Many law enforcement experts will tell you that criminals often return to the scene of their crimes, particularly arsonists and bomb makers. So it is ironic when the government allows a convicted terrorist to live in the very neighborhood he once sought to destroy.
This happened July 30 in the case of Victor Alvarez, also known as Mohammed, convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and in the conspiracy to destroy U.S. landmarks in the New York City area. The conspirators were led by radical Islamic cleric Omar Abdel Rahman and El Sayyid Nosair, an inmate in Attica State prison.
Alvarez was released from federal custody after serving 27 years in prison for his part in the conspiracy.
Alvarez built the improvised explosive devices (IED), a mixture of diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which would be used to blow up a list of New York targets including the United Nations headquarters, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the George Washington Bridge and the FBI's New York headquarters.
Alvarez also provided an Uzi semi-automatic rifle to the co-conspirators, and was videotaped by FBI agents constructing the IEDs in a house in Queens, N.Y. According to the indictment, Alvarez was to provide the vehicles necessary to transport the bombs to their targets.
According to court documents filed July 30, Alvarez was ordered to submit his post-release residence for prior approval by the U.S. Probation Office. He was approved to live in the Bellevue Men's Shelter on East 30th Street in Manhattan, within walking distance to the U.N. building, one of the targets of the jihadists' bomb plot. He has since moved to a hotel in Manhattan as part of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's program to house the homeless during the COVID 19 pandemic.
The program, which has been criticized for packing luxury hotels with drug addicts and other criminal types, can now add terrorists to the list.
Alvarez will also be subjected to GPS monitoring and must stay in his residence "at all times."
However, the litany of exceptions for when Alvarez can be out and about is troubling and could provide him with many opportunities to re-visit more of his targets.
Alvarez's prison record provides scant evidence that he has been rehabilitated. In 1996, court records show, he was indicted for possession of a weapon and attempted escape. He also racked up more than 150 disciplinary reports for assaulting and threatening officers during his lengthy incarceration.
During his trial, Alvarez's attorney attempted to paint a picture of a misguided youth with diminished intellectual ability who converted to Islam in his early 20s after watching a program on television.
Andrew C. McCarthy was the chief prosecutor in the 1993 bombing case. He told the Investigative Project on Terrorism that, "without a doubt Alvarez knew what he was doing."
The jury did not buy it either.
Alvarez was motivated by a radical Islamic teaching that called for the destruction of infidels, whether it be an individual, an institution or a nation.
His commitment was demonstrated as the jury returned a guilty verdict. As he was led out of court, Alvarez shouted in Arabic "Takbir!" and called on other Muslims in the courtroom to respond Allah Akbar.
Alvarez was part of a terrorist group prosecutors called "the Jihad Group." The organization believed that an infidel was anyone who did not hold to their radical interpretation of Islamic law and that jihad was to be waged by any means necessary.
In light of this, U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick ordered Alvarez to attend a de-radicalization program supervised by the U.S. Probation Office. The question why Alvarez was not mandated to attend any de-radicalization program during his 27 years of incarceration may be best explained by John Tunheim, Chief U.S. District Judge for Minnesota. "A frustration of ours, which I hope is being remedied ... is that the Bureau of Prisons does not have any deradicalization programs," he said last year. There are prison rehabilitation programs for substance abusers and sex offenders. None, however, for jailed jihadists.
The U.S. Probation Office in Minnesota is contracting with an experimental German program, called the "Terrorism Disengagement and Deradicalization Program (TDDP)," to provide services for approximately two dozen convicted terrorists, half of whom are Islamic extremists.
The voluntary program, primarily seen as an alternative to incarceration, is not without its problems. Abdullah Yusuf, a Somali-American who was arrested after attempting to travel to Syria and join ISIS, was one of the program's first participants. He was placed in a halfway house instead of a prison. Shortly after, he was found with a weapon and transferred to the Bureau of Prisons.
The IPT asked the SDNY U.S. Probation Office for specifics regarding any new de-radicalization program for released Islamic terrorists. The program which Alvarez was mandated to attend is still under development, an official said.
Until we have established a successful deradicalization program, we can expect to see more terrorists returning to the scene of the crime.
IPT Senior Fellow Patrick Dunleavy is the former Deputy Inspector General for New York State Department of Corrections and author of The Fertile Soil of Jihad. He currently lectures a class on terrorism for the United States Air Force's Special Operations School.
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