WASHINGTON (AP) - Dozens of convicts serving time in U.S. prisons for terrorism-related offenses are due to be released in the next several years, raising the question whether that’s something Americans should fear.
There’s no easy answer.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States has worked aggressively to foil attacks and has imprisoned hundreds of people who joined or helped militant groups. Experts say less attention has been paid to what happens once those prisoners complete their sentences.
Among the incarcerated, according to the Bureau of Prisons, are 380 linked to international terrorism and 83 tied to domestic terrorism. A Congressional Research Service report said 50 “homegrown violent jihadists” were to be released between last January and the end of 2026.
And more are entering prison.
Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by President Donald Trump in May, had told Congress that the bureau had more than 900 active investigations related to Islamic State and other extremist activity in all 50 states.
Most of those convicted of terrorism-related crimes are held at the high-security U.S. penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, and federal prisons in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Marion, Illinois. Some are in for life, but the average sentence is 13 years. That means most will walk out of prison with years of freedom ahead.
“There were people I was with in prison who you’d be happy to have as a neighbor because they were normal, reasonable people,” said Ismail Royer. He was released last December after serving more than 13 years on firearms charges connected to his work helping others get to a militant training camp in Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan territory claimed by India and Pakistan.
“The guys that I’m really, really concerned about are the loose cannons,” Royer said.
“At any time, the loose cannon might go to the convenience store and cut off somebody’s head. You just don’t know. These guys are very problematic,” Royer said while eating grilled cheese at a hotel not far from the White House. “I don’t want them as my neighbor. You can’t sit there and talk to them and tell them that their views are mistaken.”