Quilliam is the world’s first counter-extremism think tank. Located in

London, our founders are former leading ideologues of UK-based

extremist Islamist organizations. Quilliam aims to generate new

thinking through informed and inclusive discussion to counter the

Islamist ideology behind terrorism, whilst simultaneously providing

evidence-based recommendations to governments for related policy

measures. Our strategic communications work involves research

projects, public events, specialist roundtables and media campaigns to

empower civil society to work towards improved community cohesion,

Muslim integration through respect for scriptural diversity, and

encouragement of political pluralism.

For further information contact:


Email: information@quilliamfoundation.org

Tel: +44 (0)207 182 7280


Sources: Frontispiece

Abû Qatâdah, ‘An Address to the Muslims’, At-Tiby n Publications, 23rd March

2009. .

‘Interview with Abu Hamza’, Cageprisoners, 6 June 2008.


Babar Ahmed, ‘Three Years in Captivity’, Cageprisoners, 17 August 2007.


Unlocking Al-Qaeda: Islamist extremism in British prisons

Quilliam, November 2009

© Quilliam 2009 – All rights reserved

ISBN number:

Disclaimer: The views of individuals and organizations used in this report do not

necessarily reflect those of Quilliam.

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

We see the great signs of Allah within these prisons, as I have seen ... how young men

enter into Islam and then they turn into students of knowledge and they learn Arabic

and the Sharia in a short number of months along with an understanding of the reality

of Tawhid … Verily, the greatest favour, which your brothers here are living in, is their

conviction in Allah and their conviction regarding this religion and in the methodology

of Jihad.

Abu Qatada, HMP Long Lartin


I have not seen even a tree for four years. I cannot even see the sky due to the mesh

wires. Even our Windows computer version has bars on it. Nonetheless, no one and

nothing can crack you or terrify you, if your heart is full of Allah and fear of Allah.

There is no room left for anything else.

Abu Hamza, HMP Belmarsh


There is no time to rest; that will come later. Prison is not a place of rest.

Babar Ahmed, HMP Long Lartin




Unlocking Al-Qaeda


Foreword by Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones

1. Introduction

2. Methodology

3. History of Islamist radicalisation in prisons

Part 1: Radicalisation in prisons

4. ‘Pull’ factors:

Initial approach by extremists

Assumption of leadership


Prison conversions

Deepening radicalisation

Radicalisation through friendship groups

Radicalisation through literature

5. ‘Push’ factors

Violence by non-Muslim prisoners

Perceived hostility from staff

Perceived discrimination

Halal food

Strip searches

Islamic prayers

Searches with dogs

Other issues

Imprisonment without trial

























Unlocking Al-Qaeda


Part 2 Radicalisation outside prisons:

6. Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

Imprisonment as evidence of ‘war on Islam’

Theological defences of al-Qaeda

Adel Abdel-Majid Abdel Bary

Abu Qatada

How has this happened?

7. Conclusion

8. Recommendations: Part 1: For all prisons

Part 2: A de-radicalisation centre

Appendix 1: The psychological effects of imprisonment without trial

Appendix 2: Suggested books for Muslim prisoners














Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Foreword by Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones

Foreword by Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones

Mosques and educational establishments have traditionally attracted attention as

vulnerable locations that extremists can exploit to propagate their ideas and draw

vulnerable individuals down the path of willingness to condone or even participate in

violence for political ends. It is increasingly recognised that the internet is a potentially

significant mechanism for radicalisation. And it has been known for some time that

prisons could also be incubators of extremism, but this study is one of the first published

reports of its kind.

This report illustrates how extremists are able to exploit for their own ends the

psychological and emotional shock that individuals experience on entering the prison

system, as well as the difficulties individuals experience in coming to terms with daily

life and the confined social interaction possible within the prison environment. The

challenge this poses increases with the number of terrorist-related convictions being

secured by the police and security services.

The Government and its agencies are certainly aware of this. The Prison Service has set

up an Extremism Unit and, within the Counter Terrorism Strategy, the Government has

sought to improve the intelligence infrastructure across the prison estate, develop

intervention approaches for extremists in prisons and put in place post-prison

supervision procedures. In so doing, it has experience to draw on from dealing with

the IRA and also an understanding of the ways in which organised criminal and gangs

operate within and from prisons. From this it is clear that the Prison Service will not be

successful in isolation. The police have a role as does the Probation Service.

The Islamist threat does, however, pose some unique challenges. The value of this report

lies in part in the way in which it is based on the direct testimonies and accounts of

prisoners themselves, which bring out some of the differentiating features. Such

evidence has its own limits since statements of this kind can have been deliberately

exaggerated for propaganda purposes. But it does help highlight the fact that there are

some issues, such as the religious needs of the prisoners concerned, where some fairly

simple practical solutions would, as the report recommends, alleviate a source of


The Prison Service recognises this and is producing guidance as a result. So far, roll out

and implementation has not been even, which is partly to be explained by the sheer

diversity of the prison system. There is considerable ‘learning on the job’ going on which

means that a contribution to the knowledge base and advice from the research

community should be welcome.

The other primary recommendation of this report relates to the ideological

management of Islamist extremists in the prison system: how to contain them and how

to de-radicalise them. Here it draws on the experience of countries that have already

developed innovative – and ostensibly successful – programmes for the de-radicalisation

and rehabilitation of extremists.


Foreword by Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

These programmes are themselves still relatively new, so it is difficult to judge their

overall success and effectiveness over time. Do individuals who have been through such

programmes remain genuinely de-radicalised? Quilliam suggests a potential model of

a single de-radicalisation centre adapted to conditions in the UK. Though it will pose

practical challenges for the Prison Service, the suggestion deserves serious consideration

and much further investigation of best practice and experience elsewhere. At present

the value of the idea lies more in my view in provoking a necessary debate than in

claiming to be the definitive answer. Keeping extremists among the wider prison

population gives them access to a larger number of vulnerable people. But

concentrating extremists in one centre could unwittingly lead to the creation of the

incubator and consolidator of radicalism rather than its intended opposite. Whatever

the format for de-radicalisation, the careful selection of imams and other partners

involved in such programmes is crucial and great care – greater care based on greater

knowledge than has always been the case – is needed here. A point well made in the


The report contains its own pointers for further worthwhile research. One of the aims

of the Government’s ‘Prevent’ strand is to foster resilient communities. This should also

be reflected in the approach to tackling extremism in prisons. Do mainstream Muslim

prisoners themselves counter the activities of extremists in prison? If so, what motivates

them? If not, why not? We need to know.

Through this report, Quilliam has made some practical recommendations and launched

a constructive and thought provoking contribution to the policy debate about tackling

radicalisation in the closed environment of the prison system. It does not provide

complete answers, but it points to areas that policy makers should be looking at closely

and puts forward ideas they should be considering.

Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones DCMG,

Shadow Security Minister and National Security Adviser to the Leader of the

Opposition, the Rt. Hon. David Cameron, M.P.


Unlocking Al-Qaeda



For over half a century, extreme Islamist movements have been nurtured in prisons

around the world. From the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1950s to al-Qaeda in

Jordan in the 1990s, Islamist individuals have used their time in prisons to radicalise and

recruit followers and to refine and revise their ideologies. Indeed, it is impossible to

imagine the evolution of modern jihadist thought without reference to the prison

writings of Sayyid Qutb in Egypt or Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi in Jordan. It is likewise

impossible to conceive of modern jihadist movements without al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-

Zawahiri and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, both of whom were radicalised during their

imprisonment. In the UK too, no narrative of Islamist terrorism is completed without the

stories of Richard Reid, the ‘shoe-bomber’, or Muktar Said Ibrahim, the leader of the

failed 21/7 bombings of 2005, both of whom adopted extreme Islamist beliefs as a direct

result of their time in prison.

In light of the role that prisons have historically played in incubating modern Islamist

extremism, it should be a matter of urgent concern for the British government that

there are currently record numbers of Muslims in British prisons at a time when the UK

is under sustained threat from Islamist terrorism both at home and abroad. Recent

estimates put the total number of Muslim prisoners in England and Wales at around

10,000 or 12 per cent of the total prison population. 1 While this disproportionately high

number is a major concern in its own right, the large number of Muslims in prison raises

additional concerns given that it occurs alongside three other important national trends

related to Islamist extremism:

Growth in number of prisoners jailed for terrorism.

There are now around 100 Muslims held in British prisons on charges relating to

Islamist terrorism – the majority imprisoned since 2005. Some of these individuals,

who are mostly held in a small number of Category A prisons, are serving their

sentences after being convicted in British courts. Others are held awaiting trial or

while appealing against deportation or extradition to face trial abroad. Many of

these individuals are in prison for their role in inciting, inspiring and organising

terrorist violence.

Continuing terrorist threat to UK

Despite recent successes by the British security services, a significant number of

terrorist and pro-terrorist Islamist groups, both domestic and foreign, remain

1 For example, in December 2008, the Ministry of Justice estimated that there were 9,975

Muslims in prisons in England and Wales out of a total prison population of 81,636 (12.2 per

cent). It is worth noting, as shall be seen later in this report, that non-Muslim prisoners are

also vulnerable to Islamist recruitment and radicalisation. Source: Ministry of Justice internal

report ref. AHAPris089-09.



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

active in the UK. These groups are actively seeking to recruit British citizens willing

to conduct and facilitate terrorist attacks at home and abroad. Al-Qaeda and

other groups have made clear that they continue to regard the UK as a legitimate

target for jihadist operations. The large numbers of convicted extremists in British

prisons is direct evidence of this continuing threat.

Growing appeal of Islamist groups nationally

Throughout many British Muslim communities, Islamist movements and extremely

socially conservative Muslim organisations are becoming more popular –

particularly among young people. The growing number of Muslims joining such

groups or adopting their ideologies, even if they are presently non-violent, poses

substantial long-term challenges to building and maintaining national cohesion

in the UK.

These converging trends make tackling prison radicalisation a priority for the British

government as part of its broader effort to combat Islamist terrorism and build greater

national cohesion. The government has already acknowledged the dangers of prison

radicalisation – as evidenced by the creation of the Prison Service’s ‘Extremism Unit’ as

well as a range of other initiatives. 2 However, the challenges remain considerable and

it is therefore vital that any measures to tackle prison radicalisation are firmly grounded

upon a solid knowledge of how radicalisation occurs actually within British prisons – as

well as on a robust understanding of Islamist ideology. This report therefore aims to

examine how radicalisation is presently occurring in British prisons – with a particular

focus on studying how large numbers of convicted and suspected Islamist terrorists in

British prisons have sought to influence other inmates and incite them towards hatred

and, ultimately, violence – as well as suggesting ways in which this radicalisation can be

halted and ultimately reversed.

2 Some of these measures, such as improving ‘the intelligence infrastructure across the prison

estate to aid the management of prisoners suspected, or convicted of terrorist-related offences’,

refining ‘post-prison supervision’ procedures and developing ‘intervention approaches for

extremist offenders’ are outlined in the Home Office’s March 2009 ‘Contest 2’ strategy

document. ‘The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism’ (Home

Office, March 2009, .


Unlocking Al-Qaeda



This report focuses primarily on the role and influence of the large number of convicted

and suspected extremists presently held in British prisons. Due to the obvious difficulties

of accessing prisons, and of interviewing convicted Islamist extremists there, this report

relies largely on prisoners’ own testimonies and accounts that have been smuggled out

of prisons and distributed through supportive organisations and individuals. This has

several advantages, the greatest of which is that in these accounts extremists are often

talking or writing candidly to people whom they already know and trust, many of

whom are sympathetic to their causes, which provides a substantial guarantee of their

honesty. Another significant advantage is that many of these accounts by individuals

range across several years, providing important insights into how these individuals have

been changed (or not) by their time in prison.

Of course, this method is as fallible as any other research methodology: the more

loquacious and self-aggrandising prisoners who have sought to pro-actively publicise

their experiences and ideas are inevitably quoted more often in this report than less

gregarious or egocentric individuals. In other cases, prisoners, through their writings

and interviews, have either sought to exaggerate either their own importance in prison

or, alternatively, to exaggerate the trials they have faced at the hands of the Prison

Service. In addition, many of the organisations distributing such statements, particularly

Cageprisoners have a clear political agenda and overtly aims to inspire sympathy for

imprisoned extremists and suspected extremists. While this report has generally

excluded many of the most transparently self-serving and exaggerated accounts, it

occasionally includes some self-important and propagandistic statements made by

prisoners in order to show how these individuals have sought to speak to Muslims

outside prison or to convey insights into their own states of mind. Where possible this

report has corroborated these numerous first-person accounts with official reports and

surveys conducted by the Prison Service and other branches of government.

Many of the accounts from imprisoned extremists cited in this report come from

English- and Arabic-language websites which aim to draw attention to the condition of

Muslims imprisoned in relation to terrorism. The most useful of these has been the

website run by the Cageprisoners organisation, a registered company which was

established in 2003, ‘to raise awareness of the plight of the prisoners at Guantanamo

Bay and other detainees held as part of the War on Terror’. Its most prominent member

is Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee, who has personally interviewed

many terror detainees held in British prisons. Although Cageprisoners is clearly a

campaigning organisation, the website’s vast archive of interviews with former and

current prisoners, as well as the large numbers of their letters and communiqués from

them, appear of unquestionable provenance. The website’s content has additionally

3 Cageprisoners’ website, ‘About us’., .



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

been endorsed by a number of prominent human rights lawyers who have represented

a number of terror-related detainees, suspects and convicts in the UK and the US

including Clive Stafford Smith and Louise Christian. The website’s content has been also

endorsed by many families of extremist prisoners and detainees.

4 ‘What others have to say about cageprisoners.com’, Cageprisoners’ website,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

History of Islamist radicalisation in prisons

3. History of Islamist radicalisation in prisons

During the last 50 years, many modern Islamist and jihadist movements around the world

have been dominated and led by individuals who have been radicalised while in prison

(See Factbox: ‘Definitions of Islamism and Jihadism’). An examination of the most

prominent of these cases reveals that these individuals were usually radicalised through a

combination of ‘push’ factors such as routine mistreatment from the prison authorities,

unfair trials and harsh prison sentences, and by ‘pull’ factors such as the deliberate

recruitment and radicalisation of prisoners by other extremists whether inside or outside

prison. A brief overview of some of the most prominent such cases reveal substantial

similarities, even when the cases are seemingly separated by considerable gulfs of time and


Case Studies:

Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), Egypt

Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian, is today seen as being one of the most important

ideologues of the global Islamist-jihadist movement. His prison writings from the

1950s and ‘60s directly inspired al-Qaeda and other similar movements.

Sayyid Qutb spent much of his life as a literary critic, writer and civil servant. However,

from the late 1940s he became increasingly radical, partly as a result of his deeper

involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood, a revolutionary Islamist group, and partly

as a result of his experiences in prison between 1954-66 when he was jailed, along

with hundreds of other Brotherhood members, after the group attempted to

overthrow Egypt’s government. During his time in prison, Qutb was tortured and

witnessed the murder of several other Muslim Brotherhood members by prison

guards. 5 This experience, together with his enforced proximity to many other radical

Islamists, quickly led to the radicalisation of his views, which became increasingly

focused around the idea that life is a violent struggle between a minority of true

Muslims on one hand, and the forces of unbelief dedicated to the destruction of

Islam on the other. While in prison he wrote Milestones, a short work that has since

provided the core theo-political ideology for many jihadist movements, which his

followers smuggled out of prison in instalments and secretly published. 6 In 1966 Qutb

was executed in prison. His death made him a martyr in the eyes of his followers,

both in and outside prison, and greatly strengthened the impact of his prison

writings on future generations.

Ayman al-Zawahiri (1951- ), Egypt

Ayman al-Zawahiri is presently the second-in-command of al-Qaeda after Osama bin

Laden. He was imprisoned and tortured in Egyptian prisons in the early 1980s.

5 A key incident occurred after Qutb was moved to the prison hospital in May 1955. Here he

saw wounded Islamist prisoners being brought in after being shot by guards for taking part in

a strike. Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower (London: Penguin, 2006), p. 29.

6 Paul Berman, ‘The Philosopher of Islamic Terror’, The New York Times, 23 March 2003.


History of Islamist radicalisation in prisons

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

An Egyptian doctor, Zawahiri was formerly a leader of Islamic Jihad, an Egyptian

revolutionary Islamist movement founded in the 1970s in order to overthrow the

Egyptian government and establish an Islamic state. Following Islamic Jihad’s role in

the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981, Zawahiri was arrested

along with many other members of his group. During the next three years in prison,

Zawahiri and his associates were repeatedly tortured while also witnessing the

mistreatment of other prisoners. 7 This brutal and deliberate mistreatment allegedly

led him to betray his colleagues, one of whom was arrested and executed. 8 In 1984

Zawahiri was released, following which he travelled abroad. Although he had

entered prison as an already intolerant and violent jihadist, his views now became

even more extreme – leading some to view his jihadist career as an elaborate attempt

to take revenge on the West and the Egyptian government for the treatment that

he endured in prison. 9 After leaving Egypt, Zawahiri travelled extensively in the

Middle East, seeking allies in his attempts to unseat the Egyptian government and

becoming involved in pan-Islamic causes, most notably the Afghan jihad against the

USSR. In the early 1990s, he began working closely with Osama bin Laden, helping

him to establish al-Qaeda, into which he gradually merged his own Islamic Jihad


Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (1966-2006), Jordan

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who eventually became the leader of al-Qaeda

in Iraq, was largely radicalised during his two long periods in Jordanian prisons in the

1980s and 1990s.

A drug-dealer and petty-criminal, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was first imprisoned in

Jordan for petty crime in the 1980s. In prison he adopted a Wahhabi form of Islam

which he learnt from other prisoners. On his release, al-Zarqawi was recruited by

militant Islamists to fight in Afghanistan against the USSR and their Afghan

Communist allies. After returning to Jordan from Afghanistan, he was sentenced to

15 years imprisonment in 1993 after planning to attack Western targets in Jordan.

In prison for a second time, he fell under the influence of Abu Muhammad al-

Maqdisi, a leading jihadist ideologue. 10 Together the two men formed a prison gang

which sought to intimidate guards and other prisoners with the aim of spreading al-

Maqdisi’s jihadist ideology throughout the Jordanian prison system. Abdullah Abu

Rumman, a Jordanian journalist who was imprisoned with him in 1996, later recalled

7 During his trial, Zawahiri described the abuse, saying ‘we suffered the most inhumane

treatment. There they kicked us, they beat us with electric cables, they shocked us with

electricity. And they used wild dogs ... Where is freedom? Where is human rights? Where is

justice? Where is justice? We will never forget! We will never forget!’ Wright, The Looming

Tower, p. 55.

8 Ibid. p. 53

9 For example, see Chris Zambelis, 'Is There a Nexus between Torture and Radicalization?'

Jamestown Terrorism Monitor, volume 6, Issue 13, 26 June 2008.

10 Gary Gambill, 'Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: A biographical sketch', Jamestown Terrorism Monitor,

volume 2, issue 24, 15 December 2004.


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

History of Islamist radicalisation in prisons

that ‘Zarqawi basically controlled the prison ward: He decided who would cook, who

would do the laundry, who would lead the readings of the Koran. He was extremely

protective of his followers, and extremely tough with prisoners outside his group. He

didn’t trust them. He considered them infidels’. 11 After his early release from prison

in 1999, al-Zarqawi travelled to Afghanistan and then Iraq, where he led al-Qaeda’s

Iraqi wing for three years before being killed in a US airstrike in 2006.

The experiences of these men in prison not only helped radicalise them as individuals, and

allowed them to radicalise other prisoners, but also provided a motif of martyrdom and

suffering which has in turn helped to inspire and motivate future recruits to Islamist and

jihadist movements alike. Islamist organizations active in the UK have frequently sought

to eulogise high-profile Islamist prisoners from the Arab world and to promote them to

British Muslims. For example, in 1994 the Islamic Foundation, an Islamist organisation

based in Leicester that works closely with a number of British government departments, 12

translated and published a book called Return of the Pharaoh: Memoirs in Nasir’s Prison

by Zainab al-Ghazali, a prominent female Muslim Brotherhood activist who was frequently

imprisoned in Egypt in the 1950s and ‘60s on charges of seeking to overthrow the

government. Muhammad Manazir Ahsan, the long-serving director of the Islamic

Foundation, wrote the book’s foreword in which he presented al-Ghazali as a model

Muslim and portrayed her steadfastness in prison as proof of the validity of her beliefs. He

wrote that ‘one of the outstanding leaders of the Islamic movement in Egypt and the

pace-setter of courage, piety and dedication to Islam, Zainab al-Ghazali was a victim of this

savagery and inhuman persecution ... her courage in the face of unimaginable odds and

her many qualities of head and heart remind us of the life and time of many of the

Companions of the Prophet and virtuous people in the earlier generations of Muslim

history’. He further referred to her book as ‘a source of inspiration and guidance for

millions of people who want to see Islam thrive and flourish as a world religion, as a viable

new world order and as a source of peace and happiness for all mankind’. 13 The book

remains in print and is offered for sale on the Islamic Foundation’s website. 14

11 Mary Anne Weaver, ‘The short, violent life of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’, Atlantic, 8 June 2006.

12 For example, in 2007, the Islamic Foundation’s educational wing, the Markfield Institute for

Higher Education, produced a report commissioned by the government entitled ‘Islam at

universities in England: Meeting the needs and investing in the future’. In July 2009, David

Lammy, Minister of State for Higher Education, said that the Higher Education Funding

Council for England was ‘commissioning research into Islamic Studies in higher education,

building on Dr. Siddiqui's report on Islam at universities in England’. See; Dr Ataullah Siddiqui,

‘Islam at universities in England: Meeting the needs and investing in the future’ (London,

DFES, 2007); House of Commons Written answers and statements, ‘Islam: Higher Education:

Business, Innovation and Skills’, 15 July 2009,


13 Zainab al-Ghazali, ‘Return of the Pharoah: Memoirs in Nasir’s Prison’, (Leicester: 2006), p. viii

14 Text available for purchase online at the Islamic Foundation bookstore



History of Islamist radicalisation in prisons

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

In the UK, there are four main cases of individuals being radicalised as a direct result of

their experiences in British prisons and subsequently being imprisoned (in one instance

without trial) for terrorism-related reasons:

Richard Reid

Richard Reid, a black, London-born convert to Islam who in 2001 attempted to blow

up a trans-Atlantic airliner using a bomb concealed in his shoe, converted to Islam

in prison and was subsequently radicalised soon after his release.

Born in South London, Reid was jailed several times in the 1990s for petty crime.

While serving his sentence in Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution, he converted to

Islam after his father, a Christian who had had positive experiences with Muslims,

had advised him to look into the religion. 15 It is not known which individuals in prison

inspired him to convert, however during this period there was a considerable radical

presence at FYOI. 16 On his release in 1995, Reid began spending large amounts of

time at Brixton Mosque, a conservative Wahhabi establishment. Abdul Haqq Baker,

the imam of the mosque, told the BBC that Reid was subsequently ‘tempted away’

from the mosque by even more extreme individuals ‘who set up a few years ago

away from the mosque’. 17 Baker also observed that Reid was ‘very, very

impressionable’. Three years after leaving prison, he stopped attending the mosque

in 1998. Baker said that it was likely that by then Reid had met Zacarias Moussaoui,

a Moroccan who was later convicted for his role in the 9/11 attacks, as well as a

number of other extremists. Baker said that ‘at the end of Zacarias Moussaoui being

in the community and spouting off his views, it was true that Mr Reid was attending

at the same time … I'm pretty confident they were attending the extreme

scholarship classes being held by some of the extremists who could not attend our

centre’. 18 Not long after he stopped attending the Brixton Mosque altogether, Reid

travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan where he received training from al-Qaeda,

before returning to the UK to attempt to carry out his attack on a trans-Atlantic


Muktar Said Ibrahim

Muktar Said Ibrahim led and organized the attempted bombings which took place

in London on 21 July 2005. He was initially radicalized through his time in the British

prison system.

15 Alan Cowell, ‘A nation challenged: jailed Briton; the shadowy trail and shift to Islam of a

bomb suspect’, The New York Times, 29 December 2001,


16 Ibid.

17 ‘Who is Richard Reid?’, BBC News, December 28 2001,


18 Chris Gray, ‘Richard Reid: How eager convert was turned into a suspected terrorist’, The

Independent, 27 December 2001, .


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

History of Islamist radicalisation in prisons

Ibrahim arrived in the UK from Eritrea in 1990 aged 12. In June 1993 he was convicted

of indecent assault against a 15-year old schoolgirl. Two years later he was involved

in two robberies, one of which involved robbing a 77-year old woman in a tube

station. 19 After taking part in a gang-related attack in Hertford, Ibrahim was

sentenced to five years imprisonments in Young Offenders’ Institutes in 1996. He

spent the next two and a half years at a variety of such institutions including Feltham,

Aylesbury and Huntercombe (Henley-on-Thames) as well as Woodhill prison. 20

Ibrahim was released in 1998, having reportedly become interested in radical

Islamism during his time there. 21 Soon after his release, Ibrahim began attending

Finsbury Park mosque and listening to pro-al-Qaeda sermons by Abu Hamza and

Abdullah al-Faisal (whose tapes were later found at his flat) – while also working in

restaurants and as a market trader. 22 Further radicalized by exposure to individuals

like Abu Hamza and al-Faisal, Ibrahim subsequently travelled to Sudan in 2003 where

he claimed to have received weapons training and also to Pakistan. 23 On a trip to

Pakistan in 2005 (which coincided with a trip there by the two leading 7/7 bombers)

he is believed to have received instruction in bomb-making military training from

Islamist militants – possibly including members of al-Qaeda.

Mohammad al-Figari

Mohammad al-Figari, a convert to Islam who was convicted in 2008 for attending

‘terrorist training camps’ organised by followers of Abu Hamza, was initially

radicalised during his time in prison for drugs-related offences in the late 1990s.

Mohammed Al-Figari was born in Trinidad as Roger Michael Figari to mixed Catholic

and Hindu parents. He arrived in the UK in 1989 and initially studied in London.

Within a few years however he had become involved in drugs and crime, leading to

him being convicted of deception, assault and cocaine smuggling in 1997 and

sentenced to eight years in prison. Ten days before he was sent to prison, he

converted to Islam, having been previously influenced by the Nation of Islam, a predominantly

African-American US-based sect. Shortly before going to prison, he also

met Mohammed Hamid, a charismatic salafi preacher and former drug addict,

alongside whom he would later be convicted. 24 Once in prison, al-Figari seems to

have abandoned his interest in the Nation of Islam in favour of more mainstream

19 Sandra Laville, ‘Refugee children who turned against Britain’, The Guardian, 9 July 2007,


20 Sandra Laville, ‘Key events in the July 21 bomb plot’, The Guardian, 9 July 2007,


21 ‘Do prisons radicalize inmates?’, BBC News, 29 July 2005,


22 ‘Profile: Muktar Ibrahim’, BBC News, 11 July


23 Ibid.

24 Owen Bowcott, ‘Profile: Mohammed Hamid and his followers’, The Guardian, 25 February

2006, .


History of Islamist radicalisation in prisons

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

forms of Sunni Islam. Unfortunately, however, he soon gravitated towards the most

extreme forms of Sunni Islam –salafi-jihadism. Part of the blame for this lies directly

with the Prison Service. For example, during his trial the prosecution produced a

booklet found in al-Figari’s possession entitled ‘How Can I Train Myself for Jihad?’ 25

Inside, the book had a stamp from the Wandsworth prison’s library. At the same

time, indicative of further oversights by the Prison Service, al-Figari was receiving

hard-line Islamist literature sent to him in prison by Mohammed Hamid who

meanwhile was becoming a keen follower of Abu Hamza and was regularly

attending Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque. 26 The Prison Service is therefore

doubly at fault – firstly for allowing hardline Islamist literature to be mailed into

prison by Hamid and secondly for stocking pro-jihadist books in the prison library. On

his release from prison in December 2002, Figari swiftly re-joined Hamid and began

regularly attending Finsbury Park Mosque with him. In February 2008, Figari was

convicted of attending ‘terrorist training camps’ at locations around the UK which

had been organised by Hamid.

Martin Mubanga

Martin Mubanga, the son of Zambian immigrants, is a Black-British man who

converted to Islam while in prison. Although Mubanga has never been convicted in

relation to terrorism, the US has previously accused him of being involved in

extremist - and possibly terrorist-related activities - during his time in Afghanistan in


Martin Mubanga, who was born in Zambia but was brought up in London, left

school with five GCSEs and an NVQ in construction. At around the same time, when

Mubanga was 16, his mother died (his father had already died while he was young). 27

After leaving school, he failed to find a job and was arrested in 1992 and convicted

for trying to steal a car. Imprisoned in Feltham Young Offenders Institute, aged 19,

he became interested in Islam and soon converted while still in prison. 28 Soon after

his release, in 1995, he travelled to Bosnia, where the US government later said that

he had received military training (Mubanga, however, has denied this and said that

he went to Bosnia to work for a charity). 29 In October 2000, he travelled to Pakistan

to attend a hard-line madrassa. After spending time in Peshawar, he travelled to

Afghanistan where he attended two further madrassas in Kabul and Kandahar, the

spiritual home of the Taliban, leaving Afghanistan soon after the US invasion but

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Declaration of James R Crisfield, Judge Advocate, United States Navy, in 'Martin Mubanga et

al. v. George W. Bush, (Civil Action No. 04-CV-1144)'. Transcript available online at:


28 David Rose, ‘How I entered the hellish world of Guantanamo Bay’, The Observer, 6 February

2005, .

29 U.S Department of State, ‘The United States’ response to questions asked by the committee

against torture’, 8 May 2006,.


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

History of Islamist radicalisation in prisons

before the Northern Alliance’s capture of Kabul. 30 He was arrested by local police in

Zambia in 2002, while en route to the UK, after the US discovered that he had spent

time in Afghanistan (US forces had by then discovered Mubanga’s British passport,

which he had reported as being stolen, in an al-Qaeda cave complex in Afghanistan).

The US accused him of receiving training from al-Qaeda and of being an al-Qaeda

member. 31 These charges were never proven and Mubanga was released from

Guantanamo in 2005 – without ever having been put on trial. He is now believed to

live in the UK.

In addition to these four main cases, there are many examples of other, lesser-known

Islamist extremists who may have been radicalised – at least in part – through their

experiences in UK prisons. One of these is Mohammed Hamid (mentioned above for his

role in radicalizing Mohammed al-Figari) who was convicted in 2008 of training would-be

terrorists. 32 Hamid, a former drug addict, had previously served as least two jail sentences

for robbery, one of them in a Young Offenders’ Institution. 33 Omar Khyam, who dressed

as a suicide bomber at extremist protests against the Danish cartoons of Mohammed in

February 2006, had likewise recently spent several years in prison on drugs-related

charges. 34 Another individual who possibly adopted extremist beliefs as a result of his time

in prison is Sulayman Keeler (aka Simon Keeler), a white convert and a former member of

al-Muhajiroun jailed in 2008 for supporting terrorism. 35 Keeler had previously served a

short sentence for assaulting a police officer, converting to Islam not long after his

release. 36 Another extremist whose prison experiences pushed him towards radical

Islamism is David Myatt, formerly a prominent neo-Nazi who is now known as Abdul-Aziz

ibn Myatt. He converted to an extremist form of Wahhabi-influenced Islam soon after

leaving prison. 37

30 David Rose, ‘How I entered the hellish world of Guantanamo Bay’, The Observer, 6 February

2005, .

31 The Guantanamo Docket, ‘Summary of evidence for combatant status review tribunal: Martin

John Dubanga’, The New York Times, 25 January 2005,


32 ‘Top extremist recruiter is jailed’, BBC News, 26 February 2008,


33 Duncan Gardham, ‘Mohammed Hamid is evil personified’, The Telegraph, 26 February 2008,

History of Islamist radicalisation in prisons

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

The most significant recent case of prison radicalisation, however, is that of Kevin Gardner,

a paranoid schizophrenic in his early twenties who converted to an extreme form of Islam

in Stoke Heath Young Offenders' Institution and HMP Featherstone in 2006-7. 38 In 2009,

Gardner was jailed indefinitely on mental health grounds for, while in prison, having

planned to carry out bomb attacks on a Territorial Army base in Chesterfield, carrying out

primitive bomb-making experiments in prison and writing statements such as ‘the deaths

of British soldiers on home soil will encourage the believers’. Gardner’s case is important

because, even though his bombing plans were not at an advanced stage (and would

perhaps never even have come to fruition), this is one of the first occasions when Islamist

terrorist attacks are known to have been planned by individuals while in British prisons.

In most previous cases, individuals adopted extreme Islamist beliefs in prison but only took

concrete steps towards terrorism after being released.

Despite considerable differences between the individuals radicalized in prisons in the Arab

world and in the UK (for instance, many prominent Arabic radicals, such as Zawahiri, have

been well-educated individuals from prominent and well-connected families), and despite

wide differences in their conditions in prison (torture is widespread in prisons in the Arab

world), there are some themes that are common to many of those who have adopted

extreme Islamist ideologies as a result of their time in prison.

Extremism seen as a logical solution to other problems

In many cases, the adoption of extremist ideologies by prisoners appears not to have

been an irrational, involuntary or unconscious act. Instead, for individuals like Richard

Reid or Martin Mubanga and perhaps even Zarqawi, it seems to have been

consciously perceived as a drastic but necessary solution to a variety of other

problems, ranging from criminality to drug abuse to personal identity crises.

Extremism as a ‘new start’

Similarly, conversion either to extremist Islamism or, in the case of converts, initially

to Islam in general, is seen by many prisoners as allowing them a ‘new start’ – both

spiritually and in relation to their own identity, friendship circles and way of life – as

a way of breaking with a past that was often associated with crime, drugs and failure

that is comparable with ‘born again’ Christianity.

Prison deepens radicalisation

While some individuals first adopt extremist ideologies only while in prison, in other

cases individuals who entered prison as extremists become more radical as a result

of their experiences there. Sayyid Qutb is a classic example of this phenomenon;

severe mistreatment in prison transformed him from a relatively progressive political

dissident into the creator of modern jihadist ideology who saw the world as divided

exclusively into good and evil.

Prison mistreatment is a key factor

In both the Arab world and the UK it seems likely that individuals’ perceptions of

38 ‘‘Sick’ bomb planner is locked up’, BBC News, 28 July 2008,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

History of Islamist radicalisation in prisons

their treatment in prison is a hugely important causal factor in their radicalisation.

Individuals with anti-state ideologies who feel mistreated or victimised in prison on

account of their religious or political beliefs often conclude that their mistreatment

only validates the truth of their beliefs - strengthening a person’s radical beliefs and

provoking greater feelings of anger towards the state and towards wider society.

Extremism as an extension of earlier behaviour

The adoption of a confrontational Islamist ideology in prison can sometimes be seen

as an extension of earlier ‘anti-social’ behaviour which, in the case of Muktar Ibrahim

included sexual assault and robbing an elderly woman or, in the case of Simon Keeler,

assaulting a policeman. Signing up to Islamist beliefs can therefore potentially act as

a systemisation and vindication of an earlier antipathy and resentment towards

mainstream society and towards symbols of the state.

Extremism causes dramatic behavioural changes

Radicalisation (i.e. the adoption of an extremist ideology and worldview) can

dramatically transform a person’s behaviour. Many extremists such as Muktar Said

Ibrahim and Richard Reid arrived in prison after leading somewhat aimless lives. On

becoming radicals they become highly-motivated and disciplined - saving money,

travelling abroad, learning languages and undertaking physical training. Such

transformations may become more likely if a person deliberately adopted extreme

Islamism to break with a past that they were ashamed of or that they associated

with failure or unhappiness.

Post-release radicalisation

Not all the extremists listed above joined radical groups while actually in prison.

Instead a number of them, such as Richard Reid, became consistently involved in

such groups only after their release. This however strongly suggests that they had

adopted radical ideologies while in prison or that their prison experiences made

them susceptible to extremists’ messages. Alternatively they may have been

recommended to such groups through their prison contacts and friendship circles.

In regard to the UK specifically, an examination of high-profile cases of prison

radicalisation reveals other trends:

Converts more vulnerable to radicalisation

The cases of Muslim converts like Richard Reid, Mohammad al-Figari and Simon

Keeler suggest that converts are significantly over-represented among those who

adopted extremist or jihadist ideologies as a result of their prison time. Converts’

experiences in prison can be seen as heightened versions of the experiences of other

prisoners: questions of identity and group loyalty are even more important to new

converts than to those born and brought up as Muslims, for example. Absolutist

Islamist ideologies meanwhile offer converts simple solutions to complex questions

of identity and belonging. At the same time, most new converts are naturally less

able to differentiate between rival interpretations of Islam than Muslim-born

individuals and may thus be more likely to unquestioningly buy into extremists’


History of Islamist radicalisation in prisons

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

arguments. This is partly because most hard-line Islamist theologies are

straightforward, un-nuanced and highly literalistic – in contrast to many syncretistic

and often less explicitly articulated forms of traditional interpretations of Islam.

Time lag between radicalisation and action

The four most prominent British cases of prison radicalisation outlined above suggest

that there is often a significant time lag between a person being radicalised in prison

and either carrying out a terrorist attack or being prosecuted or arrested for

terrorism-related offences. In the case of Reid, Mubanga, Ibrahim and Al-Figari this

time-lag is around five to seven years. This lag makes it harder to measure the full

extent of prison radicalisation or conversely to fully assess the impact of counterradicalisation

initiatives. Such a lag may mean that individuals who are being

radicalised in prisons today might not commit violent acts for another seven years

(i.e. until around 2015).

It should be noted, however, that, with the possible exception of Kevin Gardner, in no

case did radicalisation occur exclusively as a result of these individuals’ experiences in the

prison. In all cases, experiences both before and after imprisonment were key in making

individuals adopt radical ideologies.


Definitions of Islamism and Jihadism

Islamism is a modern 20th century ideology that blends traditional Islamic

teachings with twentieth century communist and fascist ideologies. Islamism is

primarily problematic in the UK because it advocates a separatism between

Muslims and non-Muslims based on a concept of eternal military, moral and

cultural conflict between these two groups. This confrontational ‘us’ and ‘them’

logic, augmented by a supremacist worldview, undermines national cohesion,

creates social, mental and geographical ghettoisation and sows distrust and

suspicion between different ethno-religious groups. Modern jihadists are

Islamist who believe they are religiously obligated to carry out terrorist attacks

in order to further Islamism’s objectives.

Key feature of Islamism:

Islam is a political ideology

Islamists believe that Islam is not just a religion but also a political ideology.

They believe that Islam contains clear instructions not only on spiritual or

ritualistic matters but also on all other issues such as the foreign policy, the

banking system and governmental structures. Islamists typically aim to ‘Islamise’

society; to make all aspects of society such as the government, courts, schools,

the police, banks and restaurants follow these ‘Islamic’ practices.


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

History of Islamist radicalisation in prisons

Factbox continued

Sharia law as state law

Islamists want secular law to be replaced by the Sharia, which they regard as

being a single set of fixed laws which are purely divine in origin. Islamists

generally interpret the sharia as instituting discriminatory laws for men and

women, Muslims and non-Muslims. In addition, ‘sharia’ punishments advocated

by Islamists often include stoning women for adultery, executing apostates and

killing those who seek to overthrow or question Islamist political systems.

‘Ummah’ as a political bloc

Islamist think that the traditional concept of the Muslim ummah, the collective

description of Muslims around the world, should be redefined to imply the

creation of a political bloc. To Islamists, this means that Muslims should be loyal

to other Muslims, whoever they are and wherever they are, ahead of being

loyal to non-Muslims.

Creation of an expansionist caliphate

Following from their re-interpretation of ‘ummah’, Islamists believe that all

Muslim majority countries (and areas formerly ruled by Muslims)should be

united in a single super-state called the Caliphate. This caliphate would,

according to most Islamists, be a non-democratic state which would make the

Islamist version of Sharia into state law, effectively making non-Muslims and

women second-class citizens. Most Islamists also believe that the Caliphate

should also wage expansionist wars against surrounding non-Muslim states.

Jihadism and Wahhabism

Jihadists are Islamists who believe firstly in using violence to advance Islamism’s

objectives and secondly that Muslim individuals anywhere in the world have

the right to carry out violent attacks against any state, organisation or

individual which they believe to be “oppressing” Muslims or to be actively

hostile towards Islam. Most jihadists follow the Wahhabi school of thought

which originates in 18th century Arabia. Such Wahhabi teachings, in addition,

to usually promoting the above Islamist tenets, put a great emphasis on

dressing and acting in imitation of Mohammed and his followers, for instance

by growing beards of a certain shape and length, wearing traditional clothing

etc. At the same time, however, not all those who similarly seek to imitate

Mohammed and his followers are Wahhabists or Islamists. Similarly, not all

Islamists are Wahhabists.


Part 1: Radicalisation in prisons

Part 1: Radicalisation in prisons

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Part 1: Radicalisation in prisons

Radicalisation in prison needs to be seen in the context of the growth of religion in

prisons in general. It is widely known that the prison environment is conducive to reawakening

the spiritual and religious feelings of individuals. In addition, however, there

are specific reasons why the atmosphere in many British prisons is conducive to fostering

political and religious radicalisation.

Why people turn to religion in prison:

Life-crisis and spiritual need

Going to prison is often a psychological and emotional shock; individuals are

confronted with concrete evidence that their life is ‘not working out’. The

boredom, isolation and purposelessness of much of prison life additionally leads

many people to question their life, their values and their purpose on earth. The

relative abundance of religion in prison, combined with the relatively large

numbers of prisoners of all faiths who are visibly observant, leads many to begin

practicing religion for the first time. For many inmates, adopting strict religious

beliefs can also seem a solution to previous failings and a spiritual vacuum as well

as offering a chance to start afresh.

Need for protection

Entering a prison – particularly for the first time – is typically an unnerving

experience. New inmates are not sure how prisons function, or which gangs,

groups and individuals are potentially friendly and which are hostile. Muslim

prisoners (even those who are religiously unobservant) may gravitate towards

Muslim groups and individuals for friendship, emotional support and protection

against other inmates or rival ethno-religious groups – consciously becoming more

religiously observant as result.


Many prisoners believe that being an observant Muslim offers benefits which are

not open to other prisoners and which may help to relieve the tedium of prison

life. Examples of this are taking part in Friday prayers or celebrating Ramadan,

meeting with Muslim chaplains, receiving literature from Muslim groups outside

prison or receiving halal food (which many prisoners claim is superior to regular

prison food).

In many cases prisoners adopt extremist versions of a religion for roughly the same

reasons as they adopt religion at all – namely for similar spiritual, social and pragmatic

purposes. These broad factors likewise echo the reasons that individuals are attracted

to extremist ideologies outside prison. However, as this report will show, there are also

specific reasons why some prisoners adopt a extreme Islamist ideology while in British



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Part 1: Radicalisation in prisons

In general, an individual’s adoption of extremist ideas occurs as the result of two fairly

distinct but simultaneous and overlapping processes:

‘Pull’ factors

These factors explain how existing extremists in prison pro-actively seek to recruit

or ‘pull’ other Muslim individuals into their belief system. This is generally done

by incentivising the adoption of extreme religious beliefs – whether through

offering physical protection, spiritual nourishment, social support or even

prospective rewards in the afterlife.

‘Push’ factors

These are many aspects of prison life that ‘push’ individuals away from

mainstream society and towards extremist individuals and groups. Such push

factors include racist violence, maltreatment, discrimination or social exclusion

that make Muslims or vulnerable individuals feel excluded from the mainstream.


‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

4. ‘Pull’ factors

Islamist extremists, whether in prison or not, pro-actively seek new recruits in order to

materially strengthen their cause and because they believe that such recruitment is a

worthy, divinely-sanctioned end in itself which will bring them rewards in the afterlife.

At a psychological level, some individuals may also regard the recruitment of other

prisoners to extreme Islamism as a moral and material victory over their enemies as

personified by the British state and more specifically its employees in the Prison Service.

For decades Islamist organizations around the world, from the Muslim Brotherhood to

al-Qaeda, that are dedicated to overthrowing governments and replacing the current

status quo with an “Islamic state”, have been aware not only that many of their

members are likely to spend time in prison but also that such prisons are the ideal place

to recruit new members. As a result, a number of these organizations have explicitly

advised their followers on how to best spend their time in prison. For example, Al-

Qaeda has produced material which advises its supporters how to resist interrogation

and pressure from the authorities, how to use their time in prison to educate themselves

and how to spread their ideology among other prisoners. See ‘Factbox: Al-Qaeda advice

for prisoners’.

The deliberate recruitment of individual inmates into extremist groups takes a variety

of forms in British prisons. Such radicalisation typically begins, not with a radical

preacher delivering fire-and-brimstone sermons, but rather with extremist individuals

offering their friendship, advice and support to others. This often takes the form of

extremist prisoners approaching other Muslims, or even non-Muslims, who are new to

the prison and who are vulnerable, friendless and insecure. Once the extremist has

reached out to such an individual, winning his trust and establishing the basis for

friendship, he will begin explaining his ideas, often in the guise of offering religious and

spiritual guidance. Once a prisoner has begun to adopt such ideologies, his new

ideological believes may become increasingly fortified through additional meetings

and through socialising with other extremists, reading extremist books and literature

– while simultaneously becoming isolated and detached from mainstream prison society

(which naturally includes many moderate Muslims).

Extremist ‘outreach’

The core element of extremist recruitment, both inside and outside prison, is proactively

approaching potential recruits and making contact with them. Once this initial

contact is made, extremists emphasise with their new followers, offering them support

and advice on day-to-day issues as well as progressively exposing them to a

comprehensive politico-theological ideology which appears to explain the world around

them and their place in it.

In many cases, Islamists casually approach new Muslim prisoners soon after they enter

prison, offering them friendship and re-assurance. From these small beginnings, the

Islamist recruiter may soon begin to offer spiritual advice and to recommend reading

material – as well as telling their new friend which people in prison (whether prisoners


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

or prison staff) to trust and which people to avoid. Sometimes such approaches are preplanned

and deliberate. On other occasions such approaches to new or existing

prisoners are more ad-hoc. Extremists are often motivated as much by a genuine desire

to help their fellow Muslims onto the ‘straight and narrow’ (as they see it) as by a

conscious desire to ‘recruit’ them to a particular ideology. This overall process is most

usually described by Islamist extremists as giving dawa, a word which is more widely

understood among Muslims as meaning inviting non-Muslims to accept Islam and

encouraging Muslims to practice their faith more completely. Islamist extremists

typically believe that giving such dawa a religious duty and as an act that will further

empower their movement and cause.

In some cases extremist outreach is strikingly deliberate. ‘Abu Abdullah’, who was held

in Belmarsh for several months on suspicion of financing terrorism before being

acquitted, has described how he was approached by radicals in the prison on his first

day there:

‘On that same day [that I arrived in prison], I went to the exercise yard. I had all

these thoughts in my head: What do I do? Is anyone going to bully me? I don’t

know what to expect. Alhamdulillah (Praise be to Allah) I was fortunate. On that

day, some brothers approached me and said that they had been expecting me.

Some were brothers held without charge. There was a Palestinian brother, and

an Algerian brother ... These brothers were very friendly. At first I was a bit

apprehensive as to whether I should trust them or not ... But afterwards I felt

comfortable. One of the brothers Masha’Allah he packed some fruit and a

chocolate in a bag and handed it to me before I went back to my cell’. 39

It is from such small beginnings relationship between ordinary Muslim prisoners and

extremists often begin. The effectiveness of this gradualist approach has been

recognised by jihadists overseas. For example, a 51-page al-Qaeda manual, published

online in 2009 in Arabic, entitled ‘A Course in the Art of Recruitment’, has specifically

recommended that terrorist recruiters should invite their targets to lunch, give them

gifts and contact them frequently. The manual recommends that extremists seek to

radicalise no more than two people at a time – in order to give them their full

attention. 40 Such approaches are often effective because, contrary to most media

depictions, Islamist extremists are rarely un-hinged, irrational, ranting fanatics – most

are sociable, charming and articulate individuals who are quick to make friends and

win others to their own point of view. Islam4UK, a website run by former members of

al-Muhajiroun (a number of whom have spent time in prison), notes this in an online

essay on radicalisation in British prisons:

‘Inmates in prison hear the most incredible and implausible stories about terror

suspects in the newspapers, TV programmes and magazines and had they never

met these suspects in person, they may very well have believed them anyway.

39 Javaid Iqbal, 'The 'Terrorist' Label never wears off', Al-Istiqamah online magazine (January



‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

However, upon observing, meeting and speaking with these Muslims, they realise

that, far from being ‘dangerous', ‘fanatical', ‘irrational', ‘hate-mongering', ‘racist',

‘sexist', ‘ignorant', ‘brainwashed', ‘uneducated', ‘violent', ‘vicious', ‘militant'

‘thugs', they are actually intelligent, educated, level-headed, calm, collected,

reasonable family men that are nothing like the public portrayal of ‘extremists’.

This discovery causes a lot of people to question their understanding of politics,

war, Muslims; reconsider their stance on British foreign policy and take a serious

interest in discovering Islam. This also prevents them from being so easily fooled

or affected by popular hysteria and propaganda’. 41

There are numerous accounts of how well-known extremists have influenced others in

British prisons simply through their charm and acts of spontaneous kindness and

concern for others. For example, Omar Khyam, a British-Pakistani convicted of planning

terrorist attacks in the UK, has described the extraordinary influence over other inmates

enjoyed by Rachid Ramda. Ramda, a French Muslim, was imprisoned in the UK, mainly

in Belmarsh, from 1995-2005, while fighting extradition to France (where he was later

convicted of organising the 1995 Paris metro bombings). Khyam writes: 42

‘The first thing that struck me most about Rachid was the way he greeted me and

the new Muslim arrivals, three hugs and a huge smile. He made me feel as if I had

known him for years, such a warm personality and character, making everyone

feel wanted and important, as if you are his best friend. Even now, a year has

passed but he still has that way of making your day, where ever you meet him; in

education, Friday prayers, gym, or during the main moves along the corridor, his

warm smile will always accompany him … He is a shining example to both Muslims

and non-Muslims of what the people of patience look like’. 43

40 The 51-page handbook by Abu Amr al-Qaidi has been distributed widely on Arabic-language

jihadist websites. It lists five stages in recruitment: selecting a potential recruit, making their

acquaintance, awakening their faith, implanting jihadist concepts and forming a cell. For

further information, see Brian Fishman and Abdullah Warius, 'A Jihadist’s Course in the Art of

Recruitment', The Sentinel, Combating Terrorism Center, West Point, February 2009. Available

online at .

41 ‘7 Reasons why people become Muslim in prison’, Islam4UK website, 18 May 2009


42 Khyam has also written of how Fahad Hashmi, a US citizen of Pakistani origin, who was held

in Belmarsh prison in 2006-7 while awaiting extradition to the US in relation to charges of

providing material support to al-Qaeda, similarly provided spiritual and moral support to

other prisoners. Khyam writes: ‘He was one of those brothers who would walk around with a

smile on his face day-in day-out. When some brothers would feel down or stressed out due to

being separated from loved ones, or the situation of their individual cases was not going well,

you would always see brother Fahad Hashmi speaking to them, encouraging them to be

patient and steadfast’. Source: Omar Khyam, ‘My memories of Fahad Hashmi’, Al-Istiqamah

online magazine (June 2008) , p.16.

43 ‘Statements on Rachid Ramda from Prison’, Cageprisoners website, 25 May 2005,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

‘Abu Abdullah’, imprisoned in Belmarsh for several months in 2003, similarly wrote of

how Ramda sought out other Muslim prisoners and sought to inspire and encourage


‘The first Jumah I prayed, brother Rachid said to me ‘A person will be rewarded

in spite of whether it [his situation] is to his liking or not’. Seeing brothers like

him who had been in Belmarsh for so many years really inspired me. I felt ashamed

to even feel weakness’. 44

Amar Makhlulif, an Algerian nicknamed ‘Abu Doha’ who is alleged to be a leading

member of an Algerian jihadist group, was imprisoned in Belmarsh for several years

while fighting deportation to Algeria, has also written of how Ramda also offered him


‘When I need courage or I feel sad and everything in my life seems as though it

has been turned upside down, I think of Rachid and reflect upon his advice. Rachid

is a symbol of love, a brother in time of need … If there are people better than

angels, then Rachid is one of them’. 45

Makhlulif’s anecdote illustrates how easily casual friendships can lead a prisoner

habitually taking spiritual and personal advice from a leading Islamist extremist – and

can even lead to a terrorist mastermind being seen as a ‘symbol of love’. 46 This danger

increases when ordinary Muslim prisoners who lack detailed religious knowledge

encounter extremists who are better-versed in theology and Islamic scriptures.

At the same time, there are social barriers which can prevent extremists from easily

influencing others in prison. For instance, some extremist prisoners have noted that

other Muslim prisoners initially feared them when first encountering them – perhaps

because of the extremists’ reputation or because they feared that they might be

stigmatized by the prison authorities for associating with extremists. For example,

Mustapha Taleb, who worked in the bookshop at the Finsbury Park Mosque under Abu

Hamza and who has been held in a number of prisons while fighting deportation to

Algeria, has written of how ordinary Muslim prisoners initially avoided extremists, like

himself, who were held at Long Lartin prison 47 :

‘When we came here first, it was harsh, harsh treatment and harsh life. Even the

prisoners were like scared of us, because the [prison] system here told them that

these people are very dangerous you can’t mix with them’. 48

44 Javaid Iqbal, 'The 'Terrorist' Label never wears off', Al-Istiqamah online magazine (January

2008, ).

45 ‘Who is Rachid Ramda?’, Caeprisoners website, undated,


46 In 2007, a French court found Ramda guilty of being a key member in the GIA who had

financed the 1995 Paris Metro bombings which killed 8 people and injured over 100. He was

sentenced to 22 years in prison. Jon Boyle, ‘French court convicts Algerian of Paris bombing’,

Reuters, 26 October 2007, .

47 Duncan Campbell and Rosie Cowen, ‘Terror trail that led from Algeria to London’, The

Guardian, 14 April 2005, < http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/apr/14/terrorism.world2>.


‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

However, he notes, ordinary Muslims’ initial fear of the extremists soon evaporated:

‘With the brothers here, our Muslim brothers in the prison, it’s ok ma sha’Allah [it

is as God wills]. There is some kind of harmony, connection between brothers in

here, al hamdulillah [praise be to God]’.

An almost identical situation is reported by Abu Hamza in Belmarsh, who said in a June

2008 interview that many Muslims became more sympathetic to imprisoned extremists

as they found out more about them:

‘Most of the brothers [i.e. Muslims] are sympathetic, even the ones who are not political

prisoners but who have been charged with the [ordinary crimes] are shocked at the

difficulties which I face. Others have converted to Islam Alhamdulillah [praise be to

God]. Many give respect even if they disagree with my opinions’. 49

For many extremists, their notoriety can therefore become a means to intrigue and

impress other Muslims – as well as providing them an opportunity to become a leader

or figurehead for Muslim convicts.

Extremists seek leadership of Muslim prisoners

As well as often being personable, friendly and charming, and offering religious and

moral advice, many individuals convicted of planning terrorism or preaching extremism

have also actively sought to become the leaders and representatives of all Muslim

inmates – something they may see as being a religious duty. For example, Abdullah el-

Faisal, imprisoned in Belmarsh prison between 2003 and 2007, told Jamaican TV after

his release and deportation, that he had seen it as his duty to lead and inspire other

Muslim prisoners. He told Jamaican TV:

‘If you’re a cleric you have to set an example for other Muslim prisoners to follow,

you’re not supposed to crack up under pressure’. 50

Detainee ‘KM’ who was in Belmarsh for over a year in 2002/3 attested how Faisal had

indeed gained leadership over Muslim inmates and was able to force the prison “to

give in to our demands”:

‘Once, they tried to stop us from Jumuah [Friday] prayers whilst we were in the

holding rooms and tried to send us back to our cells. There was a collective sit-in,

led by Shaikh Faisal. The prison had to give in to our demands but then we were

later cautioned, starting with Shaikh Faisal’. 51

This incident evidently enabled Faisal to position himself as a man who was standing up

48 ‘The Long Lartin Interviews: Moazzem Begg Interviews Mustapha Taleb’, Cageprisoners, 11

March 2008,

49 ‘Interview with Abu Hamza’, Cageprisoners, 6 June 2008

50 ‘The Mufti of Jamaica? The Recent Media Frolics of (‘Sheikh’) Abdullah Faisal’, December

2007, Salafimanhaj website:

51 'Inside 'Hellmarsh' - An Interview with a Former Belmarsh Detainee, Cageprisoners, (1

December 2004) .


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

for the religious rights of ordinary Muslim prisoners – an act which doubtlessly won

him further respect from his fellow inmates. This is probably typical of how many

extremists gradually extend their influence over other prisoners. Faraj Hassan Al-Saad,

a Libyan Islamist who was held in several prisons including Brixton, Belmarsh, Leicester

and Long Lartin in 2002-7 while fighting deportation to Italy to stand trial on terrorism

charges, 52 has described how ordinary Muslim prisoners at Brixton looked up to him,

perhaps because of his status as a terrorism suspect. He relates one incident where he

took charge of a protest against a “racist” prison officer:

‘Inmates were refusing to have their lunch or go back to their cells unless the

Governor No.1 came to speak to them. As a Muslim I too joined this peaceful

demonstration to demand our rights. The brothers all wanted me to speak on

their behalf, so I explained everything to the staff, but the staff started to mobilize

from other wings. They started attacking the brothers and four of the officers

came and held me on one side. The officers knew that all the Muslim inmates

respect me and would not tolerate seeing me on the floor, so they were telling

them to stay where they were. While all this was happening I was speaking to the

brothers in Arabic and telling them not to use any act of violence, even though

the staff were so violent they broke one of the brother’s arm[s]’. 53

In this case, prison staff seem to have empowered Al-Saad because they believed that

he could help them prevent an outbreak of violence – albeit at the cost of probably

empowering him more widely and of strengthening his reputation among other

Muslim prisoners.

It is not clear that the Prison Service has yet come up with a formula that enables them

to effectively reduce the influence of jailed extremists while also keeping the peace in

prisons and minimising disturbances. It is often clearly very tempting for prison

authorities to turn to influential extremists for help in dealing with other Muslim

52 ‘Delays Prevent Terror Extradition’, BBC News, 31 October 2005,

. According to the United Nation, Al-Saad was

‘sentenced to five years of imprisonment by the Court of first instance of Milan on 18 Dec.

2006. Sentenced in absentia to five years and ten months of imprisonment for membership

of a terrorist association by the Appeal Court of Milan, Italy, on 7 Feb. 2008’. The

Consolidated List established and maintained by the 1267 Committee with respect to al-

Qaida, Usama bin Laden and the Taliban and other individuals, groups, undertakings and

entities associated with them. He was released without charge in 2007 and is presently living

in Leicester. Sources: 'The Consolidated List established and maintained by the 1267

Committee with respect to Al-Qaida, Usama bin Laden, and the Taliban and other

individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with them', United Nations

(Updated 10 August 2009) ,

, Ben Goldby, ‘Muslim

terrorist living in the Midlands’, Sunday Mercury, 22 March 2009,


53 ‘Interview with Faraj Hassan al-Saad’, 18 August 2007, Cageprisoners



‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

prisoners – as has reportedly happened in Belmarsh with prison authorities using one

high profile terrorist convict to help calm and control Muslim prisoners. 54 While this

approach might bring short-term peace to prisons, it risks further empowering

extremists in the long-run.

There are also worrying indications that the Prison Service does not fully understand

how Islamists recruit followers in prison. For example, Amar Makhlulif (a leading

member of a number of Algerian militant groups who is also known as ‘Abu Doha’)

was in 2005 reported to have received training to become a ‘listener’, a prisoner who

gives advice to other prisoners. Wendy Lisaboa, a British woman who corresponded

with Makhlulif and has visited him in prison, has said that:

‘He has become a listener - the Samaritans trained him - he listens to the other

prisoners when they are down. He is a kind man’. 55

Given that Maklulif is believed to have been a key figure in al-Qaeda’s operations in

Europe, who helped plan and organise attempted attacks by al-Qaeda in Los Angeles

and the UK, as well as helping European jihadists travel to Afghanistan and Chechnya

for militant training, 56 the Prison Service’s decision to train him as a ‘listener’ who gives

advice to other prisoners seems somewhat odd. In future it would be wise to ensure not

only that suspected or convicted terrorists are not trained as ‘listeners’ or mentors, but

such training is only given to individuals who have liberal, tolerant understandings of


In other instances, the Prison Service has empowered extremists by allowing them to

lead Friday prayers. For example, it has been reported that Rachid Ramda – who, as

described above, was seen by other extremists as being unusually quick to influence

other prisoners - was allowed to lead Friday prayers in Belmarsh during his time there.

Ann Alexander, a Scottish campaigner for Muslim prisoners who has frequently met

and corresponded with Ramda, related in 2005 that ‘he does the call to prayer and

sometimes takes the service on a Friday’ – an account separately confirmed by Babar

Ahmed. 57 This is apparently corroborated by the 2003 prison inspection of Belmarsh

which reported that “the Imam had left to take up another job elsewhere and in the

54 Author interview with independent researcher who has interviewed prisoners and prison

staff at HMP Belmarsh. September 2009.

55 ‘An interview with Wendy Lisaboa’, Cageprisoners, 16 May 2005,


56 Special immigration appeals commission, ‘A - APPELLANT and Secretary of State for the

Home Department –RESPONDENT’, Appeal No: SC/1/2002

57 ‘Interview with Ann’, Cageprisoners, 07 September 2005,

. Babar Ahmed has also referred to

Ramda being allowed to give the call to prayer in Belmarsh, writing that “the pain in

Rachid’s soul is evident when he makes the Adhan (Call to Prayer) every Friday during the

Muslim Service’. Source: ‘Who is Rachid Ramda?’, Caeprisoners website, undated



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

meantime Muslim prayers were led by visiting Imams or by Muslim prisoners’. 58

The Prison Service has now belatedly put in place measures designed to prevent such

situations from re-occurring. For example, on 19 April 2009, the Prison Service issued an

amendment to ‘Prison Service Order 4550 – Religion’ which that ‘in the non HSE [High

Security Establishment], in exceptional circumstances, for example, an unplanned

absence by the Muslim Chaplain, for a time bound period and subject to risk assessment

and appropriate supervision, a Muslim prisoner (designated by the Muslim Chaplain)

may lead Friday prayers. In the HSE, contingencies need to be in place to ensure there

is a Muslim Chaplain available to lead Friday prayers. Establishments should contact

Chaplaincy HQ if there is any difficulty with providing cover. Muslim prisoners in the HSE

must not be permitted to lead Friday prayers’. 59 These are sensible recommendations.

However, it remains to be seen whether they will be systematically enforced throughout

the Prison Service. The regulations also assume that the regular chaplains are not only

not extremists but also that they are actually preaching an understanding of Islam that

is tolerant and inclusive. Given that the Prison Service’s chaplains are (as a result of

decisions taken by the Prison Service’s Muslim advisor) overwhelmingly from the highly

conservative Deobandi school of thought, this is by means no certain.


Gangs are an inescapable fact of prison life around the world, typically taking the form

of protection rackets, mutual support networks or as foci for trade in contraband

ranging from drugs to weapons. While Muslim-centric prison gangs may evolve for

protection against other prisoners, Islamist prison gangs often additionally promote an

exclusive, separatist ideology that glorifies violence and intolerance. Islamist extremists

who are already keen to assume a leadership position among Muslim prisoners will also

seize on such gangs as a vehicle for radicalising others. For this reason, there is a

considerable risk that Muslim-centric prison gangs may act as incubators for terrorist

groups and ideologies.

Various forms of Islamist gangs – based around a shared ideology or a loose sense of

Muslim or ethnic solidarity – are successful in British prisons for several reasons.

Group loyalty

Islamist prison gangs often have a strong sense of group loyalty based on a shared

and exclusivist religious identity. In addition to this sense of brotherhood, Islamist

gangs often have a doctrinal hostility towards non-Muslims or Muslims of other


Glorification of violence

Prison gangs with an Islamist outlook often put a strong emphasis on the

importance of violence, which they may perceive as a religious duty. Violence,

whether political or criminal, can be perceived not only as a legitimate method for

correcting perceived ‘injustice’ but also as an acceptable technique for gaining

58 H.M Chief Inspector of Prisons, Report on a Full Announced Inspection of Belmarsh Prison, 26

- 4 June 2003, .


‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

dominance over others.

Moral superiority and purpose

Joining an Islamist gang and adopting an Islamist ideology can give inmates who

have previously been drifting in a cycle of petty crime, drugs, violence and

imprisonment a sense of purpose and direction. Often this takes the form of

rejecting western culture and is presented as ‘returning to Islam’.

Together these factors can provide Muslims who join such gangs with a sense of

solidarity, physical safety and moral purpose. Joining Islamist gangs can also help ‘born

again’ Muslims to overcome problems with drugs, delinquency and crime by

encouraging them to reject former habits and lifestyles and “return to Islam”. At the

same time, prison gangs based on an Islamist ideology may not always be strikingly

distinctive from other associations or groupings of individuals united by their Muslim

beliefs or Islamic upbringing or culture. Similarly, unlike in the cases of deliberate

recruitment outlined above, Islamist gangs may not deliberately aim to ‘indoctrinate’

their members, ideology instead spreads through collective ‘group think’ rather than as

the result of any fixed plan by the gang’s leaders. The Prison Service has itself recognised

the growing challenges posed by Muslim gangs in some prisons – including in several

prisons holding extremists convicted for their role in organising, carrying out or

inspiring terrorist attacks. For example, the 2005 Inspection of Belmarsh prison reported


‘We were told by staff that there were examples of intimidatory behaviour

amongst the younger Muslim prisoners, and that these appeared to have the

characteristics of gang-related behaviour’. 60

The HMP Inspectorate’s 2008 report of Whitemoor reported prison staff’s concerns that

intimidating, ‘bullying’ behaviour was becoming less confined to small groups of

individuals and was becoming a more widespread problem, reporting that staff had

‘noted a move away from small groups of perpetrators into ‘gang culture on the wing’’.

More troubling, the report said that prison staff were reluctant to intervene to tackle

bullying or gang behaviour among Muslims, and quoted an officer as saying that

Muslim prisoners ‘policed themselves’. The report also noted “a reluctance to engage

with Muslim prisoners and challenge inappropriate behavior” 61 . The Independent

59 Prison Service Instruction, ‘Amendment to PSO 4550 – Religion’, 16 April 2009. Nb. The Order

is due to expire on 15 April 2010.


60 HM Inspectorate of Prison, ‘Report on a full un-announced prison inspection of H.M

Belmarsh Prison, 3-7 October 2005’, p. 32.


61 HM Inspectorate of Prisons ‘Report on an unannounced full-return prison inspection of H.M

Whitemoor Prison, 3-7 October 2008’,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

Monitoring Board’s 2007-8 inspection on Whitemoor echoed these findings, similarly

reporting that:

‘The main wings (A and B) have seen a continued increase in the number of

prisoners from different gangs becoming resident in HMP Whitemoor. One has a

significant element of followers of Islam, which is being used as a 'smoke-screen'

for territory building and intimidation. The gang presence has caused control

difficulties at times and both wings have experienced periods of unrest’. 62

The 2008 Inspection of Long Lartin prison, another Category A prison where almost a

quarter of inmates are Muslim, quoted a number of prisoners who identified Muslim

gangs as being an increasing concern (almost half of those interviewed identified gangs

in general as a problem that threatened their safety) 63 :

‘There are issues with Muslim gangs wanting to overpower others’.

‘Muslim gangs; if you have a problem with one [individual], you have a problem

with them all’.

Others additionally linked these Muslim gangs to conversions to Islam:

‘Yes there is a gang culture here which is becoming an issue. A lot of people are

becoming Muslim just because it’s a bigger gang’.

‘All violence is gang related. Long sentences leading to more violence...turning

into an American style jail e.g. if you’re not in a gang you're in trouble. People are

converting to Islam for protection’. 64

Unlike, for example, many US prison gangs, Islamist gangs rarely operate under specific

names. The most prominent exception to this rule is the Muslim Boys, a gang that was

active in South London and whose members are now mostly in prison. 65 This gang,

whose allegiance to any recognisable version of Islam is actually highly questionable,

have carried out forced conversions to Islam and have killed at least one individual who

refused to convert. 66

62 Independent Monitoring Boards, ‘HMP Whitemoor: Annual Report 2008’, p. 7

63 HM Inspectorate of Prisons, ‘Report on an announced inspection of HMP Long Lartin, 14-18

July 2008’, p. 90 .

64 Ibid., p.92.

65 Reports on the ‘Muslim Boys’ gang generally give the impression that the gang is ‘Muslim’ in

name only, using very lose concepts of Islam to justify their ‘criminal jihad’. A number of the

gang’s founding members are reported to have converted to Islam while at Feltham Young

Offenders Institute. See, for example, ‘Special Investigation: Are Muslim boys using profits of

crime to fund terrorism?’, The Independent, 14 August 2005,

66 Ibid.


‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Other Muslim prison ‘gangs’ are much more informal, being groupings of like-minded

people than formal gangs. In either instance, there is often a clear link between gangbehaviour

and Islamist ideologies. For example, in 2004 Babar Ahmed wrote from

Woodhill prison that:

‘Most of the other [Muslim] prisoners are OK, there being like an informal

‘brotherhood’ between [Muslim] prisoners. Some of them actually sympathise

with the Muslim political prisoners [i.e. terror suspects] and curse the

establishment when they see the injustice under which Muslim political prisoners

are held. There is always a minority of racist inmates but since the Muslims always

stick together, they are too afraid to openly display their racism, resorting instead

to quiet mumbling among themselves’. 67

While individual Muslim extremists often seek out potential recruits themselves, some

individuals deliberately and pro-actively seek out and join Islamist groups and

individuals in prison. For example, Andrew Ibrahim, a white convert to Islam who was

later convicted for planning to carry out terrorist attacks in Bristol, told a court that he

was ‘ excited’ to be sent to Belmarsh because ‘I thought that would give me status to

go there’, adding that:

‘I was excited about it yeah. I knew people like Abu Hamza were in the unit -

famous people were there’. 68

The court also heard that, once in Belmarsh, Ibrahim made statements such as ‘I am a

terrorist, Allah will prevail’ and ‘the English should be killed’ in order to impress other

Muslim inmates. This account indicates how the adoption of extremist attitudes in

prison – and the selection of extremist friends and friendship groups – is often done

deliberately and voluntarily rather than being the result of ‘brain-washing’ or due to

threats or pressure from extremists.

The formation of Islamist gangs has important consequences not only for Muslims but

also for non-Muslims and for a prison’s social dynamics in general. Joining an Islamist

gang can make Muslim prisoners hostile to non-Muslim individuals. For example, HMP

Inspectorate of Prisons’ 2008 report on Belmarsh quoted a prisoner (whose religion and

ethnicity is unknown) as saying that:

‘The Muslim [groups] are very bad here. They recruit young black [non-Muslim]

guys, and if you don't agree with them or follow them, you get threatened.

Officers are naïve to the full extent of the problem’. 69

67 Barbar Ahmed, ‘Prison Conditions at HMP Woodhill’, Cageprisoners, 26 October 2004,


68 ‘Student said he was a terrorist’, BBC News, 29 June 2009,


69 HM Inspectorate of Prisons, ‘Report on full announced inspection of H.M.P Belmarsh Prison,

8-12 October 2008’, p. 104.



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

The interviewee’s characterisation of such apparent conversions as ‘recruitment’ is

telling. It illustrates that prison conversions are often perceived by other prisoners as

joining a gang or an organisation – rather than merely reflecting a change of belief or

spiritual outlook. Needless to say, conversions to Islam are not in themselves necessarily

problematic per se. However, if individuals in prison are converting to Islam purely for

their own safety or because they are attracted to the perceived violent or intolerant

message of Islamism then this has important wider implications – not least because it

may lead to terrorism. The creation of religious gangs inevitably leads to the creation

of an ‘us and them’ outlook that can too easily lead to intolerance and physical violence

not just in prisons but also in wider society.

In many cases, the formation of Muslim or Islamist gangs is a response to hostility or

violence from non-Muslim prisoners. For example, in February 2009, the ‘Help The

Prisoners’ organization also reported on the conditions in Manchester prison faced by

Rengzieb Ahmed, a convicted member of al-Qaeda who was allegedly tortured by

Pakistani intelligence officers after his arrest there 70 :

‘Rengzieb Ahmed is currently on Hunger Strike within HMP Manchester, having

been subjected to a series of intimidatory actions by the prison staff … Whilst

serving his sentence at HMP Manchester, he has continued to suffer abuses whilst

in custody. He alleges that these have included threats by inmates and staff to

such extent that he fears for his safety. The latest incident has been HMP

Manchester attempting to force Rengzieb to share a cell with an unknown inmate

despite being a Category A prisoner which surely raises security concerns.

Rengzieb is concerned that this is an attempt to physically harm him, as the Prison

Service has been found to be indirectly culpable in the past via the Zahed Mubarak

Enquiry. Rengzieb has been concerned to such an extent that he has engaged in

a hunger strike within the segregation unit, which is now on its fifth day’. 71

In such a context, it is easy to see why extremists might be tempted to form a gang for

their own protection – particularly if prison staff are not seen as responsive or

sympathetic to extremists who are at risk of racist or anti-Muslim violence. One of the

most troubling instance of violent gangs led and inspired by convicted terrorists comes

from Frankland prison. Here, tit-for-tat violence and hostility between Muslims and

white prisoners led to massive violence, including attacks carried out with boiling oil,

knife attacks and even a full-scale riot which left a number of prison officers injured (SEE


The rise of Islamist gangs in prisons presents multiple problems. These include:

Violence and bullying

The most obvious and immediate problem is that the creation of Muslim gangs

can lead to intimidation of non-Muslim prisoners and of Muslim prisoners who

70 Ian Cobain, ‘MI5 accused of bride offer in Rangzieb Ahmed case, The Guardian, 6 July 2009

71 'Inmate on Hunger Strike - UPDATED', Helptheprisoners.org, 21st February 2009 (Updated 23

February 2009), .


‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

are not members of such gangs, potentially resulting in large-scale bulling and


Accelerated radicalisation

The creation of Islamist gangs can also accelerate the transfer of Islamist ideology

to gang members, who are often obliged to adopt (or pretend to adopt) the

ideologies of the gangs’ leaders. Such individuals could be easily recruited by

extremist or even terrorist groups on their return to society – just as Richard Reid

and other convicted terrorists were recruited soon after they left prison.

Isolation from moderating influences

Members of prison gangs are often purposefully isolated from other prisoners

and possible moderating influences. The creation of gangs, due to their frequent

hostility to outsiders, therefore makes it harder for potentially positive

interventions, for example by moderate Muslim chaplains, to succeed and to

challenge their ideologies.

Barriers between Muslims and non-Muslims

Perhaps the most damaging long-term consequence of Islamist gangs is to create

long-lasting barriers between Muslims and non-Muslims. Muslims and non-

Muslims who leave prison and return to society, as many thousands do every year,

after being exposed to rivalry between religious/ethnic gang rivalry may in prison

have adopted a confrontational, ‘us and them’ worldview that will negatively

colour their future interactions with their fellow citizens.

Prison conversions

A number of prominent jihadists, such as Richard Reid and Mohammad al-Figari,

convert to Islam as a result of their experiences in British prisons. This possibly indicates

that such converts are often susceptible to radicalisation in British prisons.

Government bodies have reported on the growing trend of prisoners converting to

Islam. For example, the Independent Monitoring Board’s 2007-8 report on Wandsworth

prison noted, in somewhat un-nuanced language, its ‘concern that attempts are being

made by some Muslim prisoners to convert predominantly ethnic minority prisoners to

Islam, reflecting a national problem’. 72 The Independent Monitoring Board’s 2007-8

report on Whitemoor also noted the large numbers of prisoners converting to Islam

and linked this to ‘unrest’, ‘bullying’ and gang behaviour:

‘A major concern during the year has become the rapid increase in prisoners

claiming to have converted to the Muslim faith. IMB have been approached by

some prisoners concerned that bullying has been involved in the conversion.

Unrest amongst prisoners has, on some occasions, been attributed to religious

differences. This has been viewed very seriously by the prison management and

72 Independent Monitoring Board, ‘Annual Report of the Independent Monitoring Board: HMP

Wandsworth June 2007 – May 2008’, p.18..


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

all members of the chaplaincy. They are concerned it has exposed some

weaknesses in the confidence of staff to manage assertively allegations of

religious discrimination in the observance of rules and practices. This highlights

once again the urgent need for improved cultural awareness and guidance for

staff .... Nearly a quarter of the population attend Muslim prayers. The staff

require a great deal of skill to identify those prisoners who are using their faith

as a ‘smokescreen’ in order to influence other prisoners or convert them to Islam;

they may view it as the ‘strongest gang’ and to be a member will suit their

purpose’. 73

Most prison conversions probably occur for relatively prosaic reasons as a result of

loneliness, disillusionment and as part of a desire for friendship, brotherhood and

support. An article on prison conversions posted on the radical Islam4uk website says

many prisoners are attracted by the apparent solidarity of Muslim prisoners:

‘A painful lesson learnt by many prisoners is that, those who they once thought

of as family or loyal friends are the first to desert them as soon as they go to

prison. However they see the genuine loyalty and brotherhood between Muslim

prisoners and yearn for something similar. They see how Muslim inmates share all

of their food and favour others over themselves; they make sure that new

prisoners have every essential thing they might need from extra clothes to food

without ever expecting repayment. They see Muslims showing genuine love and

concern for each other and see how people of any race or colour is accepted into

Islam and treated as family. They see how, even if they argue or dispute, they

make up and forgive each other and they wish for something similar’. 74

Many prison conversions are positive and allow convicts to turn their backs on their old

life of crime and substance dependency. For example, a black convert interviewed for

a 2006 study of prison conversions said that:

73 Independent Monitoring Board, ‘HMP Whitemoor Annual Report 2008’,


74 ‘7 Reasons why people become Muslim in prison’, Islam4UK website, 18 May 2009,


Such sentiments are echoed by Babar Ahmed who, although not a

convert to Islam, has written of his own feelings about Islam in prison – which may reflect

the feelings of many converts, writing that: ‘Captivity for Allah teaches you not to expect

anything from anybody, except from Allah. The one who is abandoned by the people always

has Allah there for him. When all the doors are shut, Allah’s door remains open. When all

paths are blocked, the path to Allah’s Mercy remains open. Prison for Allah also teaches you

to find Divine Company when alone, to find comfort when ill, to find strength when weak

and to feel superior when conquered. You find that not only can you survive with enough

possessions to fit under a single bed, but that you can be happy – without family or friends,

without a house or car, without money or a bank account, without a computer or a phone

and more. You learn how to conquer your fears with courage and determination through

your Iman (faith)’. Babar Ahmed, ‘One Year in Captivity’, 6 September 2005, Cageprisoners,


‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘If you follow Islam correctly it helps with life in, in everything; as in you pray, it

keeps you away from bad intentions, that’s one of the main things and having

morals, like people need morals in life or you have nothing init? It gives you

respect and all your cleanliness and to sort of look after your surroundings ... You

know I don’t really want to go back out there and be mixed up in the same sort

of thing’. 75

As this account suggests many Muslim prisoners associate converting to Islam with a

rejection of bad habits, such as drug-taking, criminality and selfishness. Babar Ahmed

in 2008 describes the changes he had witnessed in converts in Category A prisons:

‘During the last four years I have personally witnessed the worst of men turn into

the best of men. I have seen gangsters, drug barons, armed robbers and

murderers, of all faiths and races, convert to Islam in prison. I have always been

inspired by converts since every conversion is a miracle, but seeing a hardened

criminal accept Islam is something else. Only the true religion is able to cause

genuine, lasting change in an individual in a short space of time’. 76

Although, many prison conversions produce solely beneficial results, this is not always

the case. While conversions often help individuals to cope with prison life as well as

giving up crime, drink and drugs, there is also the risk that prison converts will adopt

hardline interpretations of their new religion. For example, in 2007, a number of Islamic

websites published an open letter allegedly from Abdul Hakim, a white convert

previously known as Shevon Smith, who had adopted Islam as a result of his experiences

in several Category A prisons, including somel housing prominent extremists such as

HMPs Full Sutton, Whitemoor, Long Lartin and Frankland. He wrote that he was inspired

by watching other Muslim prisoners ‘practising Islam seriously’ and living ‘their lives

under Islam’. More significantly, he added that his adoption of what seems to be a fairly

hardline interpretation of Islam had a radical effect on how he views and treats other


‘Now, as for the personal change that I have gone through over the last year or

so. I’d say that alhamdulillah, my eeman [faith], taqwa [piety] and birr

[righteousness/goodness] has increased. This in turn has changed my whole way

of life. From the way I walk and talk to the people who I walk and talk with. The

crazy music that I used to listen to and drink to and dance to and do drugs to has

75 B. Spalek, S. El Hassan, ‘Religion in Prison: Conversion to Islam’, Prison Service Journal Is sue

163, 2006 (p. 13 20)

76 Babar Ahmed, ‘Four Years in Captivity’, Cageprisoners, 8 August 2008,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

all changed. And where before I use to respect what I did and the people who did

what I did, I no longer have that respect for it or them’. 77

The writer’s references to giving up music and to no longer ‘respecting’ people who

are not similarly conservative Muslims, strongly suggests that he has adopted a

relatively hard-line and probably Wahhabi-influenced form of Islam. There are several

reasons why new converts in prison might be drawn to Wahhabism (a highly

conservative interpretation of Islam originating in 18th century Arabia) or to Islamism:

Clear religious rulings

Wahhabi and Islamist interpretations of Islam are generally very rigid and are

based on clear set of rules. It therefore often appeals to converts looking for clear

guidance on their new religion.

Apparent authenticity

Wahhabi Islam frequently focuses on outward expressions of piety as expressed

through beards, ‘Islamic’ dress codes, use of religious greetings etc. This emphasis

on cultivating a traditional Arab appearance may lead converts to see this as ‘the

real Islam’. Wahhabi denunciations of other Muslims as deviants or heretics may

also lead new converts to view Wahhabism as more authentic than other


Concept of ‘Allegiance and Enmity’

The related Wahhabi doctrine of al-wala wa al-bara (literally ‘Allegiance and

enmity’) advocates a rejection of both non-Muslims and Muslims who considered

to be lapsed or heretical. This deliberate distancing from ‘non-Muslims’ may be

attractive to new converts looking to disassociate themselves from ‘western’

problems of alcohol-abuse, drugs and crime.

Glorification of violence

Wahhabist and Islamists routinely legitimise violence. Violence deemed acceptable

may include state violence towards homosexuals, women and non-Muslims. In

prison culture where violence is often admired and respected, a religious sect that

openly endorses violence may appear attractive.

77 Abdul Hakim, ‘From Kufr to Islam, From Imprisonment to Freedom’, 1 December, 2007,

Available on ‘Prisoners of Faith’ website:


‘Abu Abdullah’ who was imprisoned in Belmarsh in 2003 after being arrested on

suspicion of funding terrorism, was given similar accounts of sudden behavioural changes by

converts: ‘When inmates see that someone has converted, they immediately see the change

that comes over their character. The person stops lying, or blasting their music in the middle

of the night, they stop bullying people and they start giving their fellow inmate free food.

When the inmates see these changes and compare it to what they read on the news, many

do realise that something’s going on’. Source: Quoted in Javaid Iqbal, 'The 'Terrorist' Label

never wears off', Al-Istiqamah online magazine (January 2008).


‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Books and literature

Because Wahhabi prosletisation is massively funded by countries such as Saudi

Arabia, books and literature promoting wahhabist interpretations are usually

cheaper and more plentiful than ones promoting more tolerant forms of Islam.

Even in prison it is likely that individuals seeking information about Islam will end

up relying on wahhabi literature.

In addition, many prison chaplains are from the deobandi movement, which historically

had a degree of overlap with aspects of Wahhabism. The result of these factors

together help explain why many prison converts have adopted radical Islamist or

Wahhabi beliefs while in prison. For example, Abu Qatada, one of the world’s most

influence jihadist theologians, has written that:

‘We see the great signs of Allah within these prisons, as I have seen this religion

and how young men enter into Islam and then they turn into students of

knowledge and they learn Arabic and the Sharia [Islamic law/ethics] in a short

number of months along with an understanding of the reality of Tawhid

[monotheism], which one who lived as a Muslim in the Muslim countries is

ignorant of’. 78

Abu Qatada’s reference to these new converts ‘understanding of the reality of tawhid’

strongly suggests that these men have adopted hardline wahhabi beliefs while his

approving reference to them learning ‘the sharia’ suggests that they have embraced

Islamist beliefs similar to his own pro-al-Qaeda ideology. More troublingly, he also

writes that the conversions to Wahhabi-style Islam have been prompted by extremists’

teachings about ‘martyrdom and jihad’:

‘I wished to be able to detail the names of the young men and how they entered

into Islâm and sold themselves to Allah, due to the news of martyrdom and Jihad.

I wished to be able to give detailed accounts of the young men who lived in

Jahiliyyah [unbelief] for a long time and then when the Jihad in the path of Allah

came, they turned into worshippers and people who prayed the night and

memorizers of the Book of Allah and they learned Arabic. I wished to be able to

explain to you about the anxiety, angst and confusion of those British criminal

authorities regarding these events, which were strange to them, as they did not

know what to do with this extraordinary faithful outpouring’. 79

It is deeply disturbing that a proven pro-jihadist extremist like Abu Qatada is apparently

pleased that prisoners are converting to Islam after hearing about “martyrdom and


There are no statistics on how many people have converted to Islam in prison – the

78 Abû Qatâdah, ‘An Address to the Muslims’, At-Tibyān Publications, 23rd March 2009,


79 Abu Qatâdah, ‘An Address to the Muslims’, Al-Tibyan website, 23 March 2009,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

government does not collect them and they cannot be extracted from other surveys of

ethnicity and religious affiliation. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that the

numbers are considerable. For example, in addition to the observations of the

Independent Monitoring Boards at Wandsworth and Whitemoor (quoted above), there

are former prisoners such as ‘Abu Abdullah’, who was imprisoned in Belmarsh in 2003

on suspicion of funding terrorism, who has written that:

‘Prisoners, like the rest of the population, are indoctrinated by the media, yet

prisoners are still converting to Islam. One brother said he was in Belmarsh for

nine months and there were conversions every month’. 80

Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of those who convert to Islam are black. For

example, a 2006 study suggested that because nearly 20 per cent of Black Caribbeans

in prison were Muslim, this could be evidence of a disproportionate propensity by black

prisoners to convert to Islam (outside prisons, the report noted, less than 1 per cent of

Black Caribbeans are Muslim). 81 Similar trends have been observed in other countries

such as the US where famous black prison converts to Islam include Malcolm X and Mike

Tyson. 82 Abu Qatada has himself referred to a black prisoner converting to Islam,

referring to a brother ‘from Jamaica’ in the Long Lartin segregation unit who ‘recently

entered Islam and [has] taken the name, Bilal’. 83

As will be seen, those who adopt Islamism or join Muslim gangs in prison, often do so

in order to seek protection from violence or threats from white individuals or gangs. In

this context, it is significant that that non-Muslims who are particularly likely to suffer

disproportionate prison violence (such as paedophiles) may also be disproportionately

likely to convert to Islam. For example, in 2008, the Scottish Daily Record newspaper

reported that two men, a paedophile and a rapist, had both recently converted to Islam

in Scottish prisons. 84 In such cases it is likely that the seemingly solidarity and protection

offered by Muslim gangs is the main motivation for conversion – although such converts

may also be motivated by a belief that by accepting Islam their sins will be erased and

80 Quoted in Javaid Iqbal, 'The 'Terrorist' label never wears off', Al-Istiqamah online magazine

(January 2008).

81 B. Spalek, S. El Hassan, ‘Religion in Prison: Conversion to Islam’, Prison Service Journal Issue

163, 2006 (pp. 13 20)

82 For example, Dr J Michael Waller, in his 2003 testimony to the US Senate’s subcommittee on

Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security stated that prison converts to Islam ‘are

overwhelmingly black with a small, but growing Hispanic minority’. Source: Senate Testimony

of Dr. Michael Waller, 14 October 2003. See also ‘Black America, prisons and radical Islam’,

Centre for Islamic Pluralism (US), August 2008.

83 Abu Qatâdah, ‘An Address to the Muslims’, Al-Tibyan website


84 Amy Devine, ‘Paedophile Changes Name and Converts to Islam’, The Daily Record, 7 April

2008, .


‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

they can start afresh. It seems likely that in many cases converts who adopted Islam in

prison for protection will abandon their faith once they are released.

Similarly, prison authorities should be aware that a number of conversions to Islam may

be opportunistic attempts to access services which are perceived to offer better

treatment for Muslims. For example, Ian Brown, formerly the lead singer of the Stone

Roses, ‘converted’ to Islam while in prison in 1998 for an ‘air rage’ incident. He later said

that becoming Muslim ‘was the only way I could keep alive, foodwise. It was all dogfood

pies, so I went Muslim and I got lentils, chickpeas, rice and chicken curry on Friday.

They told me that half of Manchester [is] Muslim in Kirkham nick. It's the only way you

can be guaranteed chicken’. 85 Prison authorities should be aware, however, than even

those who convert initially for purely practical reasons can be radicalized through

contact with charismatic Islamist prisoners.

Deepening radicalisation and consolidation of beliefs

The initial adoption of radical beliefs by Muslim prisoners, whether through individual

recruitment or through joining an Islamist group, is often only the start of a much

longer period of radicalisation.

Radicalisation is rarely an overnight occurrence. More often it is a lengthy process that

may take months or years. The adoption of radical beliefs usually occurs within the

framework of friendship groups of extremist prisoners or within gangs – although it can

also occur alone, for example through reading radical literature.

Radicalisation through friendship groups

Although radicalisation is often thought of as a one-way process with an extremist

‘brain-washing’ others, the reality is more complex. Radicalisation often involves

debates, discussions and conversations about complex issues of theology that may lead

to all parties in the discussion adopting new – and perhaps more radical - views.

Individuals who are in the process of adopting radical beliefs are also generally

conscious that they are doing so (although they might not themselves describe this

process as ‘radicalisation’).

A number of extremist prisoners have written of the debates that they have had on

Islam in prison with other inmates. For example, Babar Ahmed has written that:

‘Common topics of conversation do not revolve around shallow pleasures like

careers, homes, food, money or cars. Instead we focus on how we will be re-united

for eternity with our families, friends and loved ones and how we will remember

and joke about our good times in prison when we reach Paradise. Insha-Allah. For

in Paradise there are no shackles, no restrictions, no basic diets, no locked doors,

no rules and no time-limited visits with one’s family’. 86

85 Dave Simpson, ‘The Rebel Inside’, The Guardian, 4 February 2000,


86 Barbar Ahmed, ‘One Year in Captivity’, Cageprisoners, 6th September 2005,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

Abu Qatada has similarly written of the conversations that took place between

extremist detainees in Belmarsh:

‘We remained with the brothers in this prison for three years and regretfully, I did

not complete very much [writing] in it, because the prison was communal with

the [Muslim] brothers (i.e. everyone was together) and discussions with them were

deep’. 87

In such discussions it is likely that well-read theologians like Abu Qatada will have

exercised a large degree of authority over other prisoners – as well as encouraging and

persuading them to adopt more radical theological positions (which Abu Qatada will

regard as a religious duty and a form of dawa). Indeed, once prisoners have shown

themselves to be receptive to radical ideologies, seasoned extremists will do almost

anything to entrench and deepen such latent radicalism. For example, in April 2009,

Hani al-Sibai, a former member of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad group

who lives in London and runs a popular pro-jihadist website, posted a briefing about

Muslims held in Belmarsh prison. In it he described Abu Hamza’s determination to

radicalise fellow prisoners by speaking through the pipes between cells, writing:

‘For the purpose of teaching the youth in the adjacent cells Sheikh Abu Hamza has

had to resort to reciting the Quran through the pipes that link the cells – which is

a tiresome procedure!’ 88

The Prison Service has periodically attempted to crack-down on radicalisation carried

out through small friendship groups – although how this is done often varies between

prisons. For example, Dhiren Barot has also complained that the Prison Service has been

keeping him at ‘arm's length from other inmates’ and writing that he is ‘nearly always

being placed on the wings where there are next to no practicing Muslims, Asians or

black persons’:

‘Any time the prison feels that I may have found a 'friend' that I may be 'overly'

socialising with, more often than not the individual/s concerned are promptly

shipped out to other establishments. Why? For irrational fear of 'sermonizing' or

'talent scouting' of course because they believe I have an arresting personality!

The same goes for physical training with other inmates’. 89

Similar allegations have been made by Abu Hamza in an interview from Belmarsh in

June 2008:

‘I pray in my cell. If we call the adhan [call to prayer] we are punished and we lose

more of our freedom and utilities. If we try to pray in congregation, we get

disciplined. We get strip searches. If we speak in our own languages, they call it

87 Abu Qatâdah, ‘An Address to the Muslims’, Al-Tibyan website


88 Hani Sibai, ‘Sheikh Abu Hamza and his brothers in Belmarsh...their life is in danger’, 22 April

2009. Available on website of Al-Maqreze Centre for Historical Studies’,



‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

preaching. If I try to teach, even the art of reading the Qu’ran or anything helpful,

we get a very hard time in prison’. 90

Abu Hamza additionally claimed that the policy of moving prisoners who have become

close to Abu Hamza is so well-known that inmates who wish to be moved to another

cell simply have to claim that he has influenced them:

‘Whenever they want to be moved from the H[igh] S[ecurity] U[unit], the inmates

shout ‘Allahu Akbar, give me a Qu’ran, I am a friend of Abu Hamza’. They then get

moved from the HSU, they do not need to waste time in legal proceedings as this

is a quick way to get a transfer’.

On occasion, the Prison Service has even feared that groups of detainees may even

substantially influence prison staff. For example, HM Inspectorate’s 2007 report on Long

Lartin’s segregation unit, which houses a number of intelligent and charismatic

detainees such as Abu Qatada, warned that “support for staff was necessary to prevent

their conditioning by a strong and united detainee group.” This is a powerful indication

of how persuasive a gang of ideologically driven and highly-committed extremists can

be and an important recognition that, over a long period, even non-Muslim prison staff

risk being won over to an extreme Islamist worldview. 91

In some instances, the Prison Service has quietly begun attempting to limit the

interaction between convicted or suspected extremists and ordinary Muslim prisoners

in order to minimise the risks of radicalisation. At Long Lartin prison, for instance,

suspected extremists detained while fighting deportation are kept in a separate unit

where they only rarely meet other prisoners (for example in the gym or while being

moved to other prisons). Babar Ahmed has remarked on the lack of interaction with

other prisoners at Long Lartin, writing:

‘There is only one major drawback at Long Lartin in comparison to other prisons

that I have been held in, and that is the limited interaction between detainees

and prisoners on the main population. There is some interaction but on the whole

detainees are kept isolated from other prisoners’. 92

At the same time, however, this segregation is not complete. For instance, HM

Inspectorate of Prisons’ 2007 report on the Long Lartin detainee unit said that detainees

had ‘some access’ to mainstream prisoners in ‘gym, education and visits’. 93 This is

corroborated by ‘Detainee DD’, a Libyan terror suspect who was also held at Long Lartin

89 Eesa Barot’s letter to the ummah, Al-Istiqamah online magazine, November 2007, ..

90 ‘Interview with Abu Hamza’, Cageprisoners, 6 June 2008


91 'An inspection of the category A detainee unit at HMP Long Lartin - July 2007', HM

Inspectorate of Prisons, 2008. p.18,

92 ‘Interview with Babar Ahmed’, Cageprisoners, 7th May 2008,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

and who has since been released on a control order, who said that:

‘In sports etc, they [non-Muslim prisoners] like to choose us [terror detainees] to

be part of their teams. Our friendship with them is so good that at times the

security guard has intervened to separate us’. 94

Despite such interventions, the Long Lartin procedures to ‘contain’ extremist detainees

appear to have, on occasion, been strikingly ineffective. For example, Abu Qatada has

written that while supposedly ‘secluded’ in Long Lartin, he managed to meet and

converse with Bilal Abdullah, who was later found guilty of attempting to explode carbombs

in London and Glasgow, and Mohammed Asha, who was cleared of involvement

in the same plot, 95 – even though both Abdullah and Asha were then being held in


‘Here in the solitary wing, where we have been secluded away from the world

and the rest of the prisoners, Allah has decreed that I was able to meet, for a short

time, with the doctor Muhammad Asha. And he was the one who was charged

along with the Iraqi doctor, Bilal Abdullah. And he [i.e. Abdullah] was a brother

whom I met in the Masjid [mosque], while I was secluded alone in Belmarsh, on

the day of Jumu’ah [Friday], and then I met him (again) within the prisoner

transport van, which was taking him to the trial’. 96

Attempts to prevent extremists from mixing with others have also sporadically taken

place in other prisons’. 97 For example, in 2007 that Omar Khyam’s wife reported her

husband was being preventing from attending educational courses in Frankland prison.

From the perspective of preventing further radicalisation, limiting the interaction

93 'An inspection of the category A detainee unit at HMP Long Lartin - July 2007', HM

Inspectorate of Prisons, 2008. p. 26,


94 ‘Interview with Detainee D.D’, Cageprisoners, 8th April 2008,


95 ‘Doctor Guilt of Car Bomb Attacks’, BBC News, 16th December 2008,


96 Bilal Abdullah clearly made a good impression. Abu Qatada wrote that ‘this doctor, Bilal

Abdullah is truthfully a man from the men of Islam, in knowledge, action, steadfastness and

manhood, as he has memorized the Book of Allah. He is a scholar in Fiqh and Hadith and he

took faithful stances, during his trial, in which he said words that can be raised up with the

words of the Salaf – may the pleasure of Allah be upon them. I felt insignificant, while he

was saying (to me): ‘I have been influenced by your audio tapes a lot. And all praise is due to

Allah, the Lord of all the worlds’. Source: Abu Qatâdah, ‘An Address to the Muslims’, Al-

Tibyan website



‘Statement from Mrs. Khyam about mistreatment of Omar Khyum in H.M.P Frankland’,

Cageprisoners, 30th September 2007,



‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

between extremists and other prisoners is often wise. But at the same time, this

isolation threatens the mental health of prisoners and makes them more frustrated at

the prison system – as well as limiting their opportunities, in this instance, to take part

in education programmes that may help them to reform. It also means that the chances

of such extremists recanting their views through being exposed to new ideas or

perspective is almost minimal. The obvious inconsistencies in such a policy towards

Islamist extremists alone can also create the impression that Muslims are being

victimised by the government – and in turn create further radicalisation. Mustapha

Taleb (‘Detainee Y’) has written from Long Lartin that:

‘We were not allowed to mix with other prisoners in the beginning, we were not

allowed to go to education; we were not allowed to go to the gym, only we have

a gym room in here, a small gym room. The treatment, it’s awful … Everything is

bad. The visits have to be cleared by the security services and it takes a long, long

time. So if someone wants to visit you, when you start telling him about the

process and the timing, he’s just scared, you know. And no one comes to visit’. 98

Prisons have a choice: they can segregate extremist prisoners to a greater or lesser

degree, thereby causing further anger and frustration, or they can let them mix with

the general prison population, knowing that it will be impossible to stop radicalisation

from occurring among small groups of prisoners or in one-to-one interactions. The only

substantial alternative to these choices is to attempt to ‘de-radicalise’ extremists in order

to make it possible to allow them to mix with the other prisoners.

Radicalisation through literature

Reading extremist literature (pamphlets, books etc) plays a key role in systematising

and solidifying an individual’s extremists beliefs. There is evidence that extremists in

British prisons have enjoyed access to a range of extreme Islamist and pro-jihadist texts.

This is unacceptable.

In addition to receiving religious instruction from extremist prisoners, individuals in the

process of adopting radical beliefs also carry out a large amount of private reading.

Islamists in prison frequently refer to their reading and also to their belief that prison

time should be used productively. Babar Ahmed, writing from Long Lartin, has

summarised how many Islamists see their time in prison, writing that ‘There is no time

to rest; that will come later. Prison is not a place of rest’ and that ‘now I understand why

prison is known as the University of Islamic Knowledge’. 99

Historically, books and other literature have frequently played a key role In Islamist

radicalisation worldwide. Extreme Islamism is not a knee-jerk response to current affairs

or an individual’s experiences. Instead it is based around a complex theological

understanding of Islamic scriptures and traditions. Extremist texts are important in

98 ‘The Long Lartin Interviews: Moazzam Begg Interviews Mustapha Taleb, Cageprisoners, 11th

March 2008, .

99 Babar Ahmed, ‘Three Years in Captivity’, 17 August 2007



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

prison radicalisation because they allow individuals to systematise their views in private

and introduce new ideas to group discussions – while the printed and published nature

of such texts may also seem to apply a stamp of approval to a ‘prison Islam’ that might

otherwise seem insufficiently weighty. The books that prisoners have access to are

therefore crucial in shaping their understanding of Islam and correspondingly their

attitude to the world around them. There are numerous indications that extremist

prisoners have access to a variety of radical Islamist literature – and that this literature

is concretising the radical worldview of imprisoned Islamists. For example, Babar Ahmed

in 2005 wrote that:

‘This past year I read ‘Milestones’ by Sayyid Qutb (RH) for the first time and

realised why he was executed for writing this masterpiece. It answered many of

the questions in my mind about prison, and the wisdom behind victory and defeat.

I read, for the first time, ‘Return of the Pharaoh’ by Zainab Al-Ghazali (who

recently passed away in August 2005, May Allah have Mercy on her)’. 100

Qutb’s Milestones is widely seen as the book that directly led to the creation of modern

jihadism, being described by Gilles Kepel for instance as ‘a manifesto for radical Islamism

in the last quarter of the twentieth century’. 101 Even hardline Saudi preachers have

recognized Qutb’s role in creating jihadist thought – for example in September 2009

Sheikh Al-Sahaimi al-Harbi, a prominent Saudi preacher in the main mosque in Medina

and advisor in the Saudi Ministry of Religious Affairs, called for Qutb’s books to be

banned because of their role in encouraging terrorism. 102 Zainab Al-Ghazali’s book

meanwhile (referred to in Chapter 3) is an autobiographical work written by a senior

female Muslim Brotherhood member about her time in prison in Egypt in the 1960s –

in which she additionally glorifies Qutb as a martyr. Babar Ahmed is most likely referring

to the book’s English-language edition which is published and sold by the Islamic

Foundation, an Islamist organization based in Leicester. It is unclear how such books

got into a Category A prison (Ahmed was imprisoned at Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons

during this period). Were these books owned by individual prisoners? Or were they in

the prison library after being purchased by the Prison Service or donated by external

organisations? Separately, were they sent into prison to Ahmed by individuals or

organizations outside prison? Or even brought into prison by sympathetic lawyers?

Books that support violent jihad or which idealize and promote hardline Islamist figures

should not be in British prisons.

Several Muslim organisations currently provide books to Muslim prisoners. Some of

these, such as the Muslim Youth Helpline, are well-respected organisations that have

consistently opposed extremism. 103 Other organisations that claim to supply books to

100 Barbar Ahmed, ‘One Year in Captivity’, 6 September 2005,


101 G. Kepel, The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West (Harvard University Press, 2006), p.


102 'Suhaimi: Fighting terrorism requires a clear outline and calling a spade a spade', Al-Riyadh

(Arabic-language Saudi newspaper), 7 September 2009.



‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

prisons are perhaps less mainstream. One such organisation is the Al-Ikhlas Foundation

(which also operates under the name of the ‘Muslim Prisoner Support Group’). Until

2009, one of this organisation’s trustees was an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist, Mohammed

Al-Ghabra, a Syrian whose assets have been frozen by the UN and HM Treasury and

who has been accused of acting as a ‘fixer’ for the 21-7 bomb plot. 104 In 2009 another

of the charity’s trustees, Abbas Taj, was convicted for taking part in the firebombing of

the London home of a publisher whose company had published a controversial book

on the wife of Muhammed, Islam’s founder. 105 In its incarnation as the Muslim

PrisonerSupport Group, the Ikhas Foundation claims to ‘distribute funds amongst

Muslim prisoners to purchase phone cards and tuck-shop items, etc., and enrol on study

programs’ and to ‘purchase and deliver Islamic resources to Muslim Imams and

Prisoners’. 106 Similarly, As-Sabeel, a Wahhabi bookshop based in Reading that distributes

books by major pro-jihadist writers such as Abdullah Azzam and Anwar al-Awlaki, also

appears to be involved in sending books to Muslims in prison. 107 For example, an

individual claiming to be from As-Sabeel has written on the pro-jihadist ‘Islamic

Awakening’ website appealing for readers to donate books which can be sent to

Muslim prisoners – and also saying that if Muslim prisoners request specific books they

will send them. 108 It is not known which, if any, books have been sent into prison by this


To its credit, the Prison Service seems to be partially awake to this potential danger and

to have made a number of apparently adhoc decisions about which books which

prisoners have access to. For example, Dhiren Barot, an experienced jihadist convicted

103 ‘Prison campaign,’ Muslim Youth Helpline website,


104 Bank of England, ‘News Release: Financial Sanctions: Terrorist Financing & Al-Qa'ida and the

Taliban’, 21 December 2006,

. David Leppard, 'Fixer

for 21/7 plot free in London', Sunday Times, 15 July 2007, <

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article2076241.ece>. Paul Jump,

'Commission removes trustee with Al Qaeda link', Third Sector Online, 23 October 2008, <


105 Duncan Gardham, ‘Muslim extremist firebombed home of man who published book on

Prophet Mohammed’, Daily Telegraph, 16 May 2009, <


The Charity Commission has deleted from its website all records of Abbas’s involvement with

the Ikhas Foundation.

106 ‘Muslim Prisoner Support Group’


107 http://www.assabeel.net/store/Products/ViewProductDetails.aspx?CategoryID=1&ProductID=27479&ID=0>;


108 Forum discussions: ‘Books for Prisoners’, Islamic Awakening website, 19 April 2009,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

of planning terrorist attacks in the UK, has complained that:

‘[I am] being denied suitable Islamic literature/ CDs for several years under some

excuse or another, save for the most elementary of titles. These are mostly from

the Indo/Pak subcontinent, paralysed and jaundiced due to Government

influence’. 109

From the perspective of preventing radicalisation, Barot’s complaints about not

receiving “suitable” (i.e. extremist) literature are welcome. However, the Prison Service

could arguably go beyond providing ‘the most elementary of titles’ to prisoners such as

Barot. Instead it should perhaps consider supplying him and other prisoners with more

complex theological works by tolerant and progressive Muslim scholars that will, over

time, help to counter the intolerant Islamist ideology of al-Qaeda and other groups.


FACT BOX: Al-Qaeda advice for prisoners

Jihadist and extreme Islamist groups are aware that governments will aim to

use prison to pressure captured individuals and to seek to make these

prisoners inform on their colleagues. An Al-Qaeda manual seized by police

in Manchester in May 2000 gives extensive details on what sort of treatment

captured prisoners should expect and tells them how to survive

imprisonment and even to use it to their advantage. 110 The manual says that

interrogations can be compared to ‘psychological warfare and intellectual

combat between the intelligence agent and the suspect through questions

and answers ... The interrogation uses all kinds of physical and psychological

techniques to break the will of the suspect and lead him to a total collapse’.

Use time to educate themselves and others

The manual tells readers that they should use their time in prison to educate

themselves and others, while also resisting the prison authorities: ‘The

brothers should create an Islamic program for themselves inside the prison,

as well as recreational and educational ones, etc. The brother in prison

should be a role model in selflessness. Brothers should also pay attention to

each other’s needs and should help each other and unite vis a vis the prison


109 Eesa Barot’s letter to the ummah, Al-Istiqamah online magazine, November 2007, .

110 The Arabic-language al-Qaeda training manual, ‘Military Studies in the Jihad against the

Tyrants’, was discovered by British police during a search of the Manchester home of Anas

Al-Libi, a senior al-Qaeda member, in May 2000. A translated version is available on the

website of the US Department of Justice: .


‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Factbox continued

Warns of prison strategies

The manual says that prison authorities may use solitary confinement against

suspected terrorists, saying that typical tactics include ‘isolating the brother

socially, cutting him off from public life, placing him in solitary confinement,

and denying him news and information in order to make him feel lonely’. It

adds that they might also control ‘everything the brother does, even in

private, whether he is awake or asleep, to convince him that they are in

charge. They would force him to bow his head and look down while talking

with the guards’.

Mental preparation

The manual also tells al-Qaeda members that they should be mentally

prepared to face ‘psychological coercion (threats and harsh words)’ and

warns them that ‘every word that the brother utters ... makes a negative

impact on him, on his colleagues, and later, on the [court’s] judgement’.

Resist prison authorities

It also tells readers that arrest and imprisonment can be turned to the

suspect’s advantage. ‘The interrogation is a major opportunity for the

[Islamic] group as long as the brother is tactful, bright, and observant’ and

advises that ‘from the first moment in captivity, the brother should proudly

take a firm and opposing position against the enemy and not obey the

orders. The more firm and opposing the reaction, the more beneficial it is.

These reactions will not lead to harsher treatment’.

Waste time and make false allegations

The manual also says that prisoners should make allegations of torture and

mistreatment in order to complicate the task of the prosecution: ‘Once in

the prosecution center, however, he should say that he was tortured, deny

all his prior confessions, and ask that the interrogation be repeated’.


Key Islamist groups


Global jihadist movement headed by Osama bin Laden. Since carrying out

the 9-11 attacks, the group has relocated from Afghanistan to Pakistan from

where it has continued to plan and co-ordinate jihadist attacks - the leaders

of the 7 July 2005 bomb attacks in London were trained by al-Qaeda in


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

Factbox continued

Pakistan while other British Muslims have been convicted of being al-Qaeda

members. The group has affiliated off-shoots in Iraq, Somalia and North

Africa which have also carried out terrorist attacks.

Egyptian Islamic Jihad

An Egyptian Islamist movement which was established in the mid-1970s to

overthrow the Egyptian government and establishing an Islamic state. In the

early 1990s, several of the group’s key members, including Ayman al-

Zawahiri, helped to found al-Qaeda. Since the 1990s, a number of the

group’s senior leaders have been based in the UK. Some of these were

subsequently imprisoned pending deportation to Egypt; others continue to

live freely in London.

Libyan Islamic Fighting Group

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was founded in the mid-1990s with the

aim of creating a hardline Islamic state in Libya. In the 1990s the group’s

leaders were forced to flee Libya, resettling primarily in Sudan, Afghanistan

and the UK. After the group began working with al-Qaeda, the UK arrested

a number of its members intending to deport them; in most cases, they

appealed successfully against their deportation and they presently live freely

in the UK.


A UK-based organisation established in the mid-1990s by former members of

Hizb ut-Tahrir, a worldwide organisation dedicated to establishing a global

Islamic state. Led by Omar Bakri Mohammed, a Syrian, the group promoted

the idea of a global caliphate and supported al-Qaeda’s Jihad. Al-

Muhajiroun influenced a number of British Muslims to carry out terrorist

attacks in the UK and Israel.

Supporters of Sharia

An organisation formerly based in Finsbury Park mosque in London and led

by Abu Hamza, an Egyptian. It campaigned for the establishment of hardline

Sharia law in the UK and actively supported hard-line Islamist movements

abroad including terrorist organisations such as the Armed Islamic Group in

Algeria and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Abu Hamza’s sermons in Finsbury

Park mosque inspired a number of Muslims to travel to Afghanistan,

Chechnya and Yemen to join terrorist groups.


‘Pull’ factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda


Cageprisoners and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

Cageprisoners, run by Moazzam Begg, a former prisoner in Guantanamo

Bay, is heavily funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, one of the

UK’s pre-eminent charitable foundations. In June 2007, for instance,

Cageprisoners received £50,000 from the JRCT “to support Moazzam Begg's

work in educating, advocating and inspiring people about the possibilities

of reconciliation between the values of the west and Islam”. 111 In November

2008, Cageprisoners received an additional £120,000 grant from JRCT to

support its “core costs”. Since then Cageprisoners has:

Acted as a conduit between convicted extremists such as Abu Hamza

and their supporters and sympathisers outside prison. Many of these

communications from within prison aim to make British Muslims

believe that the British government and British people are opposed to

Muslims and their religion and amount to pro-extremist propaganda.

Sought to host active supporters of Al-Qaeda and other jihadist

movements. For example, in August 2009, Cageprisoners planned to

hold an event in London which would include an video address from

Anwar Awlaki, a US-Yemeni preacher who is openly supportive of Al-

Qaeda. 112 Although Awlaki’s speech was not aired (following

intervention by anti-extremism campaigners) it was later released

online by Cageprisoners and featured Awlaki quoting Abu Mohammed

Al-Maqdisi, the world’s most influential pro-jihadist theologian, and

praising him as “one of the greatest scholars of our time”. 113

Given that the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust is explicitly based on

“Quaker values”, its financial support for Cageprisoners is hard to explain,

particular as the Trust claims that it “does not invest in armaments,

111 Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, ‘Grants Database. Source: <



112 Nefa Foundation, ‘Anwar Al-Awlaki: Pro-Al-Qaeda ideologue with influence in the West’, 5

February 2009,


113 ‘Cageprisoners: Banned Speech by Anwar al-Awlaki - Part 2 of 3’ [01:40]. Available on

youtube.com. Source: .

114 Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, ‘Trust Finance’. Source:


115 Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, ‘Trust Finance’. Source: ‘Grants Database’



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘Pull’ factors

Factbox continued

gambling, tobacco or alcohol, and takes a range of other ethical factors into

account in our investment policy”. 114 Disturbingly, however, these are not

the only idiosyncratic funding decisions made by the JRCT: In November

2005, the Trust gave £60,000 to the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC)

towards covering their “core costs for implementing a communication

strategy”. 115 The IHRC is an Iranian-backed lobby group that organizes an

annual pro-Hezbollah event called ‘Al-Quds Day’ in Trafalgar Square. The

September 2009 Al-Quds Day, involved a number of Islamist groups such as

Islamic Forum Europe and the Muslim Association of Britian, while advertised

speakers included Daud Abdullah who had recently endorsed jihadist attacks

on the Royal Navy. 116

116 Islamic Human Rights Commission, ‘PRESS RELEASE: UK / Palestine – Annual Al-Quds Day

March and Rally, 13 September, 2009 ‘ . Jamie

Doward, ‘British Muslim Leader urged to quit over Gaza’, The Observer, 8 March 2009,



Push factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

5. Push factors

Islamist extremists who actively try to convert others to their interpretation of Islam

represent only one half of the picture of radicalisation. There are also ‘push’ factors

which make ordinary Muslim prisoners (and some non-Muslims) susceptible to

extremists’ messages by ‘pushing’ them away from mainstream society and towards


One of the most important of these ‘push’ factors are the essentially spiritual crises,

mentioned in earlier chapters, which arise as a result of an individual’s imprisonment.

An article on the radical ‘Islam4UK’ website writes that such factors push people

towards adopting basic religious and spiritual beliefs which may be the first steps

towards radicalisation:

‘It is only natural (i.e. part of the Fitrah [man’s innate nature]) that in difficult

circumstances and hardship, people remember their creator and Lord. It is in the

hardest of times, when nobody else can help, that even the ‘atheist' remembers

that he has a Lord that he can call upon for help’. 117

In addition to such spiritual crises, however, there are specific issues in prisons that

create grievances among ordinary Muslims which can then be exploited by extremists

looking to recruit followers to radical Islamist ideologies.

Violence by non-Muslim prisoners

Muslim prisoners, both extremists and ordinary Muslims, frequently perceive themselves

as being targeted for violence or otherwise victimized by non-Muslim prisoners on

account of their faith. This can lead to such Muslims either joining or creating Muslim

or Islamist gangs for protection. It can also lead to them adopting Islamist ideologies

which portray such violence as evidence that non-Muslims are innately hostile towards

Muslims and Islam.

Violence and hostility towards convicted extremists is commonplace in many British

prisons. There are many recorded instances of extremist prisoners being specifically

targeted by other prisoners. For example, Abu Rideh has said that‘ My detention at

Belmarsh was characterised by constant abuse, ritual humiliation, derogatory comments

about my wife’s clothes and racist taunts’. 118 He also reported physical attacks by other

inmates in Broadmoor prison, writing that ‘on 17 March 2003, I was visited by members

of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment.

Whilst they were on the Ward, they witnessed an unsolicited attack on me by another

patient’. This attack was confirmed by the committee’s report which stated that ‘the

117 ‘7 Reasons why people become Muslim in prison’, Islam4UK website, 18 May 2009


118 'Statement by Mahmoud Abu Rideh to the Mental Health Review Tribunal', 1 March 2005.

Available on website of 'Luton Muslims' organisation.



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors

delegation itself witnessed such an unprovoked attack, which might have led to injury

had its members not been able to intervene’. 119 Unsurprisingly such treatment,

combined with being imprisoned without trial for over a year before being released on

a stringent control order, has led Abu Rideh to believe that Muslims in the UK are

routinely victimized, telling one interviewer in 2008 that “The animals are [treated]

better than Muslims in this country“. 120 Such statements show that not only has Abu

Rideh turned against the UK but also that he is perhaps keen to persuade other British

Muslims that the UK is against them.

One of the most disturbing sequences of violence between Muslim and non-Muslim

prisoners comes from Frankland prison. Here tensions between convicted extremists

and non-Muslims exploded into violence in 2007-8, leading to inmates being dowsed

in boiling oil or stabbed and individual cells being set alight; a cycle of violence that led

to a riot in which a number of prison staff where injured (See case study box for full

details). This incident illustrates how initial violence against convicted terrorists can lead

to them forming gangs for mutual protection, resulting in retaliatory attacks against

non-Muslims which in turn lead to further violence that polarizes inmates along

religious and ethnic lines.


Violence in Frankland prison

One of the most striking example of violence between Muslims and non-

Muslims comes from Frankland prison where four high-profile convicted

terrorists, Dhiren Barot, Omar Khyam, Kemal Bourgass and Hussein Osman,

along with other Muslim prisoners, became involved in an increasingly tense

stand-off with white non-Muslim gangs from mid-2007 which erupted into

violence shortly afterwards.

On 30 July 2007, Omar Khyam, recently convicted of leading the ‘Crevice’

bomb plotters, was moved into Frankland prison, co-incidentally on the same

day as the attempted bombing of Glasgow airport. 121 White prisoners

immediately sought to intimidate and threaten him. Khyam’s wife described

him telling her by phone that “It’s gonna kick off. It’s just a matter of time


European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or

Punishment Report to the Government of the United Kingdom on the visit to the United

Kingdom carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and

Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 14 to 19 March 2004'

(Strasbourg: CPT, 9 June 2005).

120 'Moazzam Begg Interviews Mahmoud Abu Rideh', Cageprisoners, 17 June 2008,


121 BBC Online, ‘Five get life over UK bomb plot’, BBC News, 30 April 2007,


122 ‘Muslim prisoners under attack’, Al-Istiqamah, August 2007,



Push factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda


before something happens”. 122 She said Khyam was also warned by “other

Muslim brothers” in the prison that they had “heard inmates talking and

saying that they’re going to get you. They’re saying that they’re going to

burn you alive, to stab you.” Khyam soon entered solitary confinement, at

his own request, for protection.

On 6 July, Dhiren Barot, another jihadist convicted of planning terrorist

attacks in London, was attacked by a 22 year-old white non-Muslim inmate,

who threw a pan of boiling oil over him. 123 Barot suffered extensive secnd

and third degree burns to his head and body, causing him to become

temporarily blind and in urgent need of hospital treatment (which he

received only after a three-day delay). 124 Two weeks later, on 22 July 2007,

white-non-Muslim prisoners torched the cell of Hussein Osman, convicted of

involvement in the 21-7 bomb plot, destroying his clothes, books and

personal possessions. Osman was immediately put into segregation – at his

own request.

In segregation, Khyam and others continued to be threatened by white-non-

Muslim prisoners. His wife said that even when Khyam takes exercise in the

prison yard “he is sectioned off by fencing” but that “Barot’s attackers are

in the yard at the same time, and they have called across the fence to my

husband, ‘Who are you? Why are you here?’ I think they’re trying to work

out which Muslim prisoner is Omar Khyam.” She also reported that Barot’s

attackers had been ‘gloating’ over their successful attack and that Khyam

“heard them loudly gloating about having attacked Eesa [Barot], shouting

across to the other prisoners in nearby cells.”

On 17 October, having left segregation to re-join the main prison population

after being refused a move to another prison, Khyam himself attacked a

white-non-Muslim inmate, throwing boiling water and oil over him, causing

extensive burns. The man related later that Khyam “just poured a whole pan

over my head. Then he just walked up to [the guards] with his hands up. The

pain I felt was unreal. The next thing I know I was put in a shower with cold

water until the ambulance came. It was agony. I still had all my clothes on. I

123 Gary Moody, a convicted mugger, was charged in relation to this attack but charges were

later dropped when Barot refused to press charges. See ‘Terrorists moved to new jail after

death threats’, The Daily Telegraph, 20 March 2008,


124 Charges against Moody in relation to this attack were later dropped – reportedly at the

request of Barot. BBC online, ‘Bomb plotter admits jail attack’, BBC News, 2 June 2008,


125 ‘Man wounded by Crawley terrorist tells his story’, This is Sussex.co.uk, 13 October 2008,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors


didn't want to take them off because it would rip my skin off”. 125 Khyam

was tried for this attack and sentenced to an additional four years

imprisonment after claiming that he had acted in self-defence. 126

Barot interpreted Khyam’s attack on Malcolm Cruddas as a revenge attack

and as evidence that ‘the prison brotherhood’ was ‘fighting back’, writing

that “it comes as no surprise that the prison brotherhood is starting to

defend themselves and fight back using the same means and methods as

employed by the white racists/ Islamaphobes ... Alhamdulillah [praise be to

God]’. 127 The Independent Monitor Board reported additional violence,

reporting ‘a concerted effort by Muslims and influenced white prisoners to

smash nine cells during a night period’ and adding that prisoners were

acting ‘under the mistaken belief that if they were a problem they would be

transferred to another preferred prison’. 128

In March 2008, Khyam was finally moved to Full Sutton prison and Barot to


Violence between Muslim and non-Muslim white prisoners at Frankland

continued, however. In March 2008, an Islamist website reported that one

Muslim inmate had been attacked twice in three days. The first attack

reportedly left him requiring stitches to his head while in the second attack

‘two prisoners bit off part of his ear, leaving it virtually hanging loose by a

thread’. 129 A few months later, in July 2008, a group of white-non-Muslim

prisoners set fire to the cell belonging to Kemal Bourgass, an Algerian

convicted of murdering a police officer during police investigations into the

‘Ricin Plot’ (for which Bourgass was also convicted). 130 In response to the

attack on Bourgass, a Muslim prisoner slashed a white inmate with a homemade

knife, causing a full-scale riot to erupt between rival groups. 131 A

126 Neil Hunter, ‘Boiling oil bid was not prompted by jail move bid’, The Northern Echo, 4 June



127 Eesa Barot’s letter to the ummah, Al-Istiqamah online magazine, November 2007, .

128 Independent Monitoring Boards, ‘HMP Frankland: Annual Report, 1 December 2007 – 30

November 2008’, ,


129 ‘ Further racist attacks in Frankland Prison’, ‘Help the Prisoners’ website and Arani Solicitors,

18 March 2008. This is available on the website of ‘Help the Prisoners’:


130 BBC online, ‘Killer jailed over poison plot’, BBC News, 13 April 2005,


131 ‘ Prison officers hurt in jail riot’, Worcester News, 2 July 2008,



Push factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda


number of prison officers were injured before they restored order to the

prison. In August 2008, Abdul Muhid, a member of al-Muhajiroun arrived in

Frankland from Belmarsh. Within a month white-non-Muslim gangs had

discovered his identity, leading to his cells and his possessions also being

burnt in September 2008. Two weeks later, according to al-Muhajiroun

supporters, Abdul Muhid was physically attacked by a convicted murderer –

although without sustaining any serious injuries. 132

The events at Frankland prison, and the violence perpetrated there, show

how tensions between rival religio-ethnic groups can quickly escalate into a

cycle of extreme violence if not tackled in time. This case also shows how

initially isolated attacks on a small number of convicted extremists can

swiftly evolve into a much wider conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims,

leading to inmates becoming polarised along religious lines.


Timeline - Violence at Frankland prison

Early July 2007 – Threats issued against Omar Khyam

6 July – Dhiren Barot attacked with boiling oil

22 July - Hussein Osman’s cell burnt

17 October – Omar Khyam attacks white inmate with boiling oil

Late October – Muslim prisoners vandalise segregation unit

March 2008 – Muslim prisoner attacked twice in three days

2 July – Kemal Bougass’ cell is attacked and burnt. Riot between Muslim and

white prisoners

September – Abdul Muhid’s cells is burnt

September – Abdul Muhid attacked by white prisoners

Disturbingly, it is not only convicted extremists who feel threatened by non-Muslim

prisoners and who therefore risk being pushed into forming gangs for protection or

towards adopting the facile certainties of Islamist ideologies. Official government that

surveys of Muslim prisoners’ attitudes have repeatedly indicated similar fears of racist

and violent attacks are widespread among Muslim inmates – and not only among those

convicted of terrorism and related offences. For example, the 2007-8 annual report by

the HM Inspectorate of Prisons included a comprehensive survey of 415 Muslim

prisoners and 2,973 non-Muslims. This found that only 64 per cent of Muslims ‘felt safe’

on their first night in prison (compared to 83 per cent of non-Muslims), that 24 per cent

132 ‘Prisoner TT6649’, Islam4UK website, March 2009, .


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors

felt unsafe in prison ‘at this moment’ (compared to 16 per cent of non-Muslims) and

that 10 per cent felt they had been ‘victimized’ on account of their ‘religion/ religious

beliefs’ by others prisoners (compared to 2 per cent of non-Muslims). The same survey

also showed that Muslim prisoners were significantly less likely than other prisoners to

believe that they would be adequately assisted by the prison authorities. In addition,

only 58 per cent of Muslims believed that they had a ‘member of staff’ that they ‘could

turn to for help’ (compared to 69 per cent of non-Muslims) while also being

substantially less likely to feel that their complaints were ‘sorted out promptly’ or

‘sorted out fairly’ by the prison authorities. 133 Taken together, these figures – showing

a fear of attack and a lack of trust in the prison authorities help explains why many

Muslims may turn to Muslim gangs or Islamist groups for protection. The social

dynamics of prison (particularly in regard to tribalistic loyalties or the creation of gangs)

are notoriously difficult to change. However, it is clear that the Prison Service needs to

do more to tackle this. A good place to start is to make Muslim prisoners feel that their

concerns and their safety are taken more seriously than they feel they are at present –

for instance by responding more quickly when a prisoner reports that they are afraid

of being attacked by other prisoners. Recruiting more Muslims to work in front-line

roles in prisons will also be useful in tackling negative perceptions of the Prison Service.

Perceived hostility from prison staff

Muslims in prison who suffer discrimination or prejudice from prison staff are more

likely to be susceptible to Islamist ideologies that argue that non-Muslims are innately

hostile to Islam and Muslims.

It is therefore troubling that surveys by the government and by independent

organizations consistently indicate that Muslim prisoners are more likely than almost

any other group to feel discriminated against, victimized or ignored by prison staff.

This appears to be the case across the Prison Service and not just in high-security units

which hold large numbers of terrorists and terrorist suspects. For example, the 2007-8

annual report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons reported that in its survey of 1,000 Muslim

and non-Muslim prisoners in a variety of establishments, 38 per cent of Muslims

believed they had ‘been victimised (insulted or assaulted) by a member of staff’

(compared to 24 per cent of non-Muslims) and that 30 per cent felt that they had been

‘threatened or intimidated by a member of staff’ (compared to 20 per cent of non-

Muslims). 134

Reports of alleged institutional racism and discrimination within the Prison Service are

not new. Issues of racism within British prisons were most strikingly brought to public

attention after Zahid Mubarek, a 20 year-old petty criminal, was killed in Feltham

Young Offenders Institution in 2000 by his cell-mate Robert Stewart, a racist psychopath

133 HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 'HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales: Annual

Report 2007–08', 28 January 2008. All figures from,



134 HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 'HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales: Annual

Report 2007–08', 28 January 2008, ,

p. 92.


Push factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

who had 19 separate convictions for 73 offences. 135 The subsequent public inquiry into

Mubarek’s death (published in 2006) reported numerous individual and institutional

failings at Feltham and issued 88 recommendations to the Prison Service. This

publication was preceded by an influential report by the Commission for Racial Equality

which similarly listed a number of ways in which the Prison Service could do more to

tackle religious inequality and discrimination in prisons.

The Prison Service’s leadership has taken substantial and significant action to

acknowledge and address such concerns. For example, in December 2008, the Prison

Service published ‘Race Review 2008: Implementing Race Equality in prisons – Five years

on’. This lists the numerous ways in which British Muslims " and Black and Minority

Ethnic (BME) prisoners in general " may feel discriminated against within British prisons.

It also details the numerous initiatives that the Prison Service has taken to tackle these

problems. Important initiatives undertaken throughout the Prison Service include

increasing the number of BME staff in prisons, training staff in order to increase their

understanding of Muslim-specific issues (such as the importance of halal food and Friday

prayers) and making it easier for prisoners to report racist incidents. 136 However it is

unclear whether these initiatives are fully translating into changes at ground-level. One

former prison chaplain, who was instrumental in setting up the Prison Service’s Muslim

chaplaincy, in early 2009 described the Prison Service as ‘institutionally racist and

institutionally Islamophobic’ and added that ‘I have not seen any real progress in twenty

years’. 137

Such perceptions are at least partly borne out by the government’s own reports into

prisoners’ perceptions of their treatment – including surveys carried out at prisons

where there is a notable concentration of extremist inmates. For example, the 2008

inspection of Whitemoor prison by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons found that Muslim

prisoners were disproportionately likely to cite problems with prison staff. For example,

80 per cent of Muslims surveyed there reported that they had been ‘insulted or

assaulted by a member of staff’ – compared to 72 per cent of BME prisoners in general

and only 40 per cent of white prisoners. Similarly, only 40 per cent of Muslims, compared

with 65 per cent of non-Muslims, said that staff treated them with ‘respect’. 138 The

135 Dominic Casciani, ‘The murder of Zahid Mubarek’, BBC News, 29 June 2006


136 Ministry of Justice,'Race Review 2008: Implementing Race Equality in Prisons – Five Years

On', 2008


137 Author interview, London, February 2009. Such perceptions are apparently long-standing

and widespread. For example, in early 2001 34 of 38 Muslim groups questioned by the

Home Office said that they believed that Muslims in prison were being treated unfairly by

prison staff. Source: Paul Weller, Alice Feldman &Kingsley Purdam, 'Home Office Research

Study 220: Religious discrimination in England and Wales', Home Office Research,

Development and Statistics Directorate, February 2001,

, p. 53.

138 HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 'Report on an unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP

Whitemoor - 7–11 April 2008', 2008,




Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors

report itself identified numerous problems with the prison but said that ‘worst of all

were the relationships between staff and the 120 Muslim prisoners. Staff appeared to

have little idea of, and to have been given no support in, how to relate to this group,

except as suspected national security risks or extremists – even though only eight of

the 120 Muslims [in Whitemoor] had been convicted of terrorist offences’. 139 This lack

of specialized training is undoubtedly critical in explaining the tensions between Muslim

prisoners and staff at the prison. Similarly, HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ 2007 report on

Belmarsh reported that ‘survey responses from black and minority ethnic prisoners were

significantly more negative overall than those from white prisoners, and this was even

more the case in comparing responses from Muslims and non-Muslims. Muslims

responded significantly more negatively to 43 out of 56 key survey questions, and only

responded more positively on one’. 140 Although such surveys often reflect prisoners’

perceptions, rather than the reality per se, this is still disturbing. It is perceptions of

discrimination and victimization that can drive Muslim prisoners into accepting Islamist

arguments that non-Muslims are inevitably hostile to Islam and Muslims and that their

treatment in prison is part of the government’s deliberate and organized ‘war on Islam’.

It would be comforting for the Prison Service to believe that such problems only occur

at Category A institutions such as Belmarsh which hold a large number of convicted

and suspected terrorists. Disturbingly, however, such problems are also replicated in

other prisons which hold a large number of ordinary Muslims but few, if any, terror

suspects or convicts. For example, HMP Brixton, a Category B prison where in 2008 176

out of 727 prisoners identified themselves as being Muslim (i.e. around 25 per cent), a

2008 survey by HM Inspectorate of Prisons also reported that ‘Muslim respondents were

consistently more negative than non-Muslims’. 141 For example, Muslim prisoners were

generally more likely to complain of unfair treatment and also much more likely to say

they had been ‘victimised’ by a member of staff on account of their ‘religion/religious

beliefs’ compared to ordinary prisoners (8 per cent versus 0 per cent). At the same time,

however, Muslim prisoners were more likely than other prisoners to feel that their

religious beliefs were ‘respected’ and that a suitable ‘religious leader’ was accessible

to them. This would seem to indicate that while prison institutions and procedures have

become more responsive to Muslims’ needs, staff attitudes to Muslim prisoners have

not always advanced as quickly.

Actions by prison staff that can be perceived by Muslim prisoners as evidence of

discrimination or latent hostility can take a number of forms. For example, the HM

Inspectorate of Prisons’ 2008 report on Belmarsh quoted a Muslim prisoner as saying


139 Ibid. p. 5

140 Ibid. p. 6

141 HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 'Report on an unannounced full follow-up inspection of HMP

Brixton - 28 April – 2 May 2008', 2008,


p. 34.


Push factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

‘I've had a racist joke made about my prayer mat — an officer called it a ‘magic

carpet’ — even the other officers were not happy [with the joke]’. 142

In other instances, Muslim prisoners have expressed frustration that staff are not

following prison rules and guidelines. For example, HM Inspectorate of Prison’s 2007

report on the Long Lartin segregation unit meanwhile reported that, while relations

between detainees and the unit’s staff were generally good, ‘staff around the rest of

the prison had little understanding of their issues’ and that ‘some detainees felt that

staff were discriminatory towards them as Muslims’. 143 Most of the Long Lartin detainees

additionally believed that their complaints were not adequately investigated, with one

detainee quoted as saying: ‘I have made a complaint a few times; it takes up to a month

to get a response and then it is brushed off’. 144

More disturbingly, Mahmoud Abu Rideh has told the Mental Health Review Tribunal

that at HMP Broadmoor ‘certain members of staff consistently act in a way which ranges

from disrespectful to discriminatory and racist. I have been called a terrorist by one

staff nurse, who has also taunted me on several occasions saying that I was going to be

locked up forever and that I should be put in seclusion’. 145 Abu Rideh’s account was

supported by a 2005 report by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture

and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which stated that ‘in Broadmoor,

this person has endured frequent episodes of verbal abuse by members of staff (a fact

acknowledged by other staff members)’. 146 Overt abuse of Muslim prisoners by prison

staff should be seen as totally unacceptable.

Other reported incidents, although often difficult to confirm, are potentially much

more serious. For example, in 2006, the Cageprisoners website reported on a

disturbance at Woodhill prison in November 2006, alleging that:

‘About 30 prison officers stormed Friday prayers and attacked one Muslim prisoner

following a dispute over the searching of a Qur’an in which officers claimed that

142 HM Inspector of Prisons, 'Report on a full announced inspection of HMP Belmarsh - 8–12

October 2007', 2008,


p. 104.

143 HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 'An inspection of the category A detainee unit at HMP Long

Lartin - July 2007', 2008, ,

P. 18.

144 Ibid.

145 Mchmoud Abu Kideh, ‘Statement by Mahmoud Abu Rideh to the Mental Health Review

Tribunal', 1 March 2005, 'Luton Muslims' organisation website,


146 European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or

Punishment 'Report to the Government of the United Kingdom on the visit to the United

Kingdom carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and

Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 14 to 19 March 2004'

(Strasbourg, 9 June 2005)


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors

the prisoner allegedly spat at them. A stand-off ensued between prison officers

and up to 60 inmates until the situation was brought under control by the imam.

‘A little while later a gang of officers assaulted a category A Muslim alleged terror

suspect Farid Hilali after he refused to be transferred to another prison stating

that he had social and urgent legal visits booked for the week commencing 20th

November 2006. Also, that the Governor of Woodhill Prison has been notified by

his solicitors of the request not to transfer him. Mr Hilali was assaulted for merely

stating to officers to check the position with the Governor. The inmate was heard

shouting ‘Allahu Akbar (God is Great)!’ in pain as he was beaten. His solicitors

have reported this assault to the police for proceedings to be bought against the

officers concerned’. 147

The Cageprisoners report alleges that prison officers then ‘purposefully served ham to

Muslim inmates’. It has not been possible to confirm how much of this is true.

In other instances, convicted terrorists have credibly made claims of suffering repeated

abuse and neglect by prison staff. One of the most disturbing examples of apparently

officially sanctioned disregard for the safety, health and welfare of Muslim prisoners

occurred after Dhiren Barot was attacked by other prisoners and severely burned with

boiling oil in Frankland prison (as described on page ???). Despite the severity of the

injuries to Barot’s head and shoulders it was three days before the prison authorities

took him to hospital — and only then after his lawyer intervened to request immediate

hospital treatment. Barot later wrote:

‘Although in unspeakable agony as well as being initially blinded in both eyes

due to massive swelling caused by the severe head trauma, I was not even rushed

to hospital, as any other prisoner would have been, regardless of category, since

in my case security and financial niggardliness remains their 'first' priority and

concern’. 148

It is hard to see why it took three days for this badly injured man to be taken to hospital.

It seems highly likely that at least some prison staff believed that because he was a

convicted terrorist, he was not entitled to the same standard of care as other prisoners.

Barot additionally alleges that individual prison staff knew of the planned attack and

allowed it to happen:

‘It is far too convenient that although normally I am oppressively monitored

around the clock — sometimes every fifteen minutes, every single movement

recorded, be it exiting/ entering my cell, shower, kitchen area etc — on the black

day itself there were next to no staff around. There are many indications that

show there was a treacherous trickle down from top to bottom, from government

to prison establishment to the trailer park trash that descended on me’.

Although this claim cannot be corroborated, the wife of the convicted terrorist Omar

147 Cageprisoners, 'Woodhill Prison Officers in a Day of Islamophobic Frenzy', 22 November 2006,


148 Eesa Barot, ‘Letter to the ummah’, Al-Istiqamah, November 2007, .


Push factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Khyam has made similar statements about conditions in Frankland prison, claiming that

“even the black non-Muslims feel threatened and claim it is a racist prison” and that

“there are racist slogans plastered all over the walls’. 149 Such perceptions are partly

echoed in official government reports on prisoners’ perceptions of the prison. For

example, the Inspectorate of Prisons’ 2008 report on Frankland found that many

prisoners believed that there was ‘underlying racism’ among many of the staff:

‘Prisoners we spoke to reported little overt racism but some sensed an underlying

racism on the part of staff and other prisoners’. 150

The report goes on to say that ‘half the black and minority ethnic prisoners were Muslim

and many believed they were victimised because of their religious beliefs’. 151

Distrust between prisoners and staff can lead to Muslim prisoners adopting

confrontational and polarized worldviews. For example, in 2004, while imprisoned in

Woodhill, Babar Ahmed wrote that that he believed that a majority of prison officers

are ‘racist and Islamophobic’:

‘Many of the prison officers are racist and Islamophobic. They have cold hatred in

their eyes towards the Muslims. However, since they are in a system that regulates

them, they cannot be and are not overtly racist. Therefore, they resort to showing

their hatred by making little routine things difficult for the Muslims. In some cases,

they do this to try and provoke a situation in which the prisoner reacts and then

they have an excuse to assault him and then send him to the isolated punishment

block. This happened to a Muslim prisoner on our wing a few weeks ago and he

was beaten up by prison officers who burst into his cell. Obviously, nothing

happened (in terms of disciplinary action) to the officers concerned. Otherwise,

they will do things like playing around with visit booking, gym usage, trying to

delay medical appointments and trying to introduce rules insisting on stripsearching

some Muslim prisoners before and after Friday prayers’. 152

149 Of course, such statements need to be seen in context – Omar Khyam is a convicted terrorist

and his wife gave this information as part of a speech intended to galvanise a mainly

Muslim audience into feelings of outrage and anger towards the prison authorities,

‘Statement from Mrs. Khyam about mistreatment of Omar Khyum in H.M.P Frankland’,

Cageprisoners, 30th September 2007,


150 HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 'Report on a full announced inspection of HMP Frankland – 4-8

February 2008’, 2008,


p. 35.

151 HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 'Report on a full announced inspection of HMP Frankland – 4-8

February 2008’, 2008,


p. 12.

152 Babar Ahmad, 'Prison Conditions at HMP Woodhill', Cageprisoners, 26 October 2004



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors

A perception of discriminatory treatment can lead inmates to adopt and repeat the

Islamist view that the British government and its employees are systematically opposed

to Muslims, both in the UK and abroad. For example, Abu Rideh, after being released

on a control order in 2005, explicitly compared the behaviour of prison staff with British

military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan:

‘I have too many problems, too many incidents with the officers in Belmarsh, not

[just with] one [individual]. I believe these people who work in Belmarsh and all

the prisons in England, these people are [the] same people who go [to] Iraq, go

[to] Afghanistan, the same family, the same neighbour, the same people, the

English people, the same officer, the same’. 153

Adel Abdel Bary, a member of the leadership council of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad

group, has apparently come to similar conclusions. In a poem from prison, released in

July 2007 while he was held in Long Lartin, he compares prisons to ‘coffins’ and

concludes cynically:

‘The guard has a heart of stone.

He knows neither mercy nor pity.

He doesn’t believe in any religion.

He only knows one colour,

And he scorns all the other colours.

That is why he becomes the anti-racism officer’. 154

Even suspected extremists recognize the consequences of such alienation, suspicion and

disaffection. Babar Ahmed, for example, has written:

‘It can also safely be said that Muslim political prisoners do not leave prison with

an increased ‘understanding’ and ‘tolerance’ of their fellow British compatriots,

especially when they see them in the figures of racist, skinhead prison officers’. 155

He added that such trials have strengthened his faith and his belief in the rightness of

his cause, even making him see Muslim prisoners as ‘heroes’ comparable with the

earliest Muslims:

‘Many today say that these are dark days for the Muslim ummah [people]. I beg

153 'Moazzam Begg Interviews Mahmoud Abu Rideh', Cageprisoners, 17 June 2008,


154 Adel Abdel Bary, ‘High Security Graves’, Cageprisoners, 1 July 2008,


155 Babar Ahmed, ‘Three Years in Captivity,’ Cageprisoners, 17 August 2007

. In regard to ordinary crime, some

recent official surveys show that Muslim prisoners are more likely than non-Muslims to

believe that they will re-offend after leaving prison. For example, the 2007-8 annual report

by HM Inspectorate of Prisons included a comprehensive survey of 415 Muslim prisoners and

2,973 non-Muslims which found that only 37 per cent of Muslim prisoners surveyed

(compared to 43 per cent of non-Muslims) believed that their experiences in prison would

make them ‘less likely to re-offend in the future’. HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 'HM Chief

Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales: Annual Report 2007–08', 28 January 2008,

, p. 164.


Push factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

to differ. These are glorious days that will be sorely missed once gone. Successive

generations of Muslims will look back to these days as the days in which Islam was

revived and heroes were made as dreams turned into realities. History is repeating

itself as we have returned to the early days of Prophethood in Makkah [i.e.

Mecca]. The Muhajireen (Emigrants) of today are those who have been forcibly

expelled from their homes and estranged from their loved ones. The Ansar

(Helpers) of today are those who are helping them and their families. It is precisely

at times like these that nations discover their quest for mission and moment’. 156

Ahmed’s references to Islamic history explicitly equate imprisoned Islamist extremists

with Muhammad and his earliest followers who fled Mecca to avoid persecution – a

highly emotive comparison that aims to make ordinary Muslims sympathetic towards

such extremists – and which illustrates his own state of mind.

Other imprisoned extremists and suspected extremists have also said that their

experiences in prison have only strengthened their religious-political beliefs. Adel Abdel

Bary, the leading member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement who is presently

imprisoned in Long Lartin, has written that hardships experienced in prison are part of

God’s will:

‘Prison is an inescapable fate from God. It occurs as a result of obeying God,

disobeying God, or no reason other than injustice and aggression [towards

Muslims by the enemies of God]’. 157

Significantly, he also says that true Muslims should resist such pressures and should

remain loyal to their ideologies, writing that true radicals ‘are not harmed by such

threats or promises, because they are known to be afraid of nothing other than what

God and the Prophet pronounced’.

Abu Hamza, writing from Belmarsh, has also described how his imprisonment has only

deepened his convictions and given him a sense of invulnerability:

‘I have not seen even a tree for four years. I cannot even see the sky due to the

mesh wires. Even our Windows computer version has bars on it. Nonetheless, no

one and nothing can crack you or terrify you, if your heart is full of Allah and fear

of Allah’. 158

Such accounts show that victimising Islamist prisoners in order to make them ‘recant’

their views are likely to seriously backfire by making them more committed to their

156 Babar Ahmed, ‘Three Years in Captivity,’ Cageprisoners, 17 August 2007,

. In 2005 he had also wrote in a

similar vein that ‘on the Day of Judgement, when mankind will stand before the Lord of the

Worlds, the only regret the Muslim captive will have is those days of his life which he did

not spend in captivity for Allah’s Sake’. Barbar Ahmed, ‘One Year in Captivity’,

Cageprisoners, 6 September 2005, .

157 ‘Egyptian Islamist Leading Member Imprisoned in Britain Since 1988 Replies to the 'Jihadist

Theoretician' and His Criticism of Al-Qa'idah’ Al-Hayat, 28 August 2008.

158 ‘Interview with Abu Hamza’, Cageprisoners, 6 June 2008,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors

Islamist ideology and to make them more convinced than ever of the rightness and

righteousness of their cause. Ordinary Muslim prisoners who witness such treatment

are also more likely to be receptive to Islamist ideas. More generally, Muslim prisoners

as a whole are already more likely than other prisoners to feel mistreated or

discriminated against – perceptions which risk pushing them towards adopting radical

ideologies or banding together to form prison gangs. In light of this, the Prison Service

clearly needs to take all possible steps to prevent further mistreatment or abuse by staff

towards Muslims inmates – and to take steps to address the distrust that so many

Muslim prisoners feel towards and from prison staff.

Perceptions of institutional discrimination

In addition to deliberate racism and discrimination within prisons by non-Muslim

inmates or individual staff which can increase support for Islamist ideologies, there are

other institutional factors within prisons which can increase a sense of alienation and

mistrust among Muslim inmates which can be exploited by Islamist recruiters.

Halal food

The provision of halal food for Muslim prisoners has been a point of friction between

the Prison Service and Muslim prisoners (and organizations seeking to represent them)

for at least two decades. Many Muslim prisoners remain unconvinced that the Prison

Service is fully committed to providing them with halal food.

Eating halal food (i.e. meat slaughtered according to traditional Islamic teachings) is

seen by observant Muslims as a religious obligation. 159 However it is usually impossible

for Muslim prisoners to tell from a food’s taste or appearance whether it has been

prepared in accordance with the appropriate religious guidelines. As a result, Muslim

prisoners are obliged to trust the Prison Service’s assurances that they are indeed being

served authentically halal food. In prisons where trust between Muslim inmates and

the prison authorities has broken down, problems may therefore arise. It has not helped

that there are instances where prisons have accidentally served non-halal food to

Muslim prisoners. Islamists can easily use such genuine mistakes for their own ends, for

example, by portraying the lack of halal food as evidence of an official prejudice against

Islam or by saying that non-halal food is being deliberately fed to Muslim prisoners as

part of a broader anti-Islamic strategy.

159 It is worth noting, however, that many of the most prominent conservative and Islamist

scholars o recent decades have ruled that it is acceptable for Muslims to eat the food of the

Ahl al-Kitaab (lit. ‘the people of the book’, a term usually used to refer to Christians and

Jews). For instance, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Uthaymeen, one of the most prominent Wahhabi

scholars of the 1980s and 1990s, ruled that eating such food “is permissible because that

which is slaughtered by the Ahl Al-Kitaab today is just as what was slaughtered by Ahl Al-

Kitaab in the time of the Prophet”. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the most influential living Islamist

cleric has similarly ruled that the “meats, produce, and other foods [of the Ahl al-Kitab]. All

of these are halal for us excepting what is haram in itself, e.g., the flesh of a dead animal,

pork...” Sources: ‘Questions and Answers concerning the meat of the Ahlul Kitaab’, 2

December 2004. Available online at .


Al-Qaradawi, The Lawful and the Prohibited.


Push factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

The Prison Service is well aware of the importance of providing Muslims with halal food.

The Prison Service’s Religion Manual says that ‘Muslims are only allowed to eat Halal

Food. The term “halal” is defined as that which is permissible under Islamic Law’. 160 The

Service’s order for prison catering services meanwhile says that ‘Muslim prisoners must

be provided with a Halal diet’. 161 Despite this, however, many prisons face serious

problems in convincing Muslim prisoners of the permissibility of prison food.

HMP Belmarsh has arguably seen the greatest problems arise from the halal food issue.

Many of the problems at Belmarsh date to one occasion in 2004 when pork chops at

Belmarsh prison were erroneously labeled as being halal. 162 Disturbingly this happened

after the Prison Service had taken steps to address the halal issues - the Inspectorate of

Prisons’ report on Belmarsh in 2003 had reported that ‘Pork was stored in separate

refrigerators and Halal foods were stored correctly’. 163 Since then, however, the

situation appears to have markedly improved. The Independent Monitoring Board’s

2005 report on Belmarsh, for example, found that ‘the Board is as satisfied as it possibly

can be that the Halal meat is genuine and conforms to the required standard’. 164

At the same time, however, the Independent Monitoring Board’s 2007 report on

Belmarsh, three years after the ‘halal’ pork chops incident, reported that suspicions

over the prison’s halal food remained widespread. The report noted ‘a lack of

confidence in the authenticity of the Halal meat’ which ‘unfortunately neither Imam

feels able to dispel completely’ and reported that the prison had involved ‘more Muslim

prisoners in food preparation’ which it hoped ‘will prevent some of the problems that

have happened in the past’. 165 Muslim prisoners’ enduring suspicions towards Belmarsh

food are undoubtedly a result of attempts by extremists within the prison to create

tensions between the prisoners and the staff. This can easily lead to a wider

dissatisfaction with the prison system. For example, an anonymous Category AA High

160 ‘Prison Service Order No. 4550 – Religion manual’. Available online at


161 ‘Prison Service Order No. 5000 – Prison Catering Services’. Available online at


162 Sean O’Neill, 'Jail anger over 'halal' pork', The Times, 21 August 2004


163 'Report on a full announced inspection of HM Prison Belmarsh 26 May – 4 June 2003’. HM

Inspectorate of Prisons, 2003, p. 125


164 HMP Belmarsh - Annual Report of the Independent Monitoring Board - July 2004/June

2005’, Independent Monitoring Board P. 25 .

165 ‘HMP Belmarsh - Annual Report of the Independent Monitoring Board - July 2006/June

2007’, Independent Monitoring Board, p. 43 . The report also stated

that ‘the numbers of prisoners working in the kitchen has risen to about twenty, up from

the lowest point of just two. A fifth of these are Muslim prisoners. It is hoped that they will

inspire more confidence amongst the Muslim prisoner population in the food that Belmarsh

provides in accordance with their religion’.


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors

Risk Muslim prisoner in Belmarsh, whose account was posted on a Muslim website in

January 2008, wrote that dissatisfaction with the food lead to the prison chaplain

becoming discredited among the prisoners:

‘The Governor has told us that the food at Belmarsh is only 50% halal and he

could not guarantee that the food would be 100% halal ... Around 200 inmates

signed a petition saying that we wanted halal food, [but] nothing has come of

this. We were going to go on a hunger strike which we later decided not to go

through with. The Imam in the prison is not very good, he said that if he was in

our position he would eat the halal meat’. 166

There are numerous reports of hunger strikes actually taking place in Belmarsh as a

protest against the food as well as incidents of Muslim prisoners giving up meat

altogether. 167 Many of these protests appear to have involved high-profile Islamist

extremists – who perhaps also orchestrated the protests. For example, in March 2006 the

BBC reported that ‘Abu Hamza and other inmates at Belmarsh prison have refused to

eat their lunch in a protest at the jail's high security wing’ in a one-day protest against

the quality of food on offer. 168 Three years later, in 2009, such problems apparently

continued. For example, on 22 April 2009, Hani al-Sibai, a member of Egyptian Islamic

Jihad living freely in London, posted a report on his website that Abu Hamza had been

on hunger strike for 12 days in protest at prison food and other issues that amounted

to ‘ongoing persecution by the guards and the prison administration. 169 It is through

such stunts that extremists are able to gain influence over other Muslim prisoners. For

instance, in 2004, a Muslim prisoner formerly held in Belmarsh said that he had turned

to a senior Islamist extremist in the prison for advice on halal food:

‘The diet is a bit confusing … there’s a menu, and we had on this menu, some

things were suitable for Muslims and some were not suitable for Muslims. But

then there was always this doubt that it was not halal, so even though they said

it was halal, the brothers always had veg. Then we asked Sheikh ‘A’.’ 170

According to Cageprisoners, ‘Sheikh A’ is ‘one of the foreign nationals detained under

the ATCSA [Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act] 2001’. This anecdote illustrates how

many Muslim prisoners are confused about halal meat and turn to potential extremists

166 Letter from Anon. Detainee in Belmarsh', Help the Prisoners website, 9 January 2008


167 Audrey Gillan, 'For detainee M, still no explanation why he was locked up for 16 months',

The Guardian, 23 April


Push factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

for advice – as well as the extent to which extremists are sought for guidance on

religious issues. These and other incidents strongly suggest that Islamists in prisons have

been able to successfully use prisoners’ legitimate concerns over halal food in order to

simultaneously increase Muslim suspicion towards the Prison Service and also to gain

the support of other prisoners by seeming to stand up for their religious rights. Similar

problems involving halal food have occurred in prisons around the country. 171

The Prison Service clearly needs to take action to definitely resolve the halal food issue

(as many individual prisons have now sought to do). This will deprive Islamists of a key

recruiting tool for mobilising ordinary Muslims against the Prison Service and given

them fewer opportunities to position themselves as being the leaders and

representatives of Muslim prisoners.

Strip searches

Just as Islamists in prison can use the issue of halal food to argue that British prisons are

‘anti-Muslim’, so the issue of strip searches is also used by some extremist prisoners to

promote their own ideology – and in particular their thesis that the British government

is at war with Islam and Muslims. At the same time, strip searches are a necessary part

of prison security.

Strip searches are potentially contentious because, according to most Islamic traditions,

Muslims are required to dress modestly – which is usually interpreted to mean that a

Muslim man should not be naked in front of other men in order to protect his awrah

(a term which describes both a person’s private parts and the concept of modesty and

honour) . For many Muslim prisoners this need for ‘modesty’ is an important issue. Babar

Ahmed has described how many Muslims feel contradictions between the demands of

their religion and those of life in prison, writing that:

‘There is no concept of awrah (shame, etc) in prison and you are regularly stripsearched.

Showers are communal so you have to wear shorts and ideally go when

they are empty. When you first arrive at the prison, or leave it, or arrive from court

etc. you are strip searched. Likewise, you are also strip-searched before and after

a visit from a relative, lawyer, etc. Every month, your cell is searched and you are

strip-searched. Strip-searching is only carried out by male officers (two on

average), in a private room. They never touch you and you are never naked of all

your clothes at any one time. Obviously, your awrah is exposed at some point

during the strip search. The above only applies to ‘A-Category’ prisoners; others

are strip-searched maybe once in several months’. 172

171 For instance, the Inspectorate of Prisons’ 2008 report on Whitemoor prison reported that

‘far fewer Muslim than non-Muslim prisoners considered the food to be good’ while the

Independent Monitoring Boards’ 2008-9 report on Long Lartin reported that ‘one especially

intractable religious problem has been the supply of Halal meat’. Source: HM Inspectorate

of Prisons ‘Report on an unannounced full-return prison inspection of H.M Whitemoor

Prison, 3-7 October 2008’,


‘HMP Long Lartin - Annual

Report of the Independent Monitoring Board - July 2006/June 2007’, Independent

Monitoring Board, p.7 .


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors

Being made to strip in front of others commonly provokes mixed feelings of shame,

anger and humiliation. For example, Detainee ‘A’, an Algerian terrorist suspect, has told

Amnesty International that:

‘Following my arrest, the police took me to Woodhill prison where my property

was taken from me and I was strip-searched twice. As a Muslim, this was a deeply

humiliating experience for me’. 173

Such feelings, often felt by extremists and ordinary Muslims alike, are accentuated

when strip searches involve female guards. For example, an ordinary Muslim inmate in

Whitemoor prison wrote to the Muslim News newspaper in 2008 to say that one such

search had left him feeling ‘de-graded, humiliated and deeply embarrassed’. Islamists

in prison frequently seek to portray such strip searches not as a necessary security

measure designed to protect prisoners and staff alike but rather as being part of a

wider institutional effort to persecute and humiliate Muslim prisoners – and part of the

West’s wider war on Islam. For example, in 2006 a Libyan detainee known as ‘AS’ spoke

to the Islam Channel by phone from Long Lartin prison, drawing comparisons between

the prison and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, saying:

‘We always get strip-searched in our daily routine; when we come back from our

legal visits and our domestic visits, and if anyone refuses then they use force

against him to take all his clothes off, the same as Abu Ghraib prison. It's very

stressful’. 174

Strip searches are frequently referenced in prisoners’ statements to Muslims outside

prison and are frequently cited as evidence that the British government is involved in

a global war on Islam. For example in mid-2006, Faraj Hassan al-Saad, a Libyan detainee

who would later be convicted on terrorism charges in Italy in absentia, wrote an ‘open

letter’ from Long Lartin describing his transfer from Belmarsh prison to Long Lartin:

‘On the 18th January, at some time after 7 pm, they came to my cell and forced

me to strip. I refused, and told them that this was against my religion. The officer

said: I don’t give a f***. I refused again, so I was beaten up. They put me on the

floor, stripped me by force and I was taken to the van. I was very sad that night,

I remembered all that happened to my Muslim brothers in Guantanamo & Abu

Ghraib prisons’. 175

Similarly, a joint letter from anonymous Muslim prisoners in Belmarsh, which was

172 Babar Ahmad, 'Prison Conditions at HMP Woodhill', Cageprisoners, 26 October 2004


173 ‘United Kingdom: ‘I want justice’, Amnesty International, 9 December 2005, P. 9


174 ‘Interview with Detainee AS’, [Transcript of Islam Channel interview], 12 October 2006.

Available on website of ‘Scotland Against Criminalising Communities’.


175 Open letter by Faraj Hassan Al-Saadi. Available online at Cageprisoners website:



Push factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

distributed online through Yassir al-Sirri’s ‘Islamic Observation Centre’ in 2004, stated


‘Attempts at humiliating your brothers and destroying them still take place [in

prison], and the most crucial and dangerous of them, are the continuous attempts

at searching your brothers and causing them to undress in every movement they

do; even when they are visited by their families, and they perform this in a sadistic

manner that is no less than what you hear from what their soldiers do in Iraq …

The undressing of your brothers here, and their insistence on it is a calculated

policy by which they wish that the imprisoned Muslims attain diseased conditions

by it’. 176

Abu Qatada has likewise described strip searches as being one of the ‘severe trials’ that

Muslims face in British prisons, saying that ‘the searches are extreme and the removal

of clothing is complete and the restrictions are the most harsh’. 177 At the same time,

however, many detainees and prisoners see strip-searches as a test – for which they will

be rewarded in the afterlife. Babar Ahmad, for example, has written that:

‘Needless to say, as a Muslim imprisoned for your religion, Allah rewards you every

time they humiliate you by this strip search’. 178

The Prison Service is aware that strip searches may present problems for Muslim

prisoners – and has taken action to address their concerns. Although the Prison Service’s

Security Manual already says that a prisoner (whether Muslim or not) may not be

completely naked during a strip search, the Prison Service has issued additional specific

instructions to its staff regarding the searching of Muslims prisoners. Prison Service

Order 4550 (Religion Manual) tells staff that Muslim men may object to being searched

by females and says that they should be searched by male staff instead: ‘Searches of

male prisoners with a religious or cultural objection to being searched by a female

member of staff must be carried out by a male member of staff’. The manual also

invokes Islamic theology in order to pre-empt arguments from Muslim prisoners that

strip-searches are not permissible: ‘There have been specific enquiries regarding the

strip-searching of Muslim prisoners, as the Qur’an forbids the nakedness of Muslims in

front of others. Strip searches are allowed under Islamic law when such a search is

necessary for the security and safety of the prison or of individuals’. 179 Although wellintentioned,

however, such theological references can backfire and only further

convince Islamists that they are the targets of an elaborate and nefarious plot – by the

British government and by other Muslims. For example, Faraj Hassan Al-Saad, a Libyan

176 'A Witness and A Call - A Letter From A Belmarsh Prisoner’. Available online at


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors

terrorist suspect who was later found guilty by an Italian court on terrorism-related

charges and who currently lives freely in Leicester, has said:

‘The thing that astonished me was that one day in Belmarsh, I refused to be strip

searched as it was against my religion. Officers showed me a fatwa signed by the

Muslim Council of Britain saying that it is permissible for the staff to strip search

us. So this is how we get supported in prison by the Muslim Council of Britain

[MCB]’. 180

The MCB has denied issuing such a ‘fatwa’, however, and has said that it would be

writing to the Ministry of Justice to ‘verify this claim’. 181

Islamic prayers

Issues of perceived discrimination against Muslims become even more pressing when

the issues of Friday prayers arises. Taking part in a weekly communal prayer is seen by

most observant Muslims as obligatory for men while the Friday prayers are also often

seen by many Muslims as barometers for the health of their communities.

As with strip-searching, the realities of prison life mean that there are sometimes

occasions when Muslim prisoners are prevented from attending Friday prayers – for

example, for security reasons. For instance, HM Inspectorate’s report on the Category

A Unit at Long Lartin said that on one occasion a Muslim prisoner was removed from

Friday prayers in order to be searched:

‘There had recently been an incident in which security requested detainees to be

taken out of Friday prayers for screening to detect whether they had items

secreted internally. After objections, this was not pursued, but the lack of

sensitivity to the timing of this request had undermined much of the trust that had

developed between detainees and staff’. 182

In addition, Friday prayers are frequently seen by the authorities as places where

radicalisation can potentially occur. The result of this is that in some prisons, Muslims

held in high security units have been entirely prevented from attending communal

Friday prayers. For instance, HM Inspectorate of Prisons’ 2007 report on Manchester

prison reported that:

‘The arrangements for Muslim worship were poor and there was insufficient space

to enable everyone who wanted to attend to do so. No prisoners in the high

security unit were allowed to attend any corporate worship’. 183

180 ‘Interview with Faraj Hassan al-Saad’, 18 August 2007, Cageprisoners


181 'Setting the record right: www.cageprisoners.com', Muslim Council of Britain press release,

13 September 2007, .

182 HM Inspectorate of Prisons, ‘An inspection of the category A detainee unit at HMP Long

Lartin’, (July 2009) p. 34 .


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Similarly, a number of convicted and suspected terrorists at Belmarsh have routinely

been prevented from attending Friday prayers. 184

In other instances, prison staff have sought to prevent private prayers being held in

individuals’ cells. These interventions, while sometimes necessary, can often give rise to

a belief that prisons are systematically discriminating against Muslims. For instance,

Cerie Bullivant, a convert to Islam who was placed on a control order in 2006 on

suspicion of planning to join jihadist movements abroad, was detained in Belmarsh in

2007 after absconding from the Control Order. He later said that:

‘In Belmarsh, there are two sets of rules – there are the really strict rules which

apply to the Muslims only, and then there are the relaxed rules which apply to

everyone else. The clearest example of this is during the holy month of Ramadan.

It is from God that we had just had a little bit to eat and praying our post-sunset

prayer, just two people praying in a cell. Officers came into the cell and told the

brother I was praying with, ‘get out, you are not allowed to be in here, get out’

– this was all while we were praying. The brother who was leading the prayer

kept on reciting and ignored them, Praise be to God. Despite threats that he

would be reported, he kept on praying. One of the large officers actually came in

to the cell to grab him but one of the other officers held him back – the thing is,

this was during our association time, the only time we get out of our cells in the

day. The officers reported us for spending time in the same cell, but the thing is

that for non-Muslim prisoners, you would see 7/8 of them sitting together,

smoking drugs and generally just doing what they want. It was no problem for the

non-Muslims, but for two Muslims to be praying together in the middle of their

holy month was a problem’. 185

Omar Khyam’s wife similarly reported in 2007 that her husband was being preventing

from attending collective prayers or from holding prayers in his room – even though

other forms of interaction where allowed:

‘On Monday 17th September Omar called and he was quite upset because the

Governor said the Muslim prisoners can’t pray in congregation in their cells! So he

spoke to the Governor and asked ‘Can prisoners sit together and play their Play

Stations in their cells?’ The governor replied ‘Yes’. He asked ‘Can they sit together

and smoke?’ The governor replied ‘Yes’. He asked ‘Can they sit together and talk

and eat?’ The governor said ‘Yes’. He said ‘But two people can’t pray together?’

The governor replied ‘No!’ Omar has written a formal complaint and so have the

183 'Report on an unannounced short followup inspection of HMP Manchester 21–24 May 2007',

HM Inspectorate of Prisons, 2007, p. 11


184 See, for example, Alan Travis, 'Belmarsh inspection reveals harsh conditions of July bomb

suspects', The Guardian, 8 March 2006


185 Dominic Casciani, ‘The Convict and the Control Order’, BBC News, 14 March 2008,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors

other brothers, he has also passed the message on to the brothers on the other

wings to also write to the Governor and complain. And the saddest thing is, that

it is Ramadan. So as he isn’t doing education anymore he is stuck in his cell all

day’. 186

Such incidents seem to indicate that the Prison Service does not have a clear formula for

dealing with issues of religious practice – or of managing the inevitable clashes between

the necessities of prison life and the requirements of a religion. It also shows that it is

crucial that prison staff explain to prisoners why their actions are taken. For instance,

in this case, Khyam may have been banned from holding private prayers for valid

security reasons, however, this should have been clearly explained to him. In the

absence of clear and systematically enforceable guidelines, the Prison Service is clearly

creating fertile ground for Islamists to rally ordinary Muslims, recruit followers and to

argue that the Prison Service is anti-Muslim.

Searches with dogs

Tensions between Muslims and prison staff have periodically arisen from the use of

dogs to search for drugs and other contraband as a result of some Islamic traditions

teaching that dogs are ‘un-clean’.

The use of sniffer dogs, as with strip-searching, can distress ordinary Muslims as well as

Islamists, who often seek to make ideological capital out of this distress. For example,

the 2006 Inspectorate report on Whitemoor prison reported that:

‘Group sessions revealed a widespread concern that Muslim prisoners were

searched by drug dogs on their way into services, which negated their cleansing

before attending the mosque. The imam said he had raised this issue with the

security department some months previously and that it was quickly resolved.

However, some prisoners still thought it was current practice’. 187

Islamists have, typically, however argued that the use of dogs in searches is part of a

deliberate assault on Islam and on Muslim prisoners. For example, members of Abu

Hamza’s ‘Supporters of Sharia’ organisation have portrayed the use of dogs to search

Abu Hamza’s cell in Belmarsh, as a ‘humiliation’, writing that ‘guards raid his cell several

times daily subjecting him to humiliation using dogs to conduct the raids and attack the

Shaykh’. 188 The article also says that such treatment is akin to ‘torture’ and compares the

conditions in Belmarsh to those in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq:

‘The tactics used at Belmarsh are reminiscent of Abu Gharib where U.S. Lt. Gen.

186 ‘Statement from Mrs. Khyam about mistreatment of Omar Khyam in H.M.P Frankland’,

Cageprisoners, 30th September 2007,


187 HM Inspectorate of Prisons ‘Report on an unannounced full-return prison inspection of H.M

Whitemoor Prison, 3-7 October 2008’, p.62


188 ‘Abu Hamza attacked in prison’. Forum posting on ummah.com attributed to ‘Supporters of

Shari’ah’, .


Push factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Ricardo S. Sanchez authorised several methods of physical and psychological

torture such as ‘intimidating detainees’, ‘exploiting the Arab fear of Dogs’ (in fact

Dogs like Pigs are unclean animals according to Islam)’.

Detainee ‘DD’, a terror suspect from Libya who has since been released on a control

order, has said that he believed that dogs are used to search for drugs in the Long Lartin

detainee unit in order to ‘insult’ the Muslim prisoners there:

‘They would at times come in with dogs to check for drugs. They know we don’t

take drugs, but they only want to insult us’. 189

The Prison Service has taken measures to reduce problems caused by using dogs to

search Muslim prisoners. For example, the Prison Service’s Extremism Unit has advised

front-line staff that Muslim prisoners should be offered clean clothing and bedding if

it is searched by dogs, writing that ‘We are aware that if dog saliva comes in contact

with the clothing or religious artefacts of a Muslim, it renders these items defiled. As

such, a prisoner must be allowed to change clothing if this occurs’. It added that ‘Also,

bedding should be changed where the prisoner feels that it has been defiled’. 190

Although this is a sensible response to this problem it also raises other important

questions. For example, one could legitimately ask why Muslim prisoners should receive

preferential treatment over other prisoners (who may also dislike having their beds and

clothing searched by dogs) and whether this will fuel tensions between Muslims and

non-Muslims in certain prisons. Similarly one might question whether such

discriminatory treatment adequately prepares Muslim prisoners for their return to

wider society? There is also the risk that by taking such action – even while trying to

avoid empowering Islamists – the Prison Service will be empowering the most

conservative interpretations of Islam. For example, while Muslim tradition does

generally regard dogs, and in particular their saliva, as ‘unclean’, some jurists from

Islam’s Maliki school of jurisprudence have ruled that dogs – and their saliva - are

entirely pure. 191 The Prison Service should avoid always taking the most hardline Islamic

interpretation on such issues.


Islamist extremists are able to make political capital out of almost any issue which

concerns or distresses ordinary Muslims – making it imperative for the Prison Service to

minimize the number of issues and grievances which Islamists can exploit.

The Prison Service has shown awareness of how grievances over issues such as halal

189 ‘Interview with Detainee DD’, Cageprisoners, 8 April 2008,


190 ‘Muslim inmates get new clothes if dog sniffs cell’, The Daily Express, 9 October 2008,


191 Islamonline, ‘Fatwa: ‘It is known to the majority of Muslims that dogs are ritually impure,

but we see some Muslims pet them without hesitation and say that they are pure. What is

the religious opinion on the matter? And what is the ruling of having dogs as pets in the

home?’, Islamonline, 22 February 2007,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors

food, strip-searches or sniffer dogs can be used by Islamists to turn ordinary Muslims

against the government and against mainstream society. However, the Prison Service’s

often confused response to such issues points to a wider confusion in the Prison Service

and in other branches of government.

The Prison Service clearly needs to find a way to systematically respond to complaints

by Muslim prisoners and to address allegations that their religion is not being respected

– while at the same time neither unfairly favouring Muslim or compromising the

security and safety of prisoners and staff. So far, the Prison Service appears to respond

to controversial issues relating to Muslims and their faith on a somewhat ad hoc basis

that is sometimes based on an appeal to ‘common sense’, at other times based on

deferring to religious authorities and individuals that are apparently selected at


For example, the Prison and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales 2001-2

annual report reported on the case of a Muslim man who had refused to stand before

a prison official, claiming it was against his faith. The PPO investigated this – but passed

judgment only once it had consulted with ‘an imam’ – rather than attempting to arrive

at an independent decision. The annual report related that:

‘Mr Y complained (12128/00) that he was required to stand before the adjudicator

to give his name. He consistently refused to do so as, he said, it was contrary to

his Muslim faith. As a result, a number of adjudications were carried out in his

absence. My Investigator discovered that the Governor expected all prisoners and

staff to stand at the beginning of an adjudication. I cannot take exception to this.

It is, of course, the same procedure as in the outside courts. Nevertheless, I sought

expert advice. An Imam advised my Investigator that a Muslim should stand before

an adjudicator because they should respect the authority of both the hearing and

the Prison Rules. I did not therefore uphold Mr Y’s complaint’. 192

Who was this imam? And how was he chosen? Needless to say there are a large number

of ‘imams’ in the UK whose rulings and opinions differ widely. In other cases, arguably

of a similar religious nature, imams have apparently not been consulted at all. More

recently, for example, it has been reported that Kamel Bourgass, a follower of Abu

Hamza who was convicted of murdering a police officer in 2004, has demanded that

female prison officers in Wakefield prison should wear a veil when they speak to him. 193

His demand appears to have been quickly dismissed by the relevant prison authorities.

However, one wonders how the Prison Service arrived at their decision? Was it dismissed

out-of-hand by officers? Or did they too consult ‘an imam’? And what would happen

if the imam agreed with Bourgass’ request? Would his opinion have over-ridden that

of the prison authorities?

The Prison Service needs to strike a difficult balance. Prison authorities should clearly

192 ‘Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme (IEPS),’ from Prison and Probation Ombudsman for

England and Wales 2001-2 annual report. P. 76. Available online at


193 ‘Al-Qaeda killer makes veil jibes from prison cell’, The Daily Express, 28 January 2009



Push factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

not ‘pander’ to any particular racial, ethnic or religious group. At the same time,

however, it is imperative that they take action to address issues which create unnecessary

and avoidable anger and resentment among Muslims and which will thereby

facilitate extremist recruitment. Addressing such issues also needs to be done in such a

way that does not empower extremists by allowing them to claim this as a victory over

the Prison Service – while also removing issues that cause Muslim prisoners to become

resentful of the Prison Service and of the British government.

Imprisonment without trial

The imprisonment of a number of Muslims without trial on suspicion of extremism is a

major factor in prison radicalisation.

During the last five years, several dozen suspected Islamist extremists have been held

without trial in the UK. Some were foreign citizens held pending deportation to their

home countries, others have been British citizens who were fighting extradition to

foreign countries to stand trial on terrorism related charges. Individuals held without

trial include some most of the UK’s most prominent Islamist extremists such as Abu

Hamza and Abu Qatada.

The length of such imprisonments can be considerable. One such detainee, Khalid al-

Fawwaz, who ran Bin Laden’s front-organisation ‘the Advice and Reform Committee’

from London in the 1990s, has been held in prison without trial since his arrest in 1998.

Egyptian members of Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s Islamic Jihad organisation have similarly

been held without trial since 1999. Others from Algeria, Palestine and other countries

have been held for several years before being released or deported. Such lengthy

imprisonments without trial have usually occurred as the combined result of human

rights legislation, slow moving bureaucracy in the UK and abroad, and apparently

deliberate attempts by some defence lawyers to repeatedly stall deportation


The imprisonment of holding a number of high-profile extremists without trial has

important consequences. Not only does this mean that there are additional prominent

and charismatic extremists within the British prison system (in some cases even after

they have served out the sentences they were given in British courts) but it also means

that they are often angry at their treatment by the government and are all the more

keen to radicalise others (and able to cite their own imprisonment without trial as

evidence of the British government’s ill intentions towards Muslims). In addition,

extremist organizations outside prison have sought to use the perceived victimisation

of these individuals by the British government in order to stir up and radicalise the

wider British Muslim community. Another major consequence of these detentions has

been the psychological effect on the detainees. (See appendix for further details).


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors


Key individuals detained without trial

Khalid al-Fawwaz

Khalid al-Fawwaz, a Saudi national, has been detained in high security

establishments in the UK since he was arrested in London in 1998 while

working as bin Laden’s main representative in London. Since then he has

been appealing against deportation to the US to face trial for his alleged

role in al-Qaeda’s 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa. 194 In 2001, the

House of Lords rejected his supposedly ‘final appeal’ against deportation

but, in 2005, the Home Office issued a statement on Fawwaz saying that

‘The overall process has taken longer than was ever anticipated’, blaming

his lawyers and the US. 195 UK officials did not sign documents ‘surrendering’

Fawwaz to the US government until March 2008. Since then al-Fawwaz’s

lawyers have cited the European Convention on Human Rights to further

argue against his extradition and have reportedly launched a fresh appeal

against his deportation in the High Court. 196 He is presently being held in the

secure unit at Long Lartin.

Abu Qatada

Abu Qatada, a Jordanian national of Palestinian origin, has been detained

continuously since 2002 (apart from a few months in 2005 and 2008 when he

was released on control orders). During the 1990s he issued propaganda and

fatwas on behalf of a variety of North African jihadist groups. His preaching

is believed to have influenced al-Qaeda operatives Richard Reid, Zacarias

Moussaoui and Mohammed Atta in whose flat in Hamburg police found

tapes of Abu Qatada’s lectures. He is presently appealing against being

deported to Jordan where his lawyers argue that he will be a risk of torture.

Jordan has already sentenced him in absentia to life imprisonment for

planning terrorist attacks in Jordan in the 1990s.

Abu Hamza

Abu Hamza, a British citizen born in Egypt, was convicted in 2006 of inciting

murder and racial hatred during his time as the imam of the Finsbury Park

Mosque. 197 Since he has been imprisoned since 2004, much of this sentence

194 'US most wanted terrorist suspect in new extradition fight in Britain', Daily Telegraph, 12

Feb 2009 .

195 'Documentation concerning the contested extradition of Khalid al Fawwaz, a Saudi

National, to the United States' (Home Office response to Freedom of Information request,

12 August 2005).

196 Craig Whitlock, 'Britain Pays to Keep Suspects From US Hands', Washington Post, 2 May 2009



Push factors

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Factbox continued

has now been served. However, Abu Hamza is additionally being detained

while he appeals against deportation to the US where he would stand trial

for attempting to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon. 198 He is

presently held in Belmarsh while his appeal against deportation is heard by

the European Court of Human Rights. 199

Babar Ahmed

Babar Ahmed, a British-born Muslim, was arrested in 2004 at the request of

the US on suspicion of running a number of important pro-jihadist websites

from London and providing material support to terrorist groups in Chechnya

and Afghanistan. His appeals against deportation have been rejected by all

British courts, including by the House of Lords in 2007, and he is presently

appealing through the European Court of Human Rights. He has been held

in Belmarsh and Woodhill prisons and is presently detained at HMP Long

Lartin. He has not been convicted of any terrorist related offences – either

in the US or the UK.

Adel Abdel Bary

Adel Abdel Bary, a senior Egyptian member of Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Islamic

Jihad movement, was granted asylum in the UK in 1993. Once in London,

he became involved in running bin Laden’s London office alongside Khalid

al-Fawwaz as well as continuing to work for Islamic Jihad. He was arrested

in London in 1999 at the request of the US which accused him of leading an

Islamic Jihad cell in London and of being involved in al-Qaeda’s 1998

Embassy bombings. 200 Abdel Bary had previously been sentenced to death

in Egypt in 1995 for his role in an alleged Islamic Jihad plot to kill foreign

tourists in Egypt. He is presently detained in Long Lartin prison and, after

losing one appeal against deportation to Egypt, has recently launched a

fresh appeal in the High Court. 201

197 ‘Abu Hamza jailed for seven years’, BBC News, 7 February 2006,


198 ‘Abu Hamza loses extradition fight’, BBC News, 20 June 2008


199 ‘Radical Muslim cleric’s extradition to US delayed’, USA Today, 5 May 2008


200 ‘U.S. Indicts Suspects in East Africa Embassy Bombings’, Statement from US State Department,

9 May 2000


201 ‘Britain Pays to Keep Suspects From U.S. Hands’, Washington Post, 2 May 2009



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Push factors

At present, most of the suspected extremists and terrorists who are being detained

without trial or charge are being held at a special secure unit at Long Lartin prison

(with the important exception of Abu Hamza). In 2008 Babar Ahmed, who is fighting

extradition to the US where he is charged for terror-related offences, described the

atmosphere among the detainees in Long Lartin:

‘Some are optimistic, some are despondent. When some fall into despair, they

begin to blame everyone and anyone for their predicament: themselves, their

families, friends, solicitors, communities, etc. They become paranoid that everyone

is united to destroy them. That said, everyone tries their best to help each

other’. 202

A similar account of the detainees supporting each other was given by Detainee DD,

a Libyan detainee who has since been released on a control order:

‘We are Muslims, in sha’Allah [God willing], we believe in Allah and we hope that

all this shall be placed in our scale of good deeds. We spend our time in prayer.

We encourage and give moral support to each other until we overcome this

crisis’. 203

HMP Inspectorate’s 2007 report on the Category A Unit at Long Lartin corroborates

these accounts of the self-supportive, generally harmonious atmosphere that exists

between the detainees, reporting that:

‘On the unit, detainees completed domestic routines, pursued their legal cases,

used the small gym and/or exercise yard, read Arabic newspapers or watched TV,

carried out regular prayers and associated together. They generally got on well

and supported one another’. 204

As has been shown earlier such an environment provides an ideal place for extremists

to consolidate and deepen each others’ radical beliefs. Concentrating so many

prominent and committed extremists in such a small space and denying them access to

wider prison society also virtually guarantees that they will not change their ideological

views. How can they change their outlook and ideas when they do not come into

contact with other prisoners and if they are never exposed to new ways to thinking?

202 ‘Interview with Babar Ahmed’, Cageprisoners, 7 May 2008,


203 ‘Interview with Detainee DD’, Cageprisoners, 8 May 2008,


204 'An inspection of the category A detainee unit at HMP Long Lartin - July 2007', HM

Inspectorate of Prisons, 2008. p. 10.



Part 2: Radicalisation outside prison

Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

6. Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

For decades, Islamist extremists in prisons around the world have produced books and

theological tracts that have galvanised Islamist and jihadist groups and individuals both

inside and outside prison towards extremism and violence. From British prisons today,

Islamist extremists write and distribute articles, fatwas (religious rulings) and even

complete books promoting intolerance, extremism and terrorist violence.

For over 50 years imprisoned Islamists have used their time in prison to refine and

systemize their ideology through writing books and articles which were then distributed

to followers outside prison. Since the 1950s, the prison writings of Sayyid Qutb whose

pro-jihadist tracts were smuggled out of Egyptian prisons in the 1950s and 60s, have

directly inspired al-Qaeda and other modern jihadist movements. More recently in the

US, Omar Abdel-Rahman, a jihadist preacher jailed for his role in the 1993 World Trade

Centre attack, smuggled a pro-jihadist fatwa out of a US prison. This fatwa later helped

to provide Islamic legitimacy for al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks. 205

Communications from Islamists in British prisons have taken place in a number of




Open letters


Transcribed or recorded interviews


These are problematic when their content falls into two main categories:

Portraying imprisonment as evidence of ‘war on Islam’

Many imprisoned extremists have deliberately sought to portray their

imprisonment and their treatment in prison as being evidence of the British

government’s war on Islam. This is often done with the explicit aim of making

British Muslims angry at the actions of their government.

205 'Andrew McCarthy, ‘Egypt and militant Islam’, The National Review, 13 October 2004. In the

article, McCarthy, the lead prosecutor in Omar Abdel Rahman’s trial for the 1993 attack,

wrote: ‘In the days immediately after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, bin Laden

explained to the media that his war on America had been justified by a fatwa issued from

prison by the Blind Sheik. Upon being jailed, Abdel Rahman had indeed issued a decree

urging Muslims to fight for his release and declaring of Americans that ‘Muslims everywhere

[should] dismember their nation, tear them apart, ruin their economy, provoke their

corporations, destroy their embassies, attack their interests, sink their ships,...shoot down

their planes, [and] kill them on land, at sea, and in the air. Kill them wherever you find



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

Writing theologically-based defences of jihadism

A number of high profile jihadists in British prisons have written extensive theopolitical

defences of al-Qaeda’s ideology which aim to shore-up support for

al-Qaeda and to refute and discredit Muslim critics of al-Qaeda.

While the first category of these can be carried out by low-level extremists, or even by

Islamist individuals who have not been convicted of terrorism offences, the second

category of writings can generally only be authored by individuals who already enjoy a

certain amount of respect in Islamist circles as former jihadists or as ‘clerics’ (or sheikhs,

as their supporters typically describe them) who are seen as being spiritual guides or

theologians. As the example of Sayyid Qutb shows, such prison statements can be

extremely dangerous – not least because they are often seen as more credible on account

of the author’s imprisonment (which is often seen as evidence of his commitment and

dedication to his cause). Imprisoned Islamist extremists typically regard their prison

writings as a form of dawa, a religious obligation to spread their version of the Islamic

faith to others.

In many cases, extremist prisoners have only been able to communicate with individuals

outside prison because of avoidable lapses and mistakes by the Prison Service. Extremists

know that their imprisonment creates new opportunities to radicalise individuals beyond

the prison walls and to stir up anger against western governments and society. Indeed

their imprisonment may often give their theo-political arguments greater credibility. It

is not clear that the Prison Service fully understands this.

Imprisonment as evidence of ‘war on Islam’

Imprisoned extremists typically believe that the British government is at war with Islam

and that the British public is intrinsically hostile to non-Muslims. They believe that they

have a religious duty to communicate this to other Muslims in the UK and abroad – and

accordingly to encourage them to oppose the British government.

A considerable number of imprisoned extremists and suspected extremists in the UK

have sought to convince Muslim readers outside prison that that the British government

is deliberately persecuting Muslims because of their religion. For example, in October

2004, Cageprisoners published part of a letter from Tunisian national Hedi Boudhiba

who was then being held without trial while he contested his extradition to Spain on

charges of providing logistical assistance to al-Qaeda:

‘I swear, I have done nothing bad to anyone, I am not a terrorist. They want to

accuse me no matter what, I can't understand why. Is it because I am a Muslim or

because I knew some people, and they have suspicions against these people? This

isn't justice. This is not a war against terrorists; this is a war against Muslims’. 206

Similarly, Reda Dendani, an Algerian terrorist suspect also known as ‘Detainee Q’, wrote

to Cageprisoners in 2006 to say:

‘If this is not a Police State, what is one? A foreigner in this country is a synonym

206 Hedi Boudhiba was held without trial in the UK for 18 months before he was extradited to

Spain in April 2006, .


Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

for a criminal; a second class citizen. The facts speak for themselves and changing

the name of things or giving them the cover of the law doesn’t changes their

reality. That is: I’m a HOSTAGE in this country. I’m held against my will. I’m in [the]

UK’s version of Guantanamo’. 207

Babar Ahmed, who has been held since 2004 without trial while he fights deportation

to the US (and who has never been convicted of any terrorism-related offences), has

meanwhile described the police who arrested him as ‘torturers’ and said that ‘diversity

and multiculturalism’ are just ‘fancy words for state racism’. 208 Similar rhetoric has been

used by Rachid Ramda, an Algerian terrorist who was convicted of financing the 1995

Paris metro bombings. He referred to his imprisonment as ‘a decade of continuous

psychological and mental torture’ and said that ‘in some instances there was even

physical torture disguised under the mask of the use of minimum force’. 209

Abu Qatada, writing in March 2009, has meanwhile sought to portray his imprisonment

as evidence of a war on Islam and Muslims. In his open letter, addressed ‘to the Muslims’

which was posted widely on Islamist websites, he describes his initial imprisonment in

Belmarsh and then compares the British government with the mushrikeen, a reference

to the ‘polytheists’ who Muhammad fought against and ultimately defeated in 7th

century Arabia:

‘We were with our brothers in solitary cells wherein we remained for more than

twenty-three hours of each night and day, as the person could not see anyone;

rather he would be secluded by himself. This imprisonment - three years - was

without any charges or trial. And also, reviewing the evidences, which were

claimed as the basis of your imprisonment by the government, was not permitted,

as their parliament approved a law, which permitted the state to imprison any

strange foreigner who did not process British citizenship, for an indefinite period

using secret evidence ... [the British government] claims that it respects the human

(rights) regardless of his religion, his colour, his language or his citizenship. But

here it is, eating its god. And it comes up with this law, which differentiates

between one person and another’. 210

Abu Qatada’s letter additionally equated the British government with pagans who

Muhammad and his followers fought and eventually defeated. Fortunately, most such

letters reach only the relatively small number of British Muslims who read the Wahhabiorientated

websites such as islamicawakening.com which regularly reproduce such

207 'A Letter from Reda Dendani, HMP Long Lartin', 25 December 2006, Cageprisoners website


208 Babar Ahmed, ‘The Dark Night’, (18 February 2007), Cageprisoners website


209 Rachid Ramda, '10 Years of Torture in the Civilised World', Cageprisoners, 12 May 2005,


210 Abu Qatada, ‘An address to the Muslims from Abu Qatadah’, Tibyan website, (23 March

2009) .


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

material. In some cases, however, individuals detained on terrorism-related charges in

high-security prisons have been able to reach mass audiences.

For example, one article written by Babar Ahmed from prison which was published by

The Muslim Weekly, one of the UK’s largest circulation Muslim newspapers, in March

2005 also sought to persuade other Muslims that what happened to him could also

happen to them:

‘So now we enjoy our own lives: money in the bank, children happy, stable job,

house, family etc. Then we ‘do our bit’ for the Muslim captives by making dua for

them and then we continue with our comfortable lives. But what if tomorrow it

was our turn? What if our own door was kicked in tomorrow, our own husband,

brother, son or father brutalised by armed thugs, then imprisoned to face

extradition and a death behind bars in one of the worst countries of the world in

their hatred of Islam and Muslims? Would things be different then?’ 211

In another instance, in October 2006, a Libyan detainee fighting deportation to Spain

gave an interview to the Islam Channel from Long Lartin prison. In the broadcast, Faraj

Hassan Al-Saad (then known only as ‘Detainee AS’) protested his innocence, portraying

himself as a victim and saying that the British government was both persecuting Muslims

and seeking also to cover up such abuses. He told the Islam Channel that:

‘Our situation in prison is very hard. We all have been classified as ‘A’ category –

high risk prisoners. Therefore we are not allowed to get any domestic visits by

anyone unless the Home Office approves the visitor's name, and this takes a very

long time to be processed and get cleared. In this prison they don't want the reality

to emerge to the public and the Muslim brothers and sisters around the world’. 212

He also told the channel that:

‘Some of the brothers here have become mentally ill and they are under very heavy

medication. We always get strip-searched in our daily routine; when we come back

from our legal visits and our domestic visits, and if anyone refuses then they use

force against him to take all his clothes off, the same as Abu Ghraib prison. It's very

stressful. All our mail and phone calls are monitored, that's why it took me a very

long time to pass this message on. The court we are appealing to now - called the

special immigration and appeals commission which has been made specifically for

the detainees - we call it the fascist court martial because they use so-called secret


Since then the Prison Service has taken steps to ensure that imprisoned terrorists suspects

are not able to phone the UK’s most-watched Muslim television channel and denounce

the British judicial system as ‘fascist’. As a result of this interview with the Islam Channel,

211 Babar Ahmad: 'I Can Only Make Dua', 29 May 2005, (first published in Muslim Weekly).

Available on Cageprisoners website http://www.cageprisoners.com/articles.php?id=6092

212 ‘Interview with Detainee AS’, [Transcript of Islam Channel interview], 12 October 2006.

Available on website of ‘Scotland Against Criminalising Communities’.



Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

the ‘phonebox’ in the detainees’ area of Long Lartin was closed – according to a joint

letter from the Long Lartin prisoners which was published in The Guardian. 213 His

suggests that Al-Saad had simply telephoned the Islam Channel from the prison’s payphone

– which is intended to be mainly used by prisoners to contact their families and

lawyers. Similarly, the government has signalled that it is aware that extremist prisoners’

communications to the Cageprisoners website are often problematic. In July 2008,

Moazzam Begg, who conducts many of the site’s interviews with jailed individuals and

their families, was quoted as saying that a court order had banned Abu Rideh (while he

was released under a control order) from having contact with him. 214

It is encouraging that the Prison Service now thinks that individuals detained on

terrorism-related charges should not be allowed to deliberately inflame Muslim opinion

and to turn British Muslims against the government. However the government’s

slowness to act on this issue suggests that the Prison Service has grossly underestimated

and misunderstood the threat posed by Islamist extremists. A number of the most highprofile

extremists have made clear that they hope that their prison writings will inspire

Muslims to turn against the British government. Abu Qatada, for example, has written

that God, working through him, has enabled him to show British Muslims outside prison

the British judicial system’s ‘racism’ and ‘hatred of Islam’:

‘Allah, the Most High, has blessed me in this case of mine, in that He exposed the

British justice system, because some of the people, due to their heedlessness,

declare that the British judicial system is free from the criminal element within it,

in other words, the legislative and executive (branches). And I say: My case is one

of the true cases in which the racism of the British judicial system becomes clear,

along with its hatred towards Islam and the Muslims’. 215

He added that he hoped that his prison writings on these subjects would be the ‘fuel’

for al-Qaeda’s global jihad. 216 Abu Qatada added that he is confident that stories about

Muslims in prison have succeeded in radicalising British Muslims and made more and

213 ‘Letter: We are being held as political hostages’, The Guardian, 26 April 2006,


214 Moazzam Begg was quoted as saying that: ‘It seems evident to me that Mahmoud Abu

Rideh - a man innocent of any wrongdoing - has once again been penalised for daring to

tell his story. That they [the Home Office] have now decided that he cannot have any

communication with me demonstrates - in addition to the new and ludicrous ban on burqaclad

women entering his house - an astonishing level of fear of embarrassment for the way

in which Mr Abu Rideh has been treated’. Source: 'Control order bans contact with ex-

Guantanamo detainee', Institute of Race Relations, 31 July 2008,


215 Abu Qatada, ‘An address to the Muslims from Abu Qatadah’, Tibyan website, (23 March

2009) .

216 He wrote that ‘I hope from Allâh, the Most High, that the day will come in which I will write

some about that which I have seen and witnessed and felt, so that it may be a fuel for the

Islâmic Ummah and the Mujâhidîn’..


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

more Muslims start to ‘hate’ the ‘English values’:

‘We have defeated the British government, by the virtue of Allah, the Most High,

and in our imprisonment, there was an uncovering of their filthiness and their

criminality and their false claims of humanism. And we were able to demonstrate

to the Muslims in Britain specifically, that the British government is one which

opposes Islam and the Muslims. And a fracture, which can never be set after that,

took place by the virtue of Allah. The era of lies has finished and it has spread

amongst the people, that there is a Guantanamo in Britain, just as there is a

Guantanamo in America, and it is (called) Belmarsh. And a new generation of the

Muslim youth has been raised, and especially amongst our brothers who originate

from the Indian subcontinent, who were no longer mesmerized by the English

authority, nor regarding the English values - rather they hate it and they know its

enmity towards them, so they have become enemies towards it as well’. 217

Babar Ahmad has similarly written of how he hopes that news of his and others

imprisonments has helped to galvanise other British Muslims – sometimes in ways that

are clearly problematic. For example, in 2004 he wrote that ‘the following good has

already arisen from my imprisonment’ and then listed that ‘the Muslim community has

been jolted, shocked and awoken from its slumber into a state of action’, ‘ordinary, nonpractising

Muslims have been woken up and are now becoming stronger and better

Muslims, in huge numbers’, ‘the Muslim community has closed ranks, united and told the

authorities that we have stopped cooperating with you until you put an end to your

terror, violence and abuse of laws and human rights against Muslims’ and that ‘the

“British Muslim” myth has been destroyed as the Muslims with British passports have

realised that their passport and citizenship is useless … The British passport does not

mean anything as long as you are a practising Muslim’. 218

Islamist and jihadist narratives are partly driven by a sense of victimhood and

persecution. In the UK, these narratives are often specifically driven by a belief that the

British state is racist and consciously anti-Muslim. Much of the propaganda produced

and distributed by Islamist prisoners clearly aims to fortify and strengthen this narrative.

It is therefore deeply problematic that propaganda designed to strengthen this narrative

is being produced in British prisons and disseminated to Muslims outside prison through

the internet and through media outlets such as the Islam Channel and the Muslim


Theological defences of al-Qaeda

In addition to prison communications which predominantly aim to make British Muslims

angry towards the UK government and British society, there is also a separate strand of

detailed theological prison writings. These provide the ideological and intellectual

justifications for hostility towards the west and, in some cases, for jihadist violence.

217 Abu Qatada, ‘An address to the Muslims from Abu Qatadah’, Tibyan website, (23 March

2009) http://tibyan.wordpress.com/2009/03/23/an-address-to-the-muslims-from-abu-qatadah-


218 Babar Ahmad, 'A letter to all from Babar Ahmad', Cageprisoners, 24 August 2004.


Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Jihadism is a complex intellectual doctrine based explicitly on often highly-detailed

theological interpretations of Islam. Its core texts are by individuals who are capable of

writing in a theological style referencing a wide range of Islamic sources and texts – or

by individuals who have acquired a reputation in the jihadist world on account of their

activism and experiences - rather than by low-level terrorist operatives. In the UK, such

communications have been written and distributed from within British prisons by Abu

Qatada, one of the world’s most influential jihadist theologians, and by Adel Abdel

Majid Abdel Bary, a former leading member of Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s Islamic Jihad

organization (which was the precursor to Al-Qaeda).

Adel Abdel Majid Abdel Bary

Abdel Majid Bary is a leading member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group, a terrorist

group that has been led by Ayman al-Zawahiri since 1991 and which has been allied

with al-Qaeda since the early 1990s. Abdel Bary, an Egyptian, is a member of the group’s

leadership council (Shura Council). In 1998 Abdel Bary was arrested by the UK police in

1998 after al-Qaeda’s bombing of two US embassies in East Africa. Up until then he had

been living in London and working in an office with Khalid al-Fawwaz, bin Laden’s main

representative in Europe. Between 1996 and 1998, their office received calls and faxes

from bin Laden and issued fatwas and press-statements on behalf of al-Qaeda. 219 Since

1998, Abdel Bary has been held in a variety of British prisons while fighting extradition

to the US to face charges relating to the 1998 embassy bombings. 220

In early 2008, Abdel Bary, imprisoned in Long Lartin while fighting deportation to Egypt,

wrote an open letter to Dr Fadl, another former Islamic Jihad member who has since

published damning indictments of its jihadist ideology and of Zawahiri and bin Laden.

Abdel Bary’s open letter refuting Fadl’s arguments was passed to his associates outside

prison and then circulated on a variety of Arabic pro-jihadist websites before being

published in full in Al-Hayat, one of the largest circulation newspapers in the Arab

world. 221 The Prison Service’s failure to intercept this communication has been

enormously damaging to global counter-terrorism efforts. Dr Fadl’s refutation of the

jihadist ideology of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda is seen as delivering a huge blow against

jihadist movements. Abdel Bary’s attack on Fadl – with a view to defending al-Qaeda’s

ideology - is the most important response to Fadl by any al-Jihad member (apart from

Zawahiri himself). 222 In particular, Abdel Bary questions Fadl’s denunciation of the 9-11

219 Sean O'Neill, 'Worldwide trail of bloodshed that leads to suburban London' The Telegraph

(19 September 2001), Nick Fielding and Dipesh Gadhery, 'Al-Qaeda's Satellite Phone Records

Revealed' The Sunday Times (24 March 2002)

220 Craig Whitlock 'Britain Pays to Keep Suspects From U.S. Hands', Washington Post, (2 May


221 ‘Egyptian Islamist Leading Member Imprisoned in Britain Since 1988 Replies to the 'Jihadist

Theoretician' and His Criticism of Al-Qa'idah’ Al-Hayat (Arabic), 28 August 2008

222 Ironically, the other most significant assault on Dr Fadl also originates in the UK and comes

from Hani al-Sibai, another former Shura Council member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad who

published a 13,000 words refutation of Fadl on 25 December 2008. Al-Sibai, convicted on

terrorism charges in absentia in Egypt, presently lives freely in London.


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

attack on the Pentagon (saying that as a military installation, this was a permissible

target) and describes Fadl as ‘ignorant’ of theology, writing that Fadl’s ‘ignorance lies in

abandoning jihad for the sake of God, and abandoning the defence of the honour, the

religion, and the countries of the Muslims’.

Abdel Bary also claims that Fadl has recanted his pro-jihadist ideas only because of

conditions in Egyptian prisons – condescendingly saying that he himself, in Long Lartin,

has not however retracted his views, writing that, ‘we excuse you [i.e. Fadl], because

prison has its circumstances and conditions, which are well known to your brethren who

are living under similar conditions’. He also compares Fadl unfavourably with Sayyid

Qutb, writing that Qutb was ‘firm on his principles, not submitting to the awe and power

of prison’. Abdel Bary’s imprisonment in Long Lartin has therefore clearly not only failed

to ‘de-radicalise’ him; instead it has given him a more powerful platform from which to

attack Muslims opposed to al-Qaeda’s jihad and defend al-Qaeda.

Although the Abdel Bary statement was picked up by the Foreign Office in early 2008 –

it was translated in full by the FCO-funded BBC Monitoring soon after its publication -

there is no evidence that the Prison Service was alerted to the full implications of his

prison statement. 223 Certainly the Prison Service did not take effective steps to prevent

subsequent communications by the high-profile jihadists of Long Lartin. Indeed, Abdel

Bary’s success in distributing his thoughts through the internet and through Al-Hayat

seems only to have emboldened him and his fellow Long Lartin inmate Abu Qatada to

produce further pro-jihadist statements and communications.

Abu Qatada

In June 2008 Abu Qatada, one of the world’s most influential pro-jihadist theologians,

was interviewed by Adel Abdel Bary in Long Lartin prison. The interview was then

transcribed as a collection of fatwas – with Abu Qatada’s answers presented in form of

a series of legal rulings supplied in response to specific questions by Abdel Bary. The

transcription of this Arabic-language interview (or possibly even a recording of it) was

then passed to an unknown person outside the prison who then posted it into a

prominent Arabic-language jihadi website (www.tawhed.ws). 224

The resulting document was a major declaration of support for al-Qaeda’s ideology and

an attack on al-Qaeda’s Muslim critics. For example, Abu Qatada’s fatwas contained

declarations of overt support for jihadi movements worldwide, his reflections on leading

salafi scholars and theological arguments legitimising the murder of Muslims opposed

to al-Qaeda. Abu Qatada also specifically denounced the Sunni ‘Awakening Councils’

which have helped defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq as ‘apostates’, thereby legitimising attacks

against them by wahhabi jihadists, and described Dr Fadl (Zawahiri’s former colleague

223 Abdel Bary’s refutation of Dr Fadl was translated into English and distributed by BBC

Monitoring on 31 August 2008 – three days after the original was published in Al-Hayat. See

'Egyptian held in UK replies to cleric's criticism of Al-Qa'idah', BBC Monitoring (Middle East),

31 August 2008.

224 ‘Interview with Sheikh Abu Qatada, from inside British prisons’ (15 Feruary 2009, Available

on the www.tawhed.ws website (Arabic). Available online at



Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

turned critic) as ‘ignorant’ and his writings as ‘outright lies’. He additionally described the

police and army of Muslim-majority countries opposed to al-Qaeda as ‘kafirs and

apostates’ - thereby also justifying jihadist attacks against them.

In January 2009, Abu Qatada issued another, shorter, statement on the Israeli attack on

Hamas in Gaza in which he praised jihadist organisations, saying that Hamas’ fighters

‘were patient as the mountains and gave martyrs and the pure blood of children and

women and elders and the youth’ and that ‘your death is like the death of your

mujahideen brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia, it is the death of martyrs. So

this is a bounty that you should not cry over but strive towards’. This statement was

posted onto the tawhed.ws website by Yassir al-Sirri, an Islamic Jihad member living in

London who is a major conduit between Islamists in UK prisons and the outside world.

In March 2009, Abu Qatada issued yet another statement, this time titled ‘An address to

the Muslims from Abu Qatada’. In this, he detailed his experiences with the British

government, compared British prisons to Guantanamo, praised the ‘mujahideen’ and

predicted that the British government would lose the battle against Islamist extremism

(which he views as a battle between Islam and unbelief). 225 He also aims to persuade

Muslim readers that the treatment of him and other Muslim prisoners is evidence of the

‘contempt and hatred which the British government holds against Islam’. His statement

was well-received by some English-speaking jihadists. One of them commented on a

website where an English translation had been posted: ‘May Allaah free the Shaykh and

humiliate and destroy the kuffaar [disbelievers] holding him captive, ‘Aameen [amen]’. 226

These incidents indicate that there is clearly a major problem at Long Lartin. However,

Abu Qatada and Abdel Bary sending statements and fatwas out from within prison is

only part of the problem. In addition, Abu Qatada (and, potentially, Abdel Bary) have

apparently been receiving feedback on their writings from jihadists outside prison. For

example, in March 2009, Abu Qatada wrote that ‘Some of the comments about it [his

most recent statement] have reached me’. 227

Disturbingly, Abu Qatada is currently preparing to release even more significant works

from prison. In March 2009, he wrote that he has used his time in prison to memorize

the Quran “which helped me in writing a number of books. 228 Most significantly, Abu

Qatada mentioned writing one overtly pro-jihadist book:

‘While inside, I also wrote the book: ‘Limatha Intasarna?’ (‘Why Were We

Victorious?’). I clarified in this book the meaning of victory from the Book of Allah,

225 Abu Qatada, ‘An address to the Muslims from Abu Qatadah’, Tibyan website, (23 March

2009) .

226 Ibid.

227 Abu Qatada, ‘An address to the Muslims from Abu Qatadah’, Tibyan website, (23 March

2009) .

228 Abu Qatâdah, ‘An Address to the Muslims’, Al-Tibyan website



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

the Most High, and I discussed the status of the jihadi movements; specifically and

its effects on the world in general. And in it, I came to the certain conclusion that

we are living in a victory, because the grid line for the Ummah (nation) of Islam is

on the rise and the line of Kufr (disbelief) is descending and falling. And within this

book there are many hypothetical debates with the defeatist side within the Islamic

ranks’. 229

In other words, his book aims to help jihadists understand which tactics and strategies

are productive and which are not – as well as reassuring them that extreme Islamism is

gradually triumphing over ‘disbelief’ (which, for Abu Qatada, encompasses non-Muslims

and moderate Muslims). 230 Needless to say, such a book if released would help jihadist

movements such as al-Qaeda to hone their military and political strategies as well as

providing a morale boost to jihadist groups worldwide. Senior members of Quilliam

have appealed to the Prison Service’s Extremism Unit to seize these works from Abu

Qatada before they can be distributed to his followers outside of prison – however it is

not clear if this has yet had any effect.

The government (including the FCO and the security services) should have been alert to

the danger of Abu Qatada and others issuing pro-jihadist statements from prison. Back

in 2005, Abu Qatada released a 118-page overtly pro-jihadist book from Belmarsh

entitled Al-’Arbaun al-Jiyad li-Ahl al-Tawhid Wa’l-Jihad ’ (‘The Forty Steeds For the

People of Tawhid and Jihad ’). 231 Indeed, Abu Qatada’s distribution of pro-jihadist books

and statements from within prison becomes more absurd in view of the conditions

attached to his release on a control order in 2008 – which stated that Abu Qatada ‘is not

229 He also described his other two books, writing that ‘the most beautiful of them, in my

opinion, was the book: ‘Fann al-Qira’ah’ (‘The Art of Reading’), which is a book in which I

hoped to narrate my experience with the great endeavour of reading, so that the person

may reach through it, ... which I labelled: ‘Al-Qiraah al-Jadaliyyah’ [‘Forensic Reading’], in

which I mentioned many of the dreams, advice and conclusions, so that the reader may

reach to the exaltation of Allah, the Great, and His glorification. And I wanted to make the

reading of religious material a scientific (style) of reading, just as I wanted to make reading -

any reading - to be a religious-based reading through its correct meaning. In other words,

that the Ubudiyyah (servitude of worship) would be completed for Allah, the Most High’.

230 The book probably relies heavily on the input of Abu Qatada’s fellow detainees at Long

Lartin, Khalid al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdel-Bary, who were senior members of al-Qaeda and

Egyptian Islamic Jihad respectively. This additionally illustrates the dangers of concentrating

extremist prisoners together.

231 This book, only available in Arabic, was widely distributed through Arabic-language jihadist

chat forums – principally www.tawhed.ws website run by followers of Abu Mohammed al-

Maqdisi. The book is a detailed analysis of 40 hadiths and an explanation of how they each

vindicate and support jihadism. For example, Abu Qatada quoted one Hadith narrating that

‘I was ordered to fight people until they say there is no god but god, and whoever says is

has protected his self and wealth except for what is due upon him and his judgment is upon

Allah’. He then interpreted this as saying ‘this narration explains the goal for which people

are fought and why swords are raised’ – i.e. that jihad should be conducted in order to

forced non-Muslims to accept Islam. Abu Qatada, Al-’Arbaun al-Jiyad li-Ahl al-Tawhid Wa’l-

Jihad’ (‘The Forty Steeds For the People of Tawhid and Jihad ’). Available online (in Arabic)

at the www.tawhed.ws website: /


Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

permitted to publish or permit to be published any document or statement without the

prior approval of the SSHD and shall not make any statement that he has reason to

believe is likely to be published’. 232 If the government believes that Abu Qatada should

not be allowed to distribute documents while he is released on control order, then why

has the Prison Service allowed him to distribute pro-jihadist texts from within prison?

These failures are indicative of a larger failure within the Prison Service and wider

government to understand the nature of Islamist terrorism and the extent to which it is

an ideas-driven theological movement. Allowing Abu Qatada and Abdel Bary to

disseminate their views – and in particular to attack the ideas of anti-jihadist theologians

– can potentially cause massive damage to worldwide efforts to combat al-Qaeda and

related groups. The Prison Service’s current mismanagement of this issue risk

strengthening jihadist movements around the world. Dr Fadl has been described by one

leading terrorism analyst as dealing a ‘body blow’ to al-Qaeda and it is therefore clearly

absurd that individuals imprisoned for being extremists are allowed to attack him from

within British prisons – where their bed and board is provided by the British taxpayers. 233

Putting extremists in prison does not undermine their ideology and may actually increase

their credibility in jihadist circles.

How has this happened?

It is largely unclear how so many imprisoned extremists, including convicted terrorists

such as Dhiren Barot, have been able to pass such a large volume of written material to

their supporters outside.

In the case of Long Lartin, it appears that there may be a shortage of suitably trained

staff in key positions. For example, the Independent Monitoring Board’s 2007-8 report

on Long Lartin wrote of the prison’s censorship department:

‘It has only a small staff and day-by-day its work attracts little attention. Yet it has

a high level of importance to the security of the establishment and every single

prisoner depends upon its efficiency. The Board therefore notes with concern the

patently inadequate conditions under which the Censors operate. Assurances have

been given over the last year or so that improved facilities are on the way; they

cannot come too soon’. 234

In addition, there are reports that not enough Long Lartin staff have the linguistic and

cultural skills that would allow them to identify and tackle instances of extremism. For

232 Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) Bail order: ‘Omar Othman aka Abu Qatada

vs The Secretary of State for the Home Department’. Available on the website of The



233 Daniel L. Byman, 'Al-Qaida at 20: Is the Movement Destined To Fail?' Saban Center for

Middle East Policy, Brookings Institute, 12 August 2008


234 'Annual Report of the Independent Monitoring Board - Long Lartin - 01.02.07 / 31.01.08',

Independent Monitoring Board, http://www.imb.gov.uk/annual-reports/08-annualreports/Long_Lartin_2007-2008.pdf?view=Binary.


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Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

example, the government’s Inspectorate of Prisons 2007 report on Long Lartin’s detainee

unit reported that:

The ‘staff [of the segregation unit where terrorist detainees are held] had been

specially selected for their suitability for the unit, but they had received no training

in the legal background, detention histories, or cultural and religious needs of the

detainees, and there were no Arabic speakers among them’. 235

The report added that:

‘A concern was that (apart from the Muslim chaplaincy) there were no Muslim or

Arabic-speaking staff who had first-hand appreciation of important cultural

differences or who could understand what the detainees were saying to each

other. This made it more difficult to manage the detainees on a daily basis, as well

as presenting some security concerns, as staff could never be certain what was

being discussed between detainees’.

Further complicating the issue is that imprisoned extremists have used a variety of tactics

that have probably been used in different UK prisons in order to distribute messages

from inside.


On some occasions, information may have been sent from within prisons using

computers (which are sometimes allowed to help prisoners prepare their legal cases)

and mobile phones (which are not allowed in prisons).

For example, in July 2007, prison officers discovered that Tariq Al-Dour, jailed for running

jihadist websites from London, had been illicitly accessing the internet from within

Belmarsh using his laptop (provided by the Prison Service) and a smuggled mobile

telephone. 236 The Guardian reported that at the time of his discovery, al-Dour was

building a website. It is utterly inexplicable that the Prison Service allowed Al-Dour to

access the internet and begin constructing a website. After all, only a month previously

Al-Dour had been convicted of using the internet to encourage others to carry out

terrorist attacks. 237 In 2006 The Mirror reported that 28 Belmarsh prisoners had been

given £1,000 laptops – and speculated that the laptops could be used for ‘subversive

purposes’ and could allow inmates to illicitly access the internet – information that was

repeated on the Cageprisoners website. 238 Why was the Daily Mirror able to identify the

235 HM Inspectorate of Prisons, ‘An inspection of the category A detainee unit at HMP Long

Lartin’, (July 2009) p. 9 .

236 Raffaello Pantucci, 'Britain’s Prison Dilemma: Issues and Concerns in Islamic Radicalization'

Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Monitor (Volume 6, Issue: 6, March 24, 2008)

237 'UK court jails trio who incited terrorism over Web', Reuters, (5 Jul


238 Greig Box, 'Exclusive: Terror cell', The Mirror, (14 July

2007), Greig Box, 'Exclusive: Laptops for terror suspects', The Mirror, (8 March 2006)


Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

potential risks of giving laptops to extremist prisoners (including those convicted of

inciting terrorism online) while the Prison Service was not?

In March 2008, the Cageprisoners website published a recording of Amar Makhlulif (an

Algerian terrorist suspect also known as ‘Abu Doha’) who was then imprisoned within

Long Lartin. 239 The recording featured him describing his time in prison since his arrest.

The poor quality of the recording possibly suggests that it was made on a computer or

perhaps some sort of portable electronic device such as a mobile telephone – and that

the electronic file of the recording was then then smuggled out of the prison and passed

to the Cageprisoners website. It is not clear how this happened.


In other instances, prisoners have communicated through the prison telephones.

Although the phones are supposed to be routinely monitored, there are instances where

prisoners have used these to relay information to people outside.

The most striking instance of this occurred when an Algerian detainee spoke live on the

Islam Channel through the prison phones (SEE ABOVE SECTION). In another instance,

also in 2008, Mustapha Taleb gave a phone interview to Moazzam Begg of

Cageprisoners from the secure unit at Long Lartin – which was then reproduced on the

Cageprisoners website. 2405 Other incidents reveal co-ordination between prisoners and

their supporters outside. For example, according to the Cageprisoners website, Rachid

Ramda’s solicitors have distributed a letter from Ramda appealing for financial assistance

to allow him to take an Open University course while he was in prison. 241 After the

money was collected, Ramda wrote an open letter from prison to thank them, writing

that ‘I thank you for helping me to transform Belmarsh's desert, sweltering with the

heat of injustice and oppression, into an oasis of hope and freedom’. 242 While appealing

for funding for a legitimate Open University course was neither illegal nor problematic,

such communications between prisoners and their supporters outside could be used for

less benign purposes.

Prison visits

It is likely that at least some material has been smuggled out of prisons through meetings

between prisoners and their visitors.

In some instances, extremists who should have been known to the security services have

been able to visit prisoners – potentially allowing them to swap documents and/or verbal

239 'Cageprisoners Exclusive: Hider Hanani speaking from his cell in Long Lartin' (Audio

recording’. Available on the Cageprisoners website:

240 ‘The Long Lartin Interviews: Moazzam Begg Interviews Mustapha Taleb’ (11 March 2008),

Cageprisoners, .

241 ‘Books Not Bars For Rachid Ramda’, (20 August 2004), Cageprisoners website


242 'Rachid Ramda Says Thank You From His Belmarsh Cell', Cageprisoners, 27 October 2004,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Supporting al-Qaeda’s narrative

messages. For example, Jamal Ben Miloud Amar Ajouaou, a Moroccan who had assisted

Abu Qatada from 1999, was allowed to regularly visit Yassir al-Sirri and Abu Doha while

they were being held in Belmarsh in 2002. 243 Ajouaou was later arrested on terrorism

charges by the British police but was allowed to leave the UK to live in Morocco.

Many statements from the most prominent extremists have also been distributed by

Yassir al-Sirri, a member of the leadership council of Egyptian Islamic Jihad who was

briefly imprisoned in the UK in 2001 on suspicion of helping organise the assassination

of Ahmed Shah Massood, the leader of anti-Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. In June

2004, an open letter from ‘Muslim prisoners’ in Belmarsh which compared British prisons

to Guantanamo and described the treatment of Muslim prisoners as part of a ‘preplanned

evil and malevolent policy’ was distributed by Sirri’s organisation the ‘Islamic

Observation Centre’ with an afterword from al-Sirri. It was first published on

almarsad.net, al-Sirri’s now-defunct personal website, and then distributed further

through the internet. 244 Since then, Al-Sirri has released statements by Abu Qatada and

others through Arabic-language jihadist websites – although it is unclear how these

were smuggled out of highly-secure establishments such as Long Lartin. The Inspectorate

of Prisons’ 2009 report on Long Lartin detainee unit reports that:

‘Detainees in the specialist unit had good access to their solicitors and use of a fax

machine in the unit’. 245

It is possible that either this fax-machine or solicitors have been used to pass messages

from Long Lartin detainees to their supporters outside prison. In the US, lawyers and

their assistants have been convicted of passing communications between convicted

terrorists and their supporters outside prison. 246 If lawyers or their assistants in the UK

have similarly breached UK laws through facilitating the distribution of pro-terrorist

material from imprisoned extremists, then they should be prosecuted appropriately.

Some prisons have been much more effective than others at preventing imprisoned

extremists from transmitting their messages to the outside world. For example, Belmarsh

243 Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), 'Jamal Ben Miloud Amar Ajouaou and

Secretary of State for the Home Department', (Date of judgement: 29th October 2003).

Available on SIAC website:


244 'A Witness and A Call - A Letter From A Belmarsh Prisoner', Islamic Observation Centre, (4

July 2004). Available on the Cageprisoners website

245 HM Inspectorate of Prison, ‘An inspection of the category A detainee unit at HMP Long

Lartin’, (July 2009) http://inspectorates.homeoffice.gov.uk/hmiprisons/inspect_reports/hmpyoi-inspections.html/550993/Long_Lartin_(2008).pdf?view=Binary.

246 For example, in 2005, Lynne Stewart, a lawyer, and two of her assistants (a paralegal and an

interpreter) were convicted of passing messages from Omar Abdel Rahman, the leader of

the Gamaa Islamiya terrorist organisation, in defiance of federal rules designed to prevent

Abdel Rahman from communicating with his supporters. The US Attorney General, Alberto

Gonzales, said the convictions would ‘send a clear, unmistakable message that this

department will pursue both those who carry out acts of terrorism and those who assist

them with their murderous goals’. Source: ‘Lawyer is guilty of aiding terror’ New York Times,

11 February 2005. .


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has in recent years been highly successful at preventing convicted terrorists and

supporters of terrorism from spreading their message beyond the prison. Abu Hamza,

for example, has been able to pass almost no significant written or audio messages from

within Belmarsh to his supporters outside. 247 If prisons like Belmarsh are capable of

preventing jailed extremists from passing inciteful, pro-jihadist messages to their

supporters outside, then it stands to reason that all other prisons should also be able to

do the same. Prisons such as Long Lartin need to take immediate steps to ensure that

individuals imprisoned for inciting violence and hatred are not allowed to continue to

incite such violence and hatred from behind bars. Prison like Belmarsh which appear to

have solved this problem need to share their knowledge and expertise with other prisons

which also hold significant numbers of extremists.


247 The only exceptions are a short audio recording of Abu Hamza reading a poem which

appeared on youtube and was possibly recorded on a mobile phone in prison and then sent

to supporters outside – and a short interview (quoted in this report) with the Cageprisoners

organisation in which he discussed his time in prison– neither these incited violence or

hatred. Alastair Jamieson , 'Hate cleric Abu Hamza in YouTube poem from prison', 24 Sep

2008, The Daily Telegraph. .


Unlocking Al-Qaeda


7. Conclusion

The dynamics of prison radicalisation are relatively straight-forward. Radicalisation

occurs where prisoners are both ‘pulled’ towards Islamist ideologies through extremists’

deliberate recruitment methods while also ‘pushed’ towards such messages through

racism, violence and mistreatment at the hands of prison staff and other prisoners.

Unfortunately, such apparent simplicity does not mean that solutions to this problem

are equally simple. Indeed, there are genuine questions about whether radicalisation

in prisons can ever be entirely stopped. Prisons by their very nature create the acute

feelings of loneliness, fear, anger and self-doubt which will always make individuals

vulnerable to radical ideologies like Islamism which promote spiritual certainty,

simplistic solutions to complex socio-economic problems and a powerful sense of

belonging and group identity. Extremists who encourage hatred of the British political

system will also always find an audience among prisoners incarcerated by the British

state. The formation of gangs, whether Islamist or not, for mutual support and

protection will similarly remain an almost inevitable feature of prison life as long as

prisons remain places of fear and intimidation where violence often occurs along ethnoreligious

lines. An additional challenge for those seeking to prevent Islamist

radicalisation in British prisons is that, as this report has shown, extremists in British

prisons are often highly motivated and charismatic individuals who believe it is their

religious duty to convert others to their ideology.

While the Prison Service has taken several steps to address the substantial challenges of

preventing prison radicalisation, there is little hard evidence that its initiatives have yet

made a substantial impact. Even allowing for the propagandistic nature of some

extremists’ accounts of prison life, there can be little doubt that incidents of racism and

ethnic violence remain rife in prisons given that even the government’s own surveys

report that many Muslim prisoners feel that their religious beliefs are trampled on and

that they are not treated equally or fairly by prison staff. Crucially, many positive Prison

Service policies have arguably been compromised by their poor implementation. For

example, the much overdue recruitment of Muslim prison chaplains has risked being

compromised by the recruitment of predominantly Deobandi individuals at the expense

of other Islamic schools of thought which arguably have a better track record of

promoting inclusivity and tolerance. Other lapses have actually facilitated radicalisation

by actively empowering extremists. For example, prominent extremists have on occasion

been given ‘mentoring’ courses, allowed to lead Friday prayers and treated as

representatives of all Muslim prisoners. Other elemental problems also endure: projihadist

books remain available in prisons, leading jihadist ideologues freely

communicate with their followers outside prison and many prison staff lack the

necessary training which will enable them to recognise or effectively tackle Islamist


There is much that the Prison Service can do to tackle prison radicalisation within an

overall framework of making ordinary Muslim prisoners less susceptible to Islamists’

messages while also challenging existing Islamists’ ideologies and reducing their ability

and motivation to recruit others. Ordinary Muslims can be made less vulnerable to

Islamist recruitment through addressing key grievances such as perceptions of an official



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

bias against Muslims which help drive ordinary Muslims towards Islamists – as well as

tackling anti-Muslim sentiment among non-Muslim inmates. This can also be done

through raising awareness of inclusive and tolerant forms of Islam among prisoners

and staff, breaking down social and psychological barriers between Muslims and non-

Muslims and challenging perceptions that there is a contradiction between being British

and being Muslim.

At the same time, it is increasingly clear that special measures will be needed to deradicalise

existing Islamist extremists in the prison system. This can be done initially

through initiatives such as exposing Islamists to alternative forms of Islam, arranging

meetings between extremists and victims of terrorist violence and allowing prisoners to

access Islamic texts which challenge and refute Islamists’ core ideologies. In the longrun,

however, it seems sensible for the UK to establish a specialised de-radicalisation

centre that can first isolate and then actively de-radicalise prominent extremists and

convicted terrorists. Other countries such as Egypt, Yemen and Libya have previously

achieved important successes in this field through setting up similar centres and there

is much that the UK can learn from their example. Islamism in all its varieties will remain

a threat to the UK’s secular, liberal and democratic society for many years to come – and

this will continue to be reflected in British prisons (Dhiren Barot, for example, was

sentenced in 2006 to serve a minimum of 40 years in prison). The Prison Service, and

much of government as a whole, needs therefore to move beyond its present defensive

posture and its habit of seeking quick fixes and instead adopt robust long-term

strategies that will provide permanent solutions to the challenges posed by extremism

Islamism in British prisons.


Unlocking Al-Qaeda


8. Recommendations

The Prison Service has undoubtedly taken important steps towards tackling extremism

by adopting a range of measures and initiatives designed to limit the ability of

extremists to radicalise other prisoners (as well as a range of measures to more

effectively monitor extremists in prison). However the Prison Service now needs to

extend and deepen these initiatives while also working with other relevant branches of

government (such as the FCO) to explore new methods that will not only prevent future

radicalisation but also help persuade existing extremists to renounce their former


This report’s recommendations are divided into two sections:

Part 1: Policies that can be put into place throughout the Prison Service

There are a number of policies, co-ordinated by the Prison Service’s Extremism

Unit, that can be established in order to make ordinary Muslims less susceptible

to extremist recruitment and also to reduce the influence and zeal of Islamist

recruiters. Some of these recommendations have already been implemented

wholly or in part by the Prison Service – their inclusion in the recommendations

aims to underscore that these are valuable initiatives that need to be continued,

refined and in some cases rolled out and implemented more widely.

Part 2: Creation of a specialised de-radicalisation centre.

The UK government needs to create a special de-radicalisation centre. This will

isolate the most important and influential extremists presently held in the prison

estate (thereby preventing them radicalising others) while also enrolling them in

a programme which incentivises de-radicalisation with an aim to helping these

individual to question and ultimately reject extreme Islamist and jihadist beliefs.

All counter-extremism efforts should not only aim to tackle radicalisation and extremist

ideas but also actively promote positive and universal values of equality, freedom of

religion and expression and of mutual tolerance. These shared values, and not merely

the rejection of jihadist violence, are what are needed to ensure the success of the UK’s

multi-faith, multi-ethnic democracy. Violent extremism should not be tackled at the

expense of broader community cohesion. Preventing terrorism is not enough – the

Prison Service must also contribute to making British society more cohesive and

accepting of others.

Part 1: Policies relevant to the Prison Service as a whole

a. Making ordinary Muslim prisoners less vulnerable to Islamism

Steps need to be taken across the Prison Service to make ordinary Muslim prisoners

less vulnerable to radical recruitment by making them aware of the dangers of

extremism and by tackling the key grievances that make Islamist arguments attractive

and which ‘push’ ordinary people towards extremists.



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Warn new Muslim inmates of extremists

New Muslim prisoners need to be warned on arrival about the dangers of extremist

prisoners. New inmates can be provided with theologically-grounded leaflets produced

by the Prison Service, in conjunction with reputable Muslim organisations, which

provide scriptural references warning about Muslim extremists based on the Quran and

relevant hadiths.

Resolve halal food concerns

The issue of halal food must not continue to come between Muslim prisoners and the

Prison Service. Prisons need to take all necessary steps to tackle Muslim suspicion of

halal food by fully involving Muslim prisoners and staff in the preparation of food and

by involving external Muslim scholars or imams where necessary.

‘Zero tolerance’ approach on discrimination and bullying

There is a wide-spread perception among Muslims inmates that they are discriminated

against by the Prison Service and by frontline staff. Whether or not this is empirically

true, this is a perception that must be challenged as it leads directly to individuals

adopting extremist narratives that the west is waging a ‘war on Islam’. Staff who treat

Muslims prisoners in an abusive or discriminatory manner must be disciplined. Similarly,

non-Muslim bullying or intimidation of Muslim prisoners must be firmly dealt with.

Create and publicise clearer guidelines

There need to be clearer rules on what prisoners are and are not allowed to do – for

example, in terms of associating, holding private prayers etc. The lack of clear rules can

easily create an impression among Muslim inmates that regulations are arbitrarily

applied – and often to the detriment of Muslim prisoners. These guidelines and rules

need to be made clear to prisoners so that perceptions of mistreatment and

discrimination are not allowed to fester.

Increase out-reach to the vulnerable

Islamists often recruit by reaching out to individuals who are in crisis or feel under

threat. The Prison Service needs to do more to pre-empt such Islamist outreach. For

example, prisoners’ complaints about staff or prisoners need to be processed and

addressed more quickly, prison chaplains and other prison staff need to be quicker to

identify troubled individuals and offer them help and support.

More mentoring and support

Charities, particularly faith-based ones and those dealing with young people, should be

encouraged and helped to work in prisons with vulnerable individuals who may be at

risk of radicalisation. Useful interventions can take the form of mentoring, education

classes, arranging visits from ex-offenders who have reformed, letter-writing to inmates

from outsiders etc – all aimed at making Muslim prisoners less hostile to British society

while also preparing for their return to society. Charities such as Mosaic are already

doing good work by using Muslim businessmen to mentor prisoners and even to offer

them post-release employment. It is important that any such contact with prisoners,


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once initiated, is sustained or this can make prisoners feel even more abandoned,

disillusioned and isolated – and ripe for radicalisation.

Targeted post-release rehabilitation

The Prison Service needs to refine its programme to rehabilitate Muslim prisoners back

into society after their release – a time when individuals are highly vulnerable to

extremist influence. The Probation Service and the Youth Justice Board should be closely

involved in such work. It may be necessary to use moderate mosques to help prisoners

manage this post-release transition. Such mosques can provide spiritual support for

former prisoners and also help them to become reunited and reconciled with their

families. Much anecdotal evidence (which is outside the scope of this report) suggests

that many Muslim prisoners are rejected by their close relatives after their release from

prison for bringing ‘shame’ on their families – this often isolates ex-offenders and makes

them more likely to turn to Islamist groups for sympathy, friendship and support.

b. Challenging extremist thought in prisons

Until such time as a separate de-radicalisation centre is established (or indeed if one is

not established) it will also be necessary to take a number of pro-active steps to tackle

extremists throughout the prison estate in order to push back against Islamist


Provide more moderate literature for Muslim prisoners

Imprisoned extremists need to be provided with books that refute and challenge their

ideology – and which promote a more tolerant ideology in its place. This can range

from books by modern Muslim writers refuting Islamism such as by Khaled Abou El-

Fadl or Abdullahi al-Na’im to traditional authors such as the poet Rumi or the

philosopher Ibn Arabi which promote a tolerant and spiritual Muslim identity. Muslimthemed

magazines, such as Emel, which promote a modern and tolerant Muslim-British

identify, can also be selectively stocked (including in women’s prisons] to help challenge

negative perceptions of the relation between Islam, Muslims and British society. (A more

completed suggested book list is included as an appendix to this report – see Appendix


Visiting Muslim theologians

Arrange for non-extremist Muslim theologians and clerics to visit and preach moderate

and tolerant interpretations of Islam. Good examples of such are the Habaib from

Yemen, descendents of Mohammed whose theological training is widely respected and

whose teachings are tolerant and pluralistic. Former Islamists, either from the UK or

from abroad, who have renounced extremism can also visit prisons to give talks. Such

talks by theologians or former extremists can be done in lecture-formats to large

audiences or else in smaller discussion circles with extremists and suspected extremists.

Promote shared values/history

Shared values and identities can be promoted through literature, teaching, lectures,

workshops. For instance, visiting academic lecturers could talk about the role of Muslim

soldiers in the Second World War or the role of Muslims in the US civil rights

movements, visiting successful British Muslim businessmen can also give lectures on how



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

they succeeded in the UK. This will help to undermine and counter Islamism’s ‘them’ and

‘us’ worldview and the belief that UK society is ‘against Muslims’.

Visits from victims of terrorism

Prisons could arrange for victims of terrorism, from both the UK and from Muslimmajority

countries, to visit prisons and to give talks to extremist prisons and prisons

with large numbers of Muslims. This could take the form of lectures to large audiences

of Muslims and non-Muslims or small group discussions between these visiting

individuals and prominent or influential imprisoned extremists. Ultimately, other

individuals such as Holocaust survivors or refugees from Darfur could also be involved

in this. Many of these visits could be arranged on a pro-bono basis.

Psychologists’ visits

Trained psychologists, ideally non-Muslims, need to begin a systematic programme of

meeting with convicted and suspected extremists in prison. The experience of being

listened to and empathised with by sympathetic non-Muslims will help to undermine

extremist perspectives. In the long term, it can also help address and resolve issues of

anger and frustrations felt by many Islamist inmates.

History classes

Extremists and terrorists are usually intelligent and curious people who are interested

in learning about the world around them. History classes taught by visiting professors

will help them understand British history and the nature and origins of the UK’s

democracy and secular society. At present, their ignorance on these subjects contributes

towards their failure to understand or appreciate British society.

Art and activities

Some prisons have been mocked for giving extremists courses in art and comedy –

leading to some such courses being discontinued. Such courses are useful however in

rehabilitating extremists and can play a key role in encouraging them to see non-

Muslims not as faceless enemies but as fellow human beings. Courses that challenge

extremists’ perception of themselves and of wider society should be fully supported.

Such courses are also useful for ordinary prisoners in inoculating them against extremist


c. Limiting Islamist outreach

At the same time as seeking to inoculate Muslim prisoners against Islamist thought and

to raise their awareness of more moderate understandings of Islam, Islamists need to

be prevented, where possible, from attempting to recruit other prisoners. This means

the Prison Service must stop empowering extremists, disrupt their efforts to recruit new

followers and remove Islamist literature from prisons.

Stop empowering extremists

Prison staff should not use Islamists or extremist prisoners as ‘go-betweens’ between the

Prison Service and Muslim prisoners. Likewise Islamists should not be accepted as

spokesmen for all Muslims in prison. Even if empowering Islamists does sometimes bring

short-term benefits, this will empower extremists in the long-term and thereby


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ultimately produce further problems. In addition, extremists should not be given

courses (e.g. the Samaritan’s ‘listener’ courses) or training that will give them greater

influence over other prisoners.

Review prison books policy

There is evidence that a number of prison libraries still stock a number of pro-jihadist

books. This needs to be addressed immediately. The Prison Service needs to comb all its

prison libraries for extremist and pro-jihadist works and to have a central – and

accountable – individual who can transparently vet books send to prison libraries or

individual prisoners. Extremist books should be removed immediately and steps also

taken to find out how they entered prisons in the first place (i.e. were they donated to

prisons by particular organisations?).

Review organizations working in prisons

The Prison Service needs to review all organisations working with Muslim prisoners to

exclude any with an extreme Islamist agenda. This includes organisations offering

mentoring to inmates, providing literature to prisoners or even simply presents in

Ramadan. Organisations which are not willing to pro-actively promote secularism,

liberalism and democracy should not be working in British prisons.

Revise security

It is vital to prevent extremists from passing deliberately inciteful message to their

supporters outside prison. Prisons (such as HMP Belmarsh) that have stopped most such

communications need to liaise with those establishments (such as HMP Long Lartin)

which have recently failed to prevent the flow of pro-jihadist messages to those outside.

Front-line staff need to be made aware that preventing extremists from communicating

with their supporters outside is a top priority.

d. Central Prison Service

At the same time as the above initiatives are put into place across the prison estate,

changes are needed at the heart of the prison service in order to entrench counter-

Islamist programmes and create a culture in which alliances can be built with moderate

Muslim organisations and individuals.

Safeguard existence of Extremism Unit

The Prison Service’s central Extremism Unit is doing valuable work co-ordinating and

shaping the counter-extremism efforts across the Prison Service. At present however it

is only funded on a temporary basis. Arrangements with the HM Treasury should be

made for the Unit to receive permanent funding.

Central authority on Islamic issues

The Prison Service needs to formalise its decision making process regarding Islamic

issues. At the moment, decisions are often taken on an ad-hoc basis and often without

adequate transparency or consistency. Communities and Local Government (CLG)

currently maintains three Islamic affairs advisors; the Prison Service should possibly

adopt a similar arrangement representing different strands of Muslim thought – while

remaining alert to infiltration by Islamists and their sympathisers.



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Greater openness

The government’s overall counter-extremism policies have only developed through

external criticism. The Prison Service’s unique situation has largely exempted it from

similar scrutiny. It urgently needs to become more accessible to journalists and

researchers examining prison radicalisation. Research application procedures need to be

vastly simplified and streamlined. A wider variety of researchers, including those known

to be critical of the government’s counter-extremism strategy, should be helped to

conduct research in prisons.

Maintain non-Muslim involvement

The Prison Service needs to ensure that non-Muslim staff remain fully involved with

Muslim prisoners. Creating a situation where Muslim prisoners are dealt with primarily

by Muslims risks creating long-term societal divisions (even though this may seem to

have some short-term benefits). For the same reason, the Prison Service also needs to

ensure that Prison Service, at all levels, does not treat its own Muslim employees

(whether chaplains or regular prison staff) as go-betweens between non-Muslims staff

and Muslim prisoners.

e. Staff issues and training

There is evidence that both front-line and specialist staff in prisons often lack a

necessary knowledge of both Islam, the religion, and Islamism, the political ideology.

Raising staff awareness of these issues will help them understand the nature of the

Islamist threat and give them the confidence to challenge Islamist extremism.

Greater Islamic awareness training for staff

Frontline prison staff (particularly in key prisons such as Category A establishments and

others such as Feltham and Aylesbury YOIs) need specialised training to give them

greater awareness of Islamic and Muslim issues in general. In particular, they need a

greater understanding of Islamist ideology (and how this differs from Islam as a faith)

and how to identify potential Islamist extremists.

Increase understanding of Islamist extremism

Prison staff (both front-line staff and those in other roles such as the Extremism Unit)

need greater training in understanding and identifying Islamist extremism. In particular,

they need to be able to distinguish radicalism from piety – i.e. to understand that

having a large beard does not necessarily indicate political or social extremism.

Increase staff awareness of individual inmates

There is evidence that front-line staff in prisons such as Belmarsh and Long Lartin are

not always fully briefed on the known extremists in their care. In some cases (for

instance for staff working in the Long Lartin detainee unit) specialised briefings on

individuals and tailored extremism-awareness training is urgently needed to help them

identify and tackle the specific threats posed by particular individuals.

Greater diversity of imams

Due to the influence of the Prison Service’s current Muslim Advisor, the Prison Service

now has a disproportionate number of Muslim chaplains from the Deobandi school of


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thought. This imbalance needs to be addressed in favour of chaplains from schools of

thought that have traditionally been more moderate. The recruitment of more Somali

and black imams will also be useful in reaching out to vulnerable inmates from these

communities who are at risk of radicalisation.

Specialised training for Muslim chaplains

Muslim prison chaplains should have specific training in radicalisation and extremism

before starting work in prisons. The Prison Service should not automatically assume

that imams understand the nature of extremism, the methods of extremist recruitment

or the best ways to challenge extremist individuals and groups. This training will also

help identify any chaplains who are not fully committed to preventing extremism.

Muslim chaplains to support ex-offenders

Prison chaplains should be encouraged and enabled to keep in contact with exoffenders

after they have been released from prison. It is vital that chaplains are able

to support former prisoners after their release – not least because the immediate postrelease

period is often when prisoners are most likely to fall into radical circles or to

return to their old ways. At present, chaplains are officially discouraged from seeing

former prisoners.

More frontline Muslim staff

Employing more Muslim staff in prisons can help to undercut the belief, widespread

among many ordinary Muslim prisoners as well as extremists, that the Prison Service

and its staff are hostile to Muslims and their faith. At the same time, care should be

taken to ensure that non-Muslims remain fully-involved with Muslim inmates – and

that Muslim employees are not seen as intermediaries between Muslims and other

prison staff.

f. Legal options

There are a variety of legal measures that can be taken to tackle extremism in prisons

and in wider society. This can range from prosecuting those outside prisons who

empower extremist prisoners to taking steps to deter extremists from radicalising other


Prosecute pro-jihadist inmates

Prisoners who propagate pro-jihadist ideas in prisons, incite religious or racial hatred or

who advocate or glorify terrorist attacks can and should be prosecuted. Just because

individuals are in prison it does not mean that they are somehow immune from laws

designed to prevent terrorism. Prosecuting existing prisoners for their activities in prison

will send out a strong message that prison radicalisation will not be tolerated. If

necessary, the cells of extremist prisoners should be bugged to facilitate successful


Prosecute those who facilitate ‘glorification’ of terrorism

Individuals outside prison who help imprisoned extremists distribute written material

that incites or glorifies terrorism should be prosecuted. A number of pro-jihadist

individuals, such as Yassir al-Sirri, have distributed pro-jihadist prison writings by



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

imprisoned extremists and others on the internet and elsewhere. Their activities are

arguably in breach of the Terrorism Act 2006 which criminalises the making or

distribution of any statement which “glorifies the commission or preparation (whether

in the past, in the future or generally)”. 248 Lawyers who distribute such documents

glorifying terrorism from within prison should also be prosecuted. They are not immune

from prosecution in this regard.

Speed-up deportations

The current legal process to expel or deport suspected extremists such as Abu Qatada

takes far too long. This impacts on prison radicalisation as such individuals consequently

remain un-necessarily detained in British prisons where they are able to further

radicalise others. These lengthy imprisonments without trial also allow Islamists to

portray the British government as ‘anti-Muslim’ to Muslims both inside and outside

British prisons. There are several solutions to this:

Include human rights guarantees in trade treaties

Future trade agreements with Middle Eastern countries should include clauses

forcing these countries to recognising the rights of prisoners deported from the

UK to fair and open trials and minimum standards of treatment in prison

(including basic demands such as protection from torture and regular visits from

lawyers and international human rights bodies). This should be done in the wider

context of encouraging such countries to respect the human rights of all their

citizens. This will make it much easier for the UK to deport foreign terrorist

suspects to their countries of origin.

Include detainees in de-radicalisation programmes

At present such detainees fighting extradition are often left out of deradicalisation

initiatives since it is assumed that at some point they will be

deported/extradited. In future, given that such detentions may be virtually

indefinite in practice and may even result in the individual’s release into the UK,

such detainees should be fully included in de-radicalisation initiatives (and

particularly enrolled in the de-radicalisation centre recommended by this report).

Increased use of indeterminate sentences

Judges involved in terrorism cases should make the use of powers to issue

‘indeterminate sentences’. Failure to do so increases risk of potentially dangerous

terrorists and Islamist recruiters being released while still holding extremist views – and

subsequently posing a risk to themselves and wider society. This would mean

recognising, as in the case of paedophiles, that the imprisonment of extremists is as

much for public protection as for the punishment of the guilty.

Parole boards should assess radicalization

Parole hearings for convicted extremists and possibly even regular prisoners suspected

of holding extremist views should take into account whether inmates have rejected

248 Terrorism Act 2006, .


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extremist views and disassociated themselves from other extremists - and whether they

have displayed respect and tolerance towards others. This is not a question of policing

prisoners’ thoughts: it is an issue of assessing to what extent such prisoners remain a

threat to themselves and to wider society. Such use of parole boards will work much

better if used in conjunction with greater use of indeterminate sentencing by courts.

Part 2: A British de-radicalisation centre

Quilliam believe that in order to effectively tackle the problem of extremism in prisons,

it is necessary to establish a specialised de-radicalisation centre and associated

programme run by dedicated and specially-trained full-time staff, jointly funded and

run by the Home Office (OSCT) and the Ministry of Justice.

Such a centre will aim both at isolating known extremist prisoners, in order to prevent

additional radicalisation of themselves and others, and also gradually incentivise

extremist prisoners towards abandoning their radical ideologies in preparation for

returning either to the general prison system or to wider society outside prison. It will

therefore have several positive benefits, including:

Leading extremists will be removed from mainstream prison society and thus

become unable to radicalise others.

In the long term, key extremists can be de-radicalised. They can then be used to

confront extremist thought both in prisons and further afield.

Over time, a successful de-radicalisation programme will produce financial savings

by reducing the resources needed to police, monitor and tackle Islamist extremism

both in and outside of prisons.

What does ‘de-radicalisation’ involve?

De-radicalisation (i.e. the rejection of extreme Islamist ideologies and a related rejection

of jihadist violence) can be seen as a process in which an Islamist or jihadist individual

undergoes a number of experiences and realisations. These include:

• Growing doubts about efficacy of jihadist tactics and the morality of jihadist


• Increasing doubts about theological legitimacy of both jihadism and wider

Islamist ideology;

• Realisation that holding jihadist beliefs is harming one’s own personal

interests –and a realisation that such suffering is neither noble, glorious nor

respected or appreciated by others;

• Increased willingness to compromise initially on some minor aspects of

Islamist ideology in order to improve quality of life in prison;

• Growing estrangement from other jihadists at a social and personal level;

• Growing tolerance for other ways of life and interpretations of Islam;

• A realisation that non-Muslims are not intrinsically hostile to Islam and




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Successful de-radicalisation programmes aim to kick-start and then accelerate these

processes – while also preventing further radicalisation either of the individual himself

or of those around him. This means, for instance, shielding jihadists from new forms of

Islamist ideology during the de-radicalisation process while also addressing key

grievances (such as perceived racism or unfairness by prison staff) – both of which risk

entrenching and deepening radicalisation and obstructing positive change.

Successful de-radicalisation programmes abroad, for instance in Egypt, have primarily

worked because the authorities incentivised de-radicalisation. Such programmes were

additionally built on a robust understanding of jihadism and the concepts that underlie

it – principally the Wahhabi understanding of the concepts such as al-walaa wa al-bara

(loving and hating for the sake of Islam), takfir (the right to declare other Muslims

apostates) and the practice of ‘al-Nahyi an al-munkar’ (the ‘forbidding of evil’) – as well

as a rounded understanding of jihadist psychology and the group dynamics of jihadist

groups. A British de-radicalisation programme would only succeed if those running it

achieved similar levels of knowledge and understanding and were able to similarly

incentivise de-radicalisation. At the same time, however, a British programme would

also need to be significantly different from such foreign de-radicalisation initiatives –

not least because, unlike Egypt, Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries, the UK is

a mostly non-Muslim country.

What would a de-radicalisation centre look like?

Quilliam believe that the basic arrangement and structure of a British de-radicalisation

centre should be based around the Egyptian one, the most successful in the Middle

East, while the programmes within it are tailored to reflect the UK’s particular situation

(for example, to reflect the UK’s status as a liberal, secular, multi-faith democracy).

Key features of a British de-radicalisation centre:

A British radicalisation centre, housed either in a purpose-build facility or in the specially

adapted wing of an existing prison, would need to contain the following basic


1. Separation of extremist prisoners according to groups and ideology in order to

slow the spread and exchange of jihadist ideology

This policy, adopted successfully in Egyptian de-radicalisation programmes for

instance, prevents prisoners from different groups from exchanging ideas and

ideologies – instantly curtailing the present cross-pollination of jihadist ideologies.

Sample groupings could be:

Arab jihadists (e.g. Abu Qatada, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Bilal Abdulla etc)

UK-raised jihadists focused on foreign conflicts (e.g. Babar Ahmad, Andrew Rowe,

Sohail Qureshi)

Terrorists focused on UK (21-7 bombers, Omar Khyam, Andrew Ibrahim, etc )

‘Fake’-jihadists convicted of relatively minor offences such as incitement or

glorifying terrorism (e.g. Al-Muhajiroun members and Abu Hamza followers)


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Each grouping should contain no more than 10 members. This separation also

allows each group’s distinct ideology and focus to be specifically tackled. There

should be absolutely no contact between these groups or with any other

prisoners. This does not breach the prisoners’ human rights.

2. Special staff overseeing each unit

Each of the above prison units should have a single, dedicated chief warden. He

should be specially trained in jihadist ideology and how to counter it – as well as

in the specific background of his detainees. Although, his religion and ethnicity is

relatively unimportant, it is crucial that such a guard is firm but fair, and is

sufficiently empowered to be able to reward or punish detainees (through the

granting or removal of privileges) as he sees appropriate. He should also have

direct access to government counter-terrorism specialists in the Foreign Office,

the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) and the security services.

Other wardens working under him, would work exclusively in each of the above

prison units, and would also have undergone specialised training in understanding

extremism Islamism and to make them aware of the histories of each inmates.

Once this structure has been put in place, the de-radicalisation programme itself can be


De-radicalisation programmes

Once de-radicalisation centres are established according to the structure outlined

above, the following programme should be put into place in order to reduce the

glamour and appeal of jihadist ideology, while simultaneously incentivising non-Islamist

behaviour and progress towards de-radicalisation. The programme achieves this

through encouraging inmates to become self-reflective, to question their position in

prison and their achievements to date, to encourage tensions between convicted

extremists and to make extremists bored (and therefore receptive to new experiences

and ideas – as well as forcing them to examine themselves).

Step 1a: Withdraw all privileges.

All phone-calls, special foods (except basic halal dishes), access to television,

computers, newspapers, books, opportunities for learning, making money etc are

withdrawn from the moment that the first prisoners enter the de-radicalisation

units. This will make prisoners bored, fed up with prison life and provoke them to

argue with each other. If maintained for a minimum of a month, this initial stage

will slowly make prisoners eager for new ideas and experiences. This will also

associate holding radical beliefs with boredom and frustration.

Step 1b: Address key grievances.

Simultaneously with Step 1a, key grievances which bolster the Islamist worldview

would be specifically removed and tackled in the de-radicalisation units. For

example, there must be a zero tolerance policy towards any prison staff who are

racist, discriminatory or un-supportive to prisoners who are undergoing de-



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radicalisation. The Prison Service and the government should aim to be seen as a

neutral and disinterested arbitrator which treats Muslims fairly. Prison staff should

also be trained to respond calmly to attempts by prisoners to create disturbances.

Step 2: Incentivise good behaviour with access to de-radicalisation programmes.

After the withdrawal of all privileges for a fixed period, inmates are explicitly told

that renewed access to privileges is made entirely dependent on their individual

good behaviour and personal progress towards rejecting extremist ideologies.

Crucially, all diversions and entertainments on offer from this moment forward

will be de-radicalisation programmes specifically tailored to encouraging a

renunciation of extremism. Thus extremists can only access de-radicalisation

programmes by slowly and publicly abandoning extremist behaviour. This

incentivises accessing de-radicalisation programmes.

The strength of this aspect of the de-radicalisation programme is that it not only

incentivises change but also de-incentivises radicalisation. For example, while prisoners

in each unit will undoubtedly initially be resistant to the programme, leading to them,

for instance, to try to present a united front against the Prison Service’s staff, to

exchange personal stories and even develop their own routine of prayer, teaching and

meditation. In the long run, however, and in the absence of external props and stimuli

such as books, television or new inmates, the unity between prisoners will give way –

with some prisoners inevitably starting to argue that “no harm can come” from

attending a few de-radicalisation schemes and improving their behaviour towards staff.

At this point, the highly judgemental nature of wahhabi-inspired jihadism will start to

work; the most extremist prisoners will begin to argue with other prisoners who wish

to begin to accessing de-radicalisation schemes – thus causing further tensions between

prisoners and gradually undermining the group’s unity. Similarly, disputes over

leadership and seniority (regarding both spiritual and material issues) will break out

between inmates with rival extremists, many of whom are highly egotistical, jockeying

for power and influence. Once prisoners begin accessing the schemes, further

disagreements will arise – as prisoners accessing the schemes start to doubt their own

extremist ideology and worldview – as well as tangibly experiencing the benefits of

giving up their extreme Islamist ideology, thereby bringing them into further conflict

with their fellow extremist inmates. Such disputes and disagreements will grow more

common, if prison staff are seen to act firmly but fairly – thereby meaning it is harder

for prisoners to turn their anger and frustrations against the staff. In the same way,

prison staff should respond calmly and patiently by prisoners to create disturbances

rather than by reacting physically or punishing prisoners though putting them in

solitary confinement – such measures will only excite prisoners and make them feel selfimportant.

Instead the emphasis, again, should be on making prison life mundane and

boring in order to de-glamorise the idea of being imprisoned on account of one’s

Islamist or pro-jihadist beliefs and actions.

It is important to note that such that this de-radicalisation programme does not punish

individuals for their ideology or for bad behaviour (which, as this report shows, risks

entrenching and vindicating jihadist ideologies), but rather by incentivising positive


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change. If inmates chose not to change their behaviour to access these schemes, they

will not be punished further, however they will remain bored and frustrated – and

indeed will become increasingly so as they watch their fellow prisoners access more deradicalisation

schemes and access more privileges.

De-radicalisation initiatives:

De-radicalisation initiatives which are offered to inmates who show improved

behaviour and gradually reject extremism. Evidence of rejecting extremism, measured

for example through increased friendliness towards staff and tensions with other

inmates, can lead to the following programmes being gradually accessed:

Talks by outside speakers

Outside speakers brought into de-radicalisation centres can include respected and

moderate Muslim scholars, former jihadists from the Middle East and the UK who

have renounced violence, victims of terrorist attacks in the West and the Middle

East, holocaust survivors, academics discussing key aspects of British and European

history (including, for instance, the history of democracy, anti-slavery campaigns

and the development of secularism). Such talks can be given to small groups of

prisoners within each unit, or alternatively to individual prisoners in the form of

one-on-one discussions. Given that initially the aim of such talks is to make

prisoners re-think violent jihadism, Muslim speakers brought into prison could

even include Islamists and Wahhabis who, while narrowly opposed to al-Qaeda’s

terrorism, have views that make them unsuitable for promoting community

cohesion outside prison. 249 It is vital that such speakers are willing to make repeat

visits to prisons or to maintain contact with inmates by letter – establishing

personal contact and trust with inmates is vital.

Counter-extremism books

The removal of all books, newspaper and televisions in de-radicalisation centres

will have will gradually create a great hunger among extremist prisoners (many

of whom are highly literate and intelligent) for new information and literature.

Prisoners who show good behaviour and evidence of reform, can be gradually

supplied with counter-extremism books, written either by more moderate Muslim

authors (including books by former extremists from groups such as al-Gamaa al-

Islamiya). Such books should be supplied sparingly in order to force inmates to

read them repeatedly (even if they disagree with them). Similarly, relevant films

(for instance, positive historical narratives or videos about individuals leaving

terrorism such as the Rachida, a 2002 Algerian film) can be shown occasionally in

return for good behaviour. Even if extremists read or watch such material

grudgingly (or, for instance, telling themselves that they are only reading such

books in order to ‘refute’ them), well-chosen material will inevitably force them

to rethink their assumptions – the more so if access to all alternative viewpoints

is restricted.

249 Nb. This needs to be done in such a way so as not to empower such individuals in wider

British Muslim communities.



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Arabic and Quran recitation lessons

Islamist extremists will be extremely keen to learn Arabic and to learn to recite the

Quran. Access to classes on both can be used to incentivise good behaviour and

progress towards abandoning jihadist principles and disruptive behaviour. Such

courses could focus on Islamic texts and passages which promote tolerance and

reject violence. Such initiatives could be provided for a low cost or free from the

UK’s many progressive Muslim scholars who would regard it as an Islamic duty to

help extremists to return to mainstream forms of Islam. Equally, Arabic teachers

could be female or non-Muslim Arabs, both of which would help to challenge

extremist inmates.

Other de-radicalisation initiatives

Other de-radicalisation programmes which are offered to prisoners in return for

becoming more co-operative with prison staff, or who are showing other signs of

rejecting fellow jihadists and jihadist ideologies. Additional programmes can

include access to psychotherapists, access to art courses or even writing courses

where extremists (many of whom are well-read and intelligent) are encouraged

to express themselves and to write about how they came to adopt extremist

ideologies. Where possible such programmes could be done through universities,

charities etc on a pro-bono basis in order to minimise the costs to taxpayers.

In addition to these specific de-radicalisation programmes, inmates whose behaviour

improves and who show interest in de-radicalisation courses, can receive additional

privileges. These can include receiving free extra phone minutes to talk to their families

(which are extremely important to prisoners – particularly to those with family abroad),

better food, more association time and more access to exercise opportunities (increased

access to gym facilities is particularly important) and ultimately even conjugal visits in

special cases. It is important that prisoners who de-radicalise are seen to receive more

privileges than those who do not and who hold on to jihadist beliefs in order to

incentivise change. Prisoners who refuse to alter their behaviour or beliefs should be

denied all privileges indefinitely. This will inevitably cause friction between current and

former extremists – this is the point. It is also key that privileges (such as an hour-long

talk by an outside speaker) are dispensed only slowly – in order to increase their value

in the eyes of prisons and to make inmates feel that these improvements have been

truly earned.


Unlocking Al-Qaeda



The key aspect of this proposed de-radicalisation centre is to incentivize positive change

while encouraging individual to access de-radicalisation events in return for improving

their behaviour or rejecting aspects of extremist ideology. Prisoners in the deradicalisation

centre are not forced to go on the de-radicalisation programmes:

however, if they do not, they face spending their entire prison time without privileges

and without any distractions – all of which is not in any way a breach of their human

rights. Although many extremists will try to hold out against moderating their beliefs

and practices, in reality, after experiencing months of boredom while becoming

increasingly irritated by the judgemental and pedantic attitude of their fellow

prisoners, most will eventually choose to take part in the programmes (even if they do

so initially in order to ‘refute’ the programmes or after merely feigning deradicalisation).

However, if such programmes are well-designed, it will be difficult for

prisoners attending them over a period of time to come away entirely un-changed.

Eligibility to access these programmes should be assessed, for example, through

friendliness to guards (which can be seen as a measure of prisoners’ adherence to

Wahhabi concepts of al-Baraa, the concept of displaying hostility or enmity towards

un-believers), their interaction with other extremists and whether they are still

attempting to promote jihadist thought and ideologies. The extent to which the

prisoners become frustrated with each other over time should in particular not be


Once the prisoners have been de-radicalised, or are at least showing signs of

moderating in order to access privileges, they should be left in the de-radicalisation

unit for a further period of time in order to put pressure on other extremists and to

entrench their own progress towards de-radicalisation. In the long-run, however, they

can be relocated to other parts of the prison estate in order to tackle and undermine

extremist ideologies there (although this obviously needs to be done in such a way that

they do not ‘re-radicalise’). It is key that while going through this process, they are

incentivised to continue de-radicalising in order to maintain their current level of

privileges – in order to ensure that they have not made only a token rejection of a few

aspects of extremism in order to marginally improve their quality of life in prison. Above

all, consistency is key: extremists need to know, over the course of several years, that in

order to access de-radicalisation they have to show certain improvements – and to know

that if they do not their quality of life will not materially improve.

There are many aspects of such a programme whose details would need to be carefully

refined. For instance, critical questions to be resolved are: which former jihadists or

other prominent scholars should be brought into prison, which individuals should be

sent to de-radicalisation centres (only those convicted for extremism-related offences

or also ordinary prisoners who have been radicalised in prison?) or how the rewards

offered to prisoners should be gradated to their process towards de-radicalisation.

Another key question is whether some programmes (for example, meetings with

outside scholars) should be only provided to extremist leaders or also to their

supporters). It would also be necessary to decide what sort of individuals the deradicalisation

centre should produce. For example, is the aim simply to get extremists

to renounce terrorist violence in the UK or should they ultimately also disavow jihadist



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

groups in the Middle East as well? The location of such a centre would also need

discussing. Could existing prison facilities be suitably modified or would a purpose-built

facility be necessary? The branding of the project would also be important with a

positive sounding name such as ‘New Civilisation Project’ or the ‘Open Minds

Programme’ potentially helping to reduce hostility and suspicion towards the project

from Islamists both inside and out of prison.

It is important to realize that creating such a de-radicalisation centre that would involve

concentrating a large number of known extremist is not without risk. It is also

important to appreciate that de-radicalisation programmes will not achieve results

overnight. However, it seems undeniable that over time most extremists in such a centre

will begin to access de-radicalisation schemes. It equally seems like that such

programmes, if effectively designed, will slowly encourage extremists to question their

assumptions about Islam and about non-Muslims, and to slowly change their ideas as

a result. The key to the strategy’s success is consistency over a long-period of time. Longterm

strategies of this sort, especially ones that do not produce instantly quantifiable

results, are always difficult to maintain given the inherent short-termism of democratic

politics (this is particularly true in light of the often inconsistent and reactive nature of

many recent British counter-extremism efforts). Once established, such as a centre

would need to run for many years and perhaps for decades (particularly if future

convictions continue to result in more Islamists entering the prison system over the

coming years). In the long-run, however, the creation of such a centre would pay off

both by helping to tackle extremism in British prisons and in wider society, which would

both be vital towards building a more cohesive society but also by ultimately reducing

the considerable financial costs of policing, monitoring and tackling such extremism.


Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Appendix 1: The psychological effects of imprisonment without trial

Appendix 1: The psychological effects of imprisonment

without trial

One of the major consequences of these detainments without trial has been the

psychological effect on the detainees. This is problematic at a moral level on account

of the psychological damage that it causes people who might ultimately be found

innocent and at a practical level in that it angers these prisoners against the British

government and because their confinement without trial allows Islamists to depict

the government as being discriminatory against Muslims.

Detainee M, a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who fought in

Afghanistan in 1992 250 and who was himself detained without trial, has said that:

"As a friend, I knew some of them outside of the prison. Their behaviour and

how they were when I saw them inside was completely different. They had lost

weight and three or four of them had gone crazy." 251

One of these prisoners, who was detained without trial from December 2001 to

March 2005, was Mahmoud Abu Rideh, a Palestinian. Suffering from mental issues,

he was admitted to Broadmoor psychiatric prison in 2002 from Belmarsh. In 2004, he

was interviewed in Broadmoor in The Guardian and admitted to suffering from

paranoia and hallucinations:

"I hear voices. I put my radio off and the radio is still talking. It says you will stay

in this hospital all your life. The hospital don't want me here. The Home Office

don't want me to go back to prison. Give me an injection and I will be dead and

they won't need to spend £140,000 a year on me being in this hospital." 252

He also said that he had frequently attempted to commit suicide:

"I drink shampoo, I drink air freshener, I drink toilet cleaner ... Every week I try

something. It's better than being here. The staff don't want me here. They hit

me and the patients hit me. What I have been through in this place is worse

than when I was detained in Israel when I was tortured. They have destroyed


In July 2008, Abu Rideh’s wife published an account that gave a similar account:

“My husband was a wreck, a shattered man. He could not sleep, he would

sweat and shake, he would have nightmares and flashbacks. It was almost

impossible to deal with him. He was ill and had complex psychological needs – I

250 Audrey Gillan, 'For detainee M, still no explanation why he was locked up for 16 months',

The Guardian, 23 April 2004,


251 Audrey Gillan, 'For detainee M, still no explanation why he was locked up for 16 months',

The Guardian, 23 April 2004,


252 '"Give Me An Injection and I Will Be Dead" - Interview with Detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh',

The Guardian, 5 May 2004. Available online at



Appendix 1: The psychological effects of imprisonment without trial

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

am not a trained nurse and he required specialist help. One week later he

attempted suicide by taking an overdose of his depression and anti-psychotic

medications. I found him on the floor unconscious, in a pool of vomit foam

coming from his mouth. He was taken to the hospital and remained

unconscious for three days.” 253

Detainee ‘Z’, an Algerian who was detained for more than three-years without trial,

before being released on a control order, also wrote of the problems that face those

detained without trial:

“Well for two and a half years as a hostage, I don't see it as a prisoner, because

someone who is sent to a normal prison, he is someone who has committed

murder or crime or a common law crime and he can have the chance to

progress through the system, where he's in prison and at least he knows he

maybe commit something, he commit something he is for that, I can't say he's

guilty or not, it is not for me to judge, but at least he has been convicted by the

court. For us it's different, we don't have any sort of mechanism. They say 'Okay,

you are in prison for one year, or two years, or life' - you don't know when you

are going to be released. For us, it's you are there, you don't know why you're

there, so it's worse and we are put in small units, it's very claustrophobic, that

affected all our mental health, we got all mental problems ... You are in a very

small unit with a small number of people and this has been built as segregation

- we were worse than someone who had committed something. So, it was like

we were hostage, because when you put someone without any charge, without

any reason, it's kidnapping; this hostage that you take from his family at 5

o'clock in the morning and they put you in jail and you go through an abusive

legal system like this 'SIAC', it's very difficult to cope with.” 254

Such problems appear to be widespread among detainees. In 2004, the Royal College

of Psychiatrists reported that all of the eight detainees who were then held without

trial under the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Crime & Security Act were suffering significant

mental illness as a result of their treatment. A report issued by the College, and

based on interviews with the detainees in Belmarsh, said that:

“Having considered available evidence, the College is satisfied that the eight

detainees examined do suffer from significant mental health problems. On balance,

evidence points to the particular circumstances of this group’s detention contributing

significantly to those health problems. Our best estimate is that indeterminate

detention, lack of normal due legal process and the resultant sense of powerlessness,

are likely to cause significant deterioration in detainees’ mental health.” 255

253 ‘Life with a control order: A wife’s story’, The Independent, 3 July 2009,


254 Cageprisoners, ‘An interview with Detainee Z’, 28 May 2008,



Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Appendix 1: The psychological effects of imprisonment without trial

The College accepted that the “detainees have access to mental health services in

prison, equal to that of other prisoners” but noted “that psychiatric treatment,

however sophisticated it may be, cannot neutralize the deleterious impact on mental

health of the particular nature of this group’s detention.”

Detaining individuals for years without trial – for whatever reason - is inhumane and

immoral. It also damages the reputation and moral standing of the UK – making it

easier for Islamists to recruit individuals to their cause.


Appendix 2: Suggested books for Muslim prisoners

Unlocking Al-Qaeda

Appendix 2: Suggested books for Muslim prisoners

A full booklist is available from Quilliam on request.


About the author:

James Brandon is a Senior Research Fellow at Quilliam where he is also Head of

Communications. He has previously written reports for a number of thinktanks

in the UK and the US on such diverse subjects as Islamist movements in

the West and in the Middle East, extreme Islamist use of the internet, Kurdish

separatist movements and honour-based violence in the UK. During 2002-7, he

worked as a journalist, covering Islamic issues in Europe, the Middle East and

Africa for a wide variety of British and US publications. In 2003-4 he was based

in Baghdad, Iraq, where he worked for two start-up English language newspapers

while also freelancing for a range of international media organisations.

He has an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the School of Oriental

and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

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