No surprises here, other than of scale. From The Sunday Times
Long Lartin prison should be one of the most secure buildings in the country.
Its “supermax” segregation wing, built at the height of the IRA’s bombing campaign, was designed to house dangerous inmates.
The IRA’s place as the main threat to Britain’s security has now been taken by Al-Qaeda and a new breed of terrorist is being held inside Long Lartin’s supermax isolation unit. The most prominent today is Abu Qatada, a radical Islamist cleric wanted on terrorism charges in Jordan and known to MI5 as “Osama Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe”.
Like other jailed terrorist leaders, Qatada is meant to be cut off from his supporters outside.
Yet last year, under the noses of warders, it is said that Qatada and Adel Abdel Bary, leader of the UK branch of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, were able to smuggle out a series of “fatwas” — religious rulings — legitimising attacks by AlQaeda and endorsing the murder of moderate Muslims.
Qatata and Bary are two of about 100 Islamist terrorists in UK prisons. Many are held in supposedly top-security jails such as Long Lartin, Belmarsh in southeast London, Frankland in Co Durham or Woodhill in Milton Keynes, for inciting or plotting attacks in which hundreds of people could have died.
Despite the physical confines of the prison walls, they seem at liberty to preach and even recruit from among their fellow inmates.
MI5 said earlier this year that the threat from groups such as Al-Qaeda had declined. But Quilliam, which is part-funded by MI5’s masters at the Home Office, says most extremists who were initially radicalised in prison take an average of five to seven years to become fully violent.
Baroness Neville-Jones, a former chairman of Whitehall’s joint intelligence committee and now shadow security minister, agrees. She describes places such as Long Lartin as “incubators of extremism” — where inmates may not “graduate” into terrorism until 2015.
One petty criminal who turned to Islam while a teenage inmate was Muktar Said Ibrahim. He served time for indecent assault on a 15-year-old girl and mugging a 77-year-old woman at a Tube station. He graduated to terrorism via various radical London mosques and camps in Afghanistan and went on to lead the failed London bombings of July 21, 2005.
Today those already convicted or suspected of terrorist offences have a different — and equally dangerous — role from their prison cells. They are the recruiters, seeking out a new generation of converts who will become the terrorist leaders of tomorrow.
Using eye-witness accounts from inside jail and official prison inspection reports, Quilliam says some leading Islamist figures are given mentoring courses to teach them how to counsel fellow inmates and are allowed to lead Friday prayers.
Others are “empowered” by the prison staff who treat them as leaders or representatives of Muslim inmates. Some manage to give television interviews or are able to inflame their followers through internet discussions. Others lead Muslim gangs who bully fellow inmates into conversion.
This weekend opposition MPs and security experts are challenging ministers to explain how this has been allowed to take place.
At Belmarsh, Rachid Ramda, an Algerian extremist who was found guilty of organising the 1995 Paris Metro bombings, was allowed to lead Friday prayers after the Muslim chaplain left the prison.
Abu Doha, who is wanted in America for his alleged role in the plot to blow up Los Angeles airport in 2000, was given courses while in Belmarsh that enabled him to become a “listener”, a prisoner who mentors and gives advice to other inmates.
The notorious “preacher of hate” Abu Hamza, who was convicted in 2006 of inciting murder and racial hatred during his time as imam of Finsbury Park mosque, north London, has been able to give sermons to other Muslims through the water pipes that link the prison cells at Belmarsh. A charismatic figure who has led hunger strikes at the jail, he is thought to use the plughole in the sink in his cell to shout passages from the Koran.
I really, really, don't want to imagine that.
In October 2006, a Libyan detainee wanted in Italy on terrorism charges used telephone boxes in Long Lartin to speak live on an Islamic television channel . . In a rant designed to inflame followers into a hatred of Britain, he described the special immigration court that effectively sent him to jail without a jury trial as a “fascist court martial”. Qatada, a fellow inmate, went further. In a series of fatwas released in June 2008, he reflected on theological arguments legitimising the murder of Muslims who are opposed to Al-Qaeda.
Contrary to the tabloid perception that terrorist leaders are “fanatics”, the unpalatable truth is that many are intelligent, charismatic and capable of drawing not only their fellow inmates but also their captors into their circle of influence.
A prison inspectorate report at Long Lartin in 2007 warned that “support for staff was necessary to prevent their conditioning by a strong and united detainee group” — an apparent reference to Qatada and his cohorts.
Inspectors have separately warned of the rise of Muslim gangs whose leaders engage in violence and intimidation, sometimes forcing others to convert.
Although the Prison Service disputes the evidence that Qatada has been able to communicate with supporters outside, senior law enforcement officials privately admit that Al-Qaeda is exploiting the prison system to further its campaign.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which runs the Prison Service, has set up a programme to persuade convicted terrorists to give up their cause. It is also trying to protect vulnerable Muslim inmates from violent extremists.
Phil Wheatley, directorgeneral of the Prison Service, set up an extremism unit two years ago. But it is small and led by a relatively junior official. It is also overwhelmed. The MoJ says there are about 10,000 Muslim inmates in prisons in England and Wales — 12% of the jail population. MoJ is rapidly becoming not fit for purpose, like the Home Office before it, although I admit to not being unbiased.
The Quilliam report was written by James Brandon, who was kidnapped and held hostage in Iraq in 2004. “The Prison Service has taken some steps towards tackling extremism but these are not enough,” he said. “Islamist extremists are running rings around a Prison Service which often seems clueless about the nature of the extremist threat. If this situation is not tackled, British prisons risk becoming universities of terror.”
I think they already have. I will say it again. We need a Millbank penitentiary for the 21st century. Islam is after all a culture that mandates seclusion for its women.