Family, followers, and now, prominent U.S. based Islamist groups continue to demand the release or retrial of Jamil Al-Amin, a convicted cop-killer and black nationalist convert to Islam.
Hubert Geroid Brown—also known as H. Rap Brown, and later as Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin—gained fame within black nationalist circles during the Civil Rights Movement, particularly upon being named Minister of Justice for the Black Panther Party in 1968.
But Brown's activism was steeped in violence. According to a New York Times article in 1971, after going underground for 18 months, Brown reappeared during a "gun battle following the armed robbery of [an African-American] West Side bar" in New York City. Brown was shot, arrested, and sentenced to a 5 year stint in the Attica State Maximum Security Prison in New York. It was at this point he converted to the Islamic faith and changed his name to Jamil Al-Amin.
In prison, Al-Amin encountered a leading, radical Sunni movement called Dar ul-Islam. The faction began in 1962 when an African-American group found a "Pakistani religious instructor, Hafis Mahbub" to be their leader. Mahbub was an ardent follower of South Asian theologian Abul Ala Maududi—a founding father of modern theocratic teachings, and the creator of the violent South Asian Islamist movement Jamaat-e-Islami (JI).
According to the Islamic Pluralism Report, Dar ul-Islam was a "militant" network containing "paramilitary features." Along with following a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam, Dar ul-Islam stressed "a sustained suspicion, if not hostility, toward American social, political, religious and educational institutions."
Adding a religious component to Al-Amin's Black activism gave it more power.
Dar ul-Islam decided to exclude non-Blacks from the movement in order to "exclusively convert African Americans to mainstream Islam." This type of organized racial structure in correctional facilities was the first of its kind and arguably led to the current racial gang culture that plagues American penitentiaries today. Adding a religious component to Al-Amin's Black activism gave it more power, and with his natural ability to lead, he quickly rose through the Dar ul-Islam ranks. Upon release from Attica, Al-Amin had become a prominent Muslim leader, with a reported following of around 10,000 Muslims across North America.
Al-Amin's teachings evoked violence. In 1995, a number of his followers "were convicted of illegally shipping more than 900 firearms" to gangs and Islamic groups throughout the US. Daniel Pipes notes that, "[o]ne young convert at Al-Amin's mosque subsequently joined Islamic separatists in Kashmir, where he was killed attacking an Indian army post." According to FBI documents, throughout the 1990s, Al-Amin was also investigated on homicides, gunrunning, and domestic terrorism.
On March 16, 2000, two Black Sheriff's deputies drove to Al-Amin's house to execute an arrest warrant for his failure to appear in court for speeding and impersonating an officer. According to reports, when the officers asked Al-Amin to show his hands, Al-Amin pulled two guns and opened fire. He then fled the state. One of the deputies died in the hospital the following day.
After a four-day search, U.S. Marshals found Al-Amin, along with his weapons and body armor. Forensic testing determined Al-Amin's guns were the ones used to shoot the Sheriff's deputies. Al-Amin was convicted of 13 criminal charges including the murder of Officer Ricky Leon Kinchen. He escaped the death penalty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Islamists of all stripes have lent their voice to the campaign for Al-Amin's release.
Since his conviction, family and supporters of Al-Amin have relentlessly worked to overturn the decision and have him released. And in recent years, Islamists of all stripes have lent their voice to the campaign for Al-Amin's release.
On August 15 outside the Federal Courthouse in Tucson, Arizona, a campaign called Students for Imam Jamil led a protest calling for the exoneration of Al-Amin. Another organization, the Imam Jamil Action Network, also frequently organizes rallies. Both groups enjoy consistent support from a coalition of theocratic Islamic organizations, which attend and support these events.
On August 15, these sponsoring groups included the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which the United Arab Emirates classified as a terrorist organization in 2014; the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), a proxy of violent South Asian Islamist movement Jamaat-e-Islami; and the US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), an Islamist umbrella organization linked to the Turkish Regime.
Two prominent American Islamic clerics addressed the protest: Omar Suleiman and Khalid Griggs. Linked to the incontrovertibly extremist Almaghrib Institute, Suleiman has a long history of extremist rhetoric. At the rally, Suleiman declared Al-Amin an "innocent man being held for a crime he did not commit."
Khalid Griggs, meanwhile, was a senior member of the (now defunct) Islamic Party of North America (IPNA), which once declared it would bring "the Revolutionary Islamic political and social thoughts of [Muslim-Brotherhood ideologue] Sayyid Qutb, [Libyan dictator Muammar] Qaddafi, [Iranian Ayatollah] Khomeini, and Maududi to the...streets of Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Cleveland and a dozen other cities."
USCMO, in collaboration with the Arizona chapter of CAIR, has taken a particularly active role in pushing for Al-Amin's release. USCMO officials claim "Al-Amin is in his 21st year of a life sentence for a crime he did not commit. Another man has repeatedly admitted committing the crime including under oath."
This is a claim frequently echoed by Al-Amin's family, followers, and various U.S. Islamist groups. They argue Al-Amin's innocence is proved by the fact that, "Defense attorneys noted that Al-Amin's fingerprints were not found on the murder weapons, and he was not wounded in the shooting, as one of the deputies said the shooter was. The deputy also said the killer's eyes were gray, but Al-Amin's are brown."
Protestors also state a man named Otis Jackson claims to be responsible for the shooting. In a retrial in 2004 partly based on the allegations about Jackson, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously upheld Al-Amin's conviction. To this day, Al-Amin and his advocates continue to hold that the case is the target of a government cover-up.
Such conspiracy theories have attracted yet additional radical supporters. Other partners of the latest protest in Arizona included Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). This group is a sister branch of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), which counter-terrorism analysts have long accused of close links with the terrorist group Hamas.
The Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA) was also present. A black Salafi group, MANA is led by cleric Siraj Wahhaj, a preacher once listed as a potential unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. Another Islamist organization, the Aafia Foundation, has also sponsored recent protests, linking Al-Amin's fate to that of Aafia Siddiqui—a high ranking al-Qaeda operative.
Given the much-cited discussions around racism in 2020, Al-Amin's name once again popped up in media outlets, pushed by the unceasing efforts of Al-Amin's remaining black nationalist supporters and their coalition of media-savvy Islamist backers.
These Islamist sponsors – particularly CAIR – employ many dozens of their own attorneys. Thus, these Islamist backers are likely perfectly aware that Al-Amin's case is not going to be overturned by any competent judge, there is more than enough evidence to keep Al-Amin behind bars, and that allegations of a secret government conspiracy are unfounded and ridiculous. And yet, notwithstanding the facts of Al-Amin's guilt, groups such as CAIR, along with ICNA, USCMO and other theocratic groups involve themselves with such campaigns anyway.
So why now are these Islamist groups dedicating so much time to the Al-Amin cause? Perhaps it is to ride the current tide of racial injustice rhetoric and political debate that has gripped so much of American politics over the last few years. Now that the Trump administration is no longer the ultimate bogeyman, lawful Islamists require new rallying cries. Ever the opportunists, Al-Amin's cause affords Islamists the perfect opportunity for media attention and political credibility, all serving to help these organizations accrue new followers and grow their disproportionate power and influence yet further.
This would hardly be the first time that leading American Islamists have partnered with other extremist groups or political progressives to advance their own ambitions, all while baselessly claiming to speak on behalf of all Muslims. In reality, there is little evidence that American Muslims outside of these niche theocratic circles would ever dream of supporting a radical thug and cop-killer such as Jamil Al-Amin.
Adam Smith is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.