A judge has ruled that Indiana prison officials must provide the 1993 World Trade Center terrorist Ahmad Ajaj with halal meals that conform to his Muslim beliefs
A Muslim man sentenced to life imprisonment for the World Trade Center bombings of 1993 has received access to halal food after he sued the prison for not accepting his religious beliefs.
US District Judge R Brooke Jackson issued an order on Friday urging prison officials to continue providing halal meals to Ahmad Ajaj, but said they do not need to make additional efforts to access a magnet.
Ajaj began receiving halal meals on the eve of his trial last month after he was transferred from a prison in Colorado to Terre Haute, Indiana.
He opposed attending classes with the imam of the Indiana Prison because he believes that the cleric is a supporter of Sufism, the mystical tension of Islam.
Jackson said he does not violate Ajaj's religious rights to meet with someone with different views and that he could still have contact by phone or email with another imam.
Ajaj began receiving halal meals on the eve of his trial last month after he was transferred from a prison in Colorado to Terre Haute, Indiana (pictured)
Ajaj was sentenced in 1999 to more than 114 years in prison for his role in the explosion in an underground parking lot on February 26, 1993, which killed six people, one of whom was pregnant.
It wounded more than 1,000 and forced some 50,000 people to flee the twin towers of the mall in a scene of smoke, fear and confusion that would be reflected and magnified on September 11, 2001.
At the end of August, Ajaj filed a lawsuit accusing federal prison officials, particularly the staff of the maximum administrative facilities (ADX) in Florence, of not providing food that fulfilled Ajaj's belief that all animals used as Food must be fed, raised and slaughtered law.
The lawsuit says that Ajaj considers vegetarian and kosher meals inadequate.
The lawsuit also says Ajaj spent months without being visited by a magnet, a term for an Islamic religious leader hired to advise prisoners at Colorado facilities.
Since moving to Indiana facilities, he began participating in a faith-based program that includes regular classes with a magnet.
But the Imam who works with Muslim prisoners in the program belongs to another denomination of faith.
Ajaj's lawyers argued that even hearing someone speak about opinions contrary to their own violates the religious rights of the inmates.
The lawsuit alleges that both cases violate Ajaj's rights under the Federal Law of Restoration of Religious Freedom.
The law, passed by Congress in 1993, was intended to limit the ability of the federal government to violate someone's sincere religious beliefs.
Government lawyers argued that neither issue substantially limited Ajaj's ability to practice his faith and did not violate the law.
Ajaj was sentenced in 1999 to more than 114 years in prison for his role in the explosion in an underground parking lot on February 26, 1993. A drawing of the court is shown above.
Jeffrey Cheeks, a business administrator at the Terre Haute facility, testified that he tried but was unable to find a supplier capable of fulfilling all of Ajaj's conditions.
Cheeks said he ordered three months of meals for Ajaj from an existing government provider under the direction of the prison warden after the convict complained in August.
On August 28, Ajaj's lawyers asked Jackson to order prison officials to continue providing those meals.
Jackson did not give a firm sense of his inclinations. But he was clearly frustrated by the quick fix that came days before the trial opened.
"Something they could not or could not do for three years was done in 48 hours," Jackson told a government lawyer.
"Now, what confidence do you give the court that they will not change it in the future?"
Jackson seemed less influenced by the request of Ajaj's lawyers for a court order allowing him to participate in the Indiana prison program without attending the current magnet classes.
Jackson suggested that he would give Ajaj preferential treatment over other prisoners, who must attend classes with leaders of their own faith to remain in the program.