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Founder of prison-based terrorist group sentenced to 16 years

March 07, 2009|Christopher Goffard

The founder of a prison-based terrorist group that targeted the U.S. government and supporters of Israel was sentenced Friday to 16 years in federal prison.

Kevin James, 32, who founded Jam'iyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh, or JIS, pleaded guilty in 2007 of plotting "to levy war against the United States through terrorism."

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney described James as "the mastermind and architect of a terrorist conspiracy" to attack LAX, Army recruiting centers and the Israeli Consulate. Still, Carney said he believed James felt genuine remorse and had written him "the most powerful letter I've ever received" as a judge.

In the letter, portions of which the judge read aloud, James described his violent upbringing in Inglewood, harsh conditions he endured at the California Youth Authority and the horrors of prison, where James has spent much of his adult life.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Gregory W. Staples, arguing for an 18-year prison term for James, said that when authorities stopped the conspirators, "they were gearing up and accelerating." He said James' group planned to stage attacks on political targets with the proceeds of gas station robberies, and the group's writings contained calls to acquire remote-controlled bombs and silencer-equipped guns.

At New Folsom prison in 2004, James recruited fellow inmate Levar Washington, who was released that year and in turn recruited Gregory Patterson. When Torrance police focused on Washington and Patterson as suspects in a series of 2005 robberies, a search of their South Los Angeles apartment turned up the JIS manifesto and a list of potential targets of attack.

In James' prison cell, authorities found a statement he had written to be distributed to the media in the aftermath of such an attack. It warned "sincere Muslims" to avoid supporters of Israel and promised more attacks intended "to defend and propagate traditional Islam in its purity."

Arguing for a 10-year sentence, defense attorney Robert Carlin said that there was "an element of fantasy" in JIS's stated aspirations to establish an Islamic caliphate and that his client's deprived upbringing left him warped.

"This is someone whose nature has been choked, just strangled from the get-go," Carlin said. He said James had devoted himself to study in prison and was a voracious reader with a love for Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina."

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christopher.goffard @latimes.com

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