Terrorists smuggle fatwas out of secure prisons

Dec 6th, 2009 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

Terrorists smuggle fatwas out of secure prisons

David Leppard

TimesOnLine

SOME of Britain’s most dangerous Al-Qaeda leaders are promoting jihad from inside high-security prisons by smuggling out propaganda for the internet and finding recruits.

In an authoritative report, Quilliam, a think tank funded by the Home Office, claims “mismanagement” by the Prison Service is helping AlQaeda gain recruits and risks “strengthening jihadist movements”.

Abu Qatada

Abu Qatada

Abu Qatada, described by MI5 as “Osama Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe”, has published fatwas — religious rulings — on the internet from Long Lartin prison, in Worcestershire, calling for holy war and the murder of moderate Muslims, it reveals.

Abu Doha — said to be Al-Qaeda’s main recruiter in Europe — has taken courses in Belmarsh prison, south London, enabling him to mentor other inmates.

Abu Hamza, jailed in 2006 for inciting murder, has preached radical sermons to followers using water pipes in his Belmarsh cell, and Rachid Ramda, the Algerian leader of the Paris Métro bomb plot, led Friday prayers in the same jail.

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, shadow security minister, said prisons risked becoming “incubators of extremism”.

Qatada, a radical Islamist cleric who is wanted on terrorism charges in Jordan, is held in the the “supermax” segregation wing of Long Lartin. Built at the height of the IRA’s bombing campaign and designed to house dangerous inmates, it should be one of the most secure buildings in the country.

Like other jailed terrorist leaders, Qatada is meant to be cut off from his supporters outside. Yet it is said that last year, under the noses of warders, Qatada and Adel Abdel Bary, leader of the UK branch of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, were able to smuggle out a series of fatwas legitimising attacks by AlQaeda and endorsing the murder of moderate Muslims.

Qatada and Bary are two of about 100 Islamist terrorists in UK prisons. Many are held in supposedly top-security jails such as Belmarsh, Frankland in Co Durham and Woodhill in Milton Keynes, for inciting or plotting attacks in which hundreds of people could have died.

According to the report published this weekend by Quilliam, they seem at liberty to preach to and even recruit from their fellow inmates.

MI5 said earlier this year that the threat from groups such as Al-Qaeda had declined. Quilliam, however, says most extremists who were initially radicalised in prison take five to seven years to become fully violent.

The path from prison radicalisation to full-scale terror plotting is well trodden. 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 in prison. 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, Ramda was allowed to lead Friday prayers after the Muslim chaplain left the prison.

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” 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.

The ease with which those suspected or convicted of terrorist crimes can communicate their propaganda to the outside world is also alarming.

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. He compared British prisons with Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, where the American military abused Iraqi inmates.

In a rant designed to inflame followers into a hatred of Britain, he described the special immigration court that in effect 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 were opposed to Al-Qaeda.

The Quilliam report states: “He additionally described the police and army of Muslimmajority countries opposed to Al-Qaeda as ‘kafirs and apostates’ — thereby also justifying jihadist attacks against them.”

Last March, in An Address to the Muslims, apparently smuggled out of his cell, Qatada equated the British government to pagans whom the prophet Muhammad fought and defeated.

Qatada said he hoped his writings would “fuel” the global holy war of Al-Qaeda and added he was confident that stories about Muslims in prison had succeeded in radicalising British Muslims and had made more Muslims start to “hate” British values.

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.

In Frankland prison in 2007 and 2008, Dhiren Barot, leader of the so-called “dirty bomb” plot against London, and Omar Khyam, who planned to attack London nightclubs and shopping centres with a fertiliser bomb, have been involved in a series of tit-for-tat attacks on other prisoners.

Violence partly fomented by the two extremists led to boiling water being thrown over prisoners, stabbings, arson attacks and attempts to wreck prison facilities.

Many potential recruits are young men, typically petty criminals serving two-year or three-year sentences for crimes such as burglary, theft, drug dealing or fraud.

Although the Prison Service disputes the evidence that Qatada has been able to communicate with supporters outside the prison, senior law enforcement officials privately admit that Al-Qaeda is exploiting the prison system to further its campaign.

The Ministry of Justice, 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 junior official. It is also overwhelmed. The justice ministry says there are about 10,000 Muslim inmates in prisons in England and Wales — 12% of the jail population.

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.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “It is unfortunate that the Quilliam Foundation has not seen fit to share their report with us, and that they did not apply to visit any prisons or speak to those who run them, in doing their research. However, we remain willing to consider practical ideas for dealing with the issues faced by the prison service.

“We are extremely skilled in managing all challenging and dangerous criminals, and adapting to evolving risks and dangers. We run a dedicated, expert unit which leads work to tackle the risk of extremism and radicalisation in prison. All our High Security prisons operate enhanced monitoring and intelligence-gathering on those convicted or suspected of involvement in terrorism or extremism. We work with closely with the Home Office, police and partner agencies.”

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