – going all the way to the top of the New York prison system, were also complicit in fomenting jihad.
If one were to pick up this book and not be aware that the events described within are all based on carefully documented evidence, one might be forgiven for saying this is nothing more than a conspiracy campaign to defame Muslims. The fact is, however, that Abdel Zaben caused incalculable damage to America – and other countries’ security, through his machinations. Many of the convicts with which he came in contact ended up going to the Middle East upon their release, especially to Yemen, where they joined Al Qaeda cells and became warriors in the battle being waged by bin Laden and his successors.
Since The Fertile Soil of Jihad was released four years ago, one would hope that the lessons offered by Dunleavy would have been taken seriously by authorities within America’s intelligence agencies – and within the prison system. But, as we’ve seen time and time again, bureaucratic infighting both within those organizations and among them often leads to ridiculous failures either to analyze intelligence that has been carefully and meticulously gathered by conscientious operators within those agencies or to act upon that intelligence even when it has been studied.
As much as The Fertile Soil of Jihad is an interesting study of one aspect of Islamic jihad, it is a very dry read. Laden with a never-ending series of acronyms (for the myriad agencies tasked with maintaining security at so many different levels in the U.S. that it’s quite mind boggling), as well as a revolving cast of characters, this is quite a confusing book.
Still, if you can wade through the enormous amount of detail that Dunleavy provides about interviews, transcripts, and recorded phone calls, The Fertile Soil of Jihad provides a salutary lesson in not underestimating either the resolve or the intelligence of jihadi warriors. To think though that so many jihadists are able to carry on right under the very noses of the individuals tasked to prevent them from committing mayhem does not provide much reassurance for the rest of us.

The Fertile Soil of Jihad
Written by Patrick T. Dunleavy
Potomac Books,
Washington, D.C.
Published 2011
142 pages

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