1993 World Trade Center bomber wins prison religious freedom

A federal judge sided with one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers in a bench judgment requiring the Federal Bureau of Prisons to hire a food vendor to provide meals that meet his specific Muslim diet requirements.

R. Brooke Jackson issued a written court ruling Thursday enjoining the United States Bureau of Prisons from discontinuing Ahmad Ajaj’s certified halal diet unless no reasonable alternative exists. Jackson also awarded Ajaj’s attorneys compensation for their costs in bringing the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Denver and fighting the case for three years.

“As the prevailing party, (Ajaj) is also awarded costs to be taxed by the Clerk of Court,” Jackson ruled.

The ruling means BOP must go to extraordinary means to satisfy complaints Ajaj brought in his federal civil lawsuit. BOP transferred him from a Colorado Supermax prison to a federal prison in Indiana and contracted with a food vendor to satisfy his complaints. Ajaj’s case could also impact how Muslim prisoners are served meals in prisons across the federal prison system.

In his 15-page judgement, Jackson wrote that there have been many changes since the case was filed in 2015, including that Ajaj was transferred from U.S. Administrative Maximum Penitentiary in Florence to U.S. Penitentiary Terre Haute in Indiana. Prison officials in Indiana entered into a contract with an Illinois vendor to buy halal-certified meals for Ajaj.

The meals are certified by General Mills as halal.

The Illinois vendor provides Ajaj with lunch and dinner, which are reviewed by a prison dietitian to ensure nutritional standards. The prison gives him a breakfast with boiled eggs, fruit, dairy and tea, the ruling says.

Jackson’s ruling suggests Ajaj’s case could have national ramifications at BOP prisons.

“If a national solution is not implemented the policy will continue potentially indefinitely,” Jackson wrote, referring to Ajaj’s special diet. “There are no current plans to transfer Mr. Ajaj again. However, if he is transferred before a national policy is implemented, his meals at the new institution will be reviewed by the BOP’s central office.”

“Most of the 200 to 300 Muslim inmates at FCC Terre Haute are on a kosher diet, but if others want what Mr. Ajaj is now getting they will be accommodated as well,” Jackson’s ruling says.

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