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Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, the imam at the Masjid al-Ikhlas, a mosque in Newburgh, N.Y., has spent more than two decades ministering to the Muslim faithful in prisons, serving as a chaplain at the nearby Fishkill Correctional Facility. There, he leads prayers and offers counseling.

"Most people are searching," he said of the men he encounters in prison. "So they decide on Islam and that becomes their life."

But last week, Mr. Muhammad found himself an accidental actor of sorts in the latest case of what the authorities call a homegrown terror plot, one in which four ex-convicts were accused of trying to blow up two Bronx synagogues and attack military aircraft. The plot, the authorities say, began when one of the men met a government informant at Mr. Muhammad's mosque roughly a year ago.

With at least two of the men appearing to be prison converts to Islam, the case has in certain circles evoked an old debate about the role prison might play as an incubator of extremist ideas among Muslims, and it put Mr. Muhammad in the position of confronting that debate in a very personal way.

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