This guy embraced Islamic State ideals. He now rejects extremism

On a wet morning, Imran Rabbani returned to the Essex County Juvenile Detention Heart so he may reunite along with his former keepers.

4 years earlier than, Rabbani had arrived on the facility in shackles after being swept up in an Islamic State-inspired plot to activate a pressure-cooker bomb in New York. He was once 17.

Now, simply beginning his 3rd semester at New York College, the 22-year-old Rabbani sought after to offer because of the individuals who guided him clear of Islamist extremism. As he waited within the library remaining summer season, glancing at books that had proved a very powerful to his transformation, the room slowly stuffed with town officers, group of workers and guards.

Imran Rabbani at New York College’s Islamic Heart. He’s in his 3rd semester on the college.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Occasions)

Rabbani noticed Capt. Robert Woodson and leaned in for a hug. When they embraced, Rabbani started sharing reminiscences. The room temporarily fell silent as other folks fastened their eyes at the pair.

“Keep in mind the way you’d permit me and different inmates to consume snacks whilst we watched ‘The Twine’ throughout the library? And that different time you allowed me to hope in non-public after which name my mother?” Rabbani requested.

“I take into accout,” Woodson spoke back. “You and the opposite inmates had been like my kids. I like all of you.”

Rabbani positioned his hand on Woodson’s shoulder as tears fell down each their faces.

“I by no means anticipated a jail guard, let by myself a captain, to regard me like that and with kindness,” he stated.

Taking a look again on his time in custody, Rabbani now sees that kindness and training because the keys to what buddies, circle of relatives and regulation enforcement say was once an sudden transformation — a metamorphosis that in the long run helped deepen and enrich his id as an American Muslim.

Capt. Robert Woodson of the Essex County Juvenile Detention Heart will get emotional all over a seek advice from with former inmate Imran Rabbani.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Occasions)

The son of Pakistani immigrants, Rabbani struggled to slot in whilst rising up in New York. He felt like an interloper, by no means absolutely figuring out as American or Pakistani.

Rigidity was once the average denominator in Rabbani’s existence. Cash was once at all times tight, and Rabbani, his oldsters and 3 siblings squeezed right into a one-bedroom rental in Flushing. When Rabbani in any case made buddies, his father disapproved of them and recommended him to abide through extra conservative Pakistani traditions.

As he looked for solutions, Rabbani met Munther Omar Saleh, who was once 3 years older and lived a couple of structures away.

It was once 2015 and a U.S.-led coalition was once starting to behavior airstrikes towards Islamic State, often referred to as ISIS, after it took keep an eye on of huge swaths of Syria and Iraq. Federal prosecutors would later allege in court docket paperwork that Saleh was once researching find out how to construct a bomb to hold out a terrorist assault.

Rabbani would later say he knew not anything of Saleh’s plans, a minimum of no longer then. Their friendship deepened and profoundly affected how Rabbani considered the sector.

The charismatic Saleh stated Muslims had been persecuted through Jews and Christians and instructed that Islamic State was once setting up Islam the way in which the prophet Muhammad supposed.

In the beginning, such communicate made Rabbani uncomfortable. However after a couple of months, the alarm going off inside of Rabbani’s head slowly pale. For the primary time, he would recall years later, Rabbani felt any individual permitted him. He didn’t wish to lose that feeling of belonging.

In 2015, Rabbani and Saleh had been regularly volunteering at Masjid Al-Falah, a mosque in Queens.

Rabbani close to the Masjid Al-Falah mosque in New York.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Occasions)

Now and again they spent the night time on the mosque, debating other teachings in Islam. They mentioned hadiths, written accounts of the prophet Muhammad’s sayings and movements that Muslims use as a supply of ethical steering and spiritual regulation.

One time, Saleh learn a translation of a hadith that he stated recommended Muslims to sign up for Islamic State:

“A country will come from the east with black flags … if someone of you unearths this country, you then will have to sign up for them even supposing it’s important to move slowly over ice,” Rabbani recalled Saleh telling him.

“This isn’t the Islam I do know,” Rabbani concept in the beginning.

However Rabbani started studying articles and staring at movies produced through Islamic State on-line, and he persevered to show to Saleh for recommendation, nicknaming him “Mufti,” a Muslim prison skilled.

“I’ve been taking a look extra into it … we must communicate in individual,” Rabbani texted Saleh one night, in line with court docket paperwork. Islamic State’s ideology, he added, “simply is sensible.”

“You imply setting up Islam the similar approach the Prophet … did? We will be able to join up each time your unfastened,” Saleh spoke back.

“Yeah and dude it’s like their doing it step-by-step and completely … the precise tactics and regulations of the prophet,” Rabbani texted again.


Unbeknownst to Rabbani, federal brokers have been monitoring him and Saleh for months. They listened to Rabbani’s conversations, adopted his strikes, monitored his web searches and financial institution statements.

They discovered Saleh was once assembly up with 4 buddies in Staten Island, the place they mentioned Islamic State teachings and conceivable places for an assault, similar to Occasions Sq.. Rabbani stated he by no means attended the ones conferences and didn’t know Saleh was once making plans an assault.

In Would possibly 2015, Rabbani and a few buddies had been heading to a mosque in Brooklyn once they noticed a automotive following them. When they arrived on the mosque, Rabbani and his buddies approached the car, however earlier than they may problem the driving force, he drove off. Pondering it could need to do along with his spiritual ideals, Rabbani referred to as 911.

After weeks of being adopted, Rabbani grew pissed off. One night after prayer services and products, Rabbani, Saleh and any other good friend had been within the good friend’s Jeep Cherokee once they spotted they had been being tailed. Once they got here to a stoplight, Rabbani and Saleh were given out and ran towards the automobile to confront the driving force.

Rabbani out of doors the New York rental the place he grew up.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Occasions)

The car reversed and inside of moments a number of federal regulation enforcement automobiles raced up. When brokers searched Rabbani and Saleh, they discovered knives, in line with court docket paperwork, and the 2 had been arrested. Rabbani maintains it was once standard for him to hold a knife.

Rabbani was once charged with conspiring to offer subject material give a boost to to a overseas 15 May Organization.

After Rabbani agreed to plead accountable as an grownup to 1 depend of conspiracy to intervene with federal officials, the federal government disregarded the terrorism fees. Saleh later pleaded accountable to conspiring to offer subject material give a boost to to Islamic State and different crimes, and in 2018 was once sentenced to 18 years in jail.

When Rabbani arrived on the detention facility in Newark, Capt. Michael Thomas was once skeptical. Rabbani was once the primary prisoner there related to terrorism; about 95% of the inmates had been gang participants.

Column One

A show off for compelling storytelling from the Los Angeles Occasions.

No matter doubt Thomas had, he stored it to himself. “I’ll display you appreciate and accept as true with you similar to I accept as true with everyone else. We’re going to start out a brand new web page on your existence,” Thomas remembered telling Rabbani. “This generally is a steppingstone for you.”

Although some guards nicknamed him “Child ISIS,” many handled him with kindness. Federal government instructed the group of workers stay Rabbani in solitary confinement till they had been assured he wouldn’t unfold Islamic State ideology to different inmates. Spending hours by myself was once exhausting. Maximum of all, he overlooked his mom.

He got here to discover a surrogate mother in Pamela Muhammad, a compliance officer. She as soon as went to the cafeteria and bring to an end the labels of halal sizzling canine and taken them to a skeptical Rabbani to end up they complied with Islamic nutritional rules. Muhammad, who is also Muslim, gave Rabbani a prayer rug. She recalled gently hanging her hand on his again and telling him:

“If you want anything else, you’ll be able to depend on me. Learn the Quran. It’s going to stay you calm as a result of there are issues you’re nonetheless studying.”


Rabbani was once assigned treatment classes with Dr. Linda June, who supervises the psychological well being unit on the facility. They met for 45 mins two times per week, and to assist him cross the time in his mobile, June gave Rabbani psychology textbooks and assigned him chapters to learn.

Rabbani hated studying however agreed, and to his wonder he evolved a keenness for psychology.

They mentioned quite a lot of theories, which helped Rabbani higher perceive himself, similar to Carl Rogers’ principle on “unconditional sure regard” — appearing entire acceptance and give a boost to for an individual it doesn’t matter what they are saying.

June empathized with Rabbani’s scenario, however she additionally challenged him. When Rabbani returned to the detention middle, he recalled her telling him, “It sort of feels like you might have an issue with authority.”

Rabbani laughed when he remembered how defensive he was when June instructed him that. After he had returned to his mobile, despite the fact that, he learned she was once proper.

Books quickly started to pile up in his mobile. He had many favorites, amongst them “The Alchemist,” “Town of Thieves” and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” Inmates had been most often allowed to try just a few books at a time, however Muhammad recommended Capt. Thomas to make an exception. He agreed and instructed the guards to not contact his books.

One essential lesson Rabbani stated he discovered from his studying was once that individuals are much more likely to make use of violence if they’re surrounded through it.


After spending six months in solitary confinement, Rabbani was once authorised into normal inhabitants. It was once November 2015, and through then lots of the group of workers had been serving to him in small tactics.

One jail guard changed Rabbani’s previous slippers with a brand new pair. Some other gave him a hug and needed him good fortune each time he headed to court docket.

Lawrence Outlaw, a leisure officer, taught Rabbani how he may higher arrange tumultuous relationships thru chess.

Rabbani performs chess with Lawrence Outlaw, a leisure officer on the Essex County Juvenile Detention Heart. “Identical to whilst you play chess, it’s important to be affected person in existence and assume 3 steps forward,” Outlaw instructed Rabbani. “You’ll’t be so competitive.”

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Occasions)

“Identical to whilst you play chess, it’s important to be affected person in existence and assume 3 steps forward,” Outlaw stated he remembers telling Rabbani. “You’ll’t be so competitive.”

Rabbani additionally discovered a father determine in Manazir Ahmed, a Pakistani math trainer on the detention facility who from time to time led Friday prayer for Muslim inmates.

In the future, Ahmed referred to as Rabbani into his school room and passed him a small Quran. He identified a comforting passage other folks regularly recite when dealing with difficulties and recommended Rabbani to learn it out loud 3 times. After he completed, Ahmed reached for Rabbani’s hand, gripped it firmly and instructed him in Urdu:

“You’re like my son. Don’t pay attention to the dangerous issues other folks say. Simply stay praying.”

He let pass of Rabbani’s hand and instructed him to stay the Quran.

Rabbani took Ahmed’s recommendation, and whilst by myself in his mobile highlighted passages within the Quran that resonated with him. One line was his using idea for embracing tolerance and pluralistic perspectives of concept: “To you be your approach, and to me mine.”

Rabbani with a Quran given to him through Manazir Ahmed, left, a math trainer on the detention facility.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Occasions)

He additionally began attending Jewish and Christian prayer classes to be informed about other faiths. In time, Islamic State’s teachings appeared ridiculous, a political ideology that didn’t replicate the religion, he says now. Strengthened through his newfound pastime for psychology and renewed courting with Islam, he started to search out, for the primary time, his personal voice.

The younger guy who just about failed his senior yr in highschool earned directly A’s in faculty lessons he took on the detention facility. He started to surprise about his long term, and one night time in his mobile, he took out a work of paper from his pocket book and titled it “Once I Depart.” He jotted down his targets, amongst them:

“Paintings towards bachelor’s and grasp’s stage. It’s going to take so much out of you, however push your self.”


Simply as Rabbani’s conviction in Islamist tenets evolved over the years, his turning with the exception of the extremes of Islamism spread out regularly as neatly. There was once no epiphany. He wasn’t despatched to a different program to reform Islamic State sympathizers.

Professionals who learn about terrorism say his case provides a lesson for regulation enforcement. Although the U.S. govt has trustworthy sources to fighting terrorism, it has no transparent technique on find out how to assist people who are vulnerable to violent extremist ideologies.

“We all know the frenzy and pull components in relation to any individual who’s turning into radicalized, however we perceive a lot much less about how they get out of that state of mind,” stated Bennett Clifford, a analysis fellow at George Washington College’s program on extremism.

“Sending any individual to jail is a brief resolution. And we don’t know if jail serves as an efficient deterrent.”

Right through a seek advice from to the Essex County Juvenile Detention Heart, Rabbani prays in a mobile.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Occasions)

Discovering solutions is turning into increasingly pressing. Inside the following couple of years, two varieties of terrorist offenders might be launched from federal jail, Clifford stated.

The primary team contains other folks arrested for setting up connections with Al Qaeda or the Taliban within the early 2000s.

The second one team contains individuals who had been arrested inside the remaining six years after being investigated for offering subject material give a boost to to teams similar to Islamic State however had been in the long run charged, like Rabbani, with smaller violations and are serving shorter sentences.

“There are people who find themselves going to come back out of jail after serving 18 years and so they haven’t won the kind of assist and give a boost to that they want,” Rabbani stated.

Communities international had been piloting a number of systems aimed toward fighting and de-radicalizing violent extremists, with blended effects, Clifford stated. Its effectiveness remains to be up for debate, he stated, on account of a loss of information.

A program referred to as Countering Violent Extremism, based in 2011 through the Obama management, aimed to help people who had been at the trail towards extremism and earlier than they was violent. This system disenchanted civil rights teams, who say it unfairly centered Muslims and overlooked others, similar to white supremacists.

There are two different federal systems nonetheless within the building segment, Clifford stated.

One such effort, referred to as DEEP, or Disruption and Early Engagement Challenge, was once began in 2016 through the U.S. lawyer’s workplace for the Jap District of New York and is supposed for positive people prosecuted on terrorism fees. Consultants paintings one-on-one with the individual, whilst comparing their doable for violence.

Rabbani serves shoppers on the New York eating place the place he works.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Occasions)

In November 2016, a number of months after turning 19, Rabbani was once launched from the detention middle after serving 14 months. Since then, he has been operating towards mending his previous. When he’s no longer at school pursuing a bachelor’s stage in political science and psychology, he’s a chef at a halal burger joint in Long island. He needs to visit regulation faculty.

Pals, circle of relatives and colleagues say Rabbani has matured into a relaxed and assertive younger guy with a powerful paintings ethic. However most commonly they’re inspired along with his thirst to be informed about other worldviews. Cops echoed identical sentiments about Rabbani and spotted a newfound self assurance, sensitivity and kindness.

Rabbani’s adventure taught him to not accept as true with other folks so simply, and he’s come to lean on his brothers for recommendation. However from time to time his previous catches up with him and he unearths himself suffering with anxiousness when he remembers the terrorism fees. “I used to be obviously going thru an id disaster, and if it wasn’t for the folk I met, I don’t know what trail I’d have long past down.”

After spending the day catching up along with his former keepers, Rabbani walked towards the go out on the detention middle. About 10 toes from the door, he grew to become to Thomas and Woodson, shook their fingers, gave them a hug and stated good-bye.

Rabbani embraces Capt. Michael Thomas, who was once a father determine to him all over his time in custody.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Occasions)

It was once the primary time he’d be leaving the detention middle freed from shackles on his ankles and wrists. Thomas and Woodson stood nonetheless as they watched him go away.

Rabbani grew to become round to look at the gates shut in the back of him. He walked around the side road, sat at the pavement and cried, gripping the Quran that Ahmed had given him.

Rabbani is conquer after his seek advice from to the detention middle.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Occasions)

About the author

Amanda Rose

Amanda Rose

Amanda Rose has lived in Nashville her whole life. Amanda has worked as a journalist for nearly a decade and has contributed to several large publications including the Yahoo News and the Oakland Tribune. As a founder and journalist for Market Research Paper, Amanda covers the latest happening in the world of technology.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment