On 15th November 2009, Quilliam issued the following press release:


Immediate release – 15 November 2009


A new report by Quilliam on prison radicalisation, Unlocking Al-Qaeda: Islamist extremism in British prisons, reveals that government measures to stop Islamist radicalisation in prison are failing to halt the spread of jihadist ideology in British prisons.


Quilliam warns that failure to tackle prison radicalisation risks creating a fresh wave of hardened extremists, both inside and outside prisons, who are willing and capable of conducting terrorist violence.


Quilliam’s report reveals that most extremists initially radicalised in prison take an average of 5-7 years to become fully violent. This means that prisoners leaving prison today may ‘graduate’ into terrorism around 2015.


The report carries a foreword by Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, Shadow Security Minister and National Security Adviser to the Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron MP. The report will be published on Monday 16 November.



Quilliam’s report, based largely on secret accounts of prison life that have been smuggled out of prisons by high-profile extremists including Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada, reveals evidence of:


–          Pro-active recruitment by extremists. Imprisoned extremists are pro-actively seeking to recruit other Muslims to their cause, for example, by befriending them soon after their arrival in prison, protecting them from other inmates and leading prison protests against alleged mistreatment by prison authorities.


–          Extremists being empowered by the prison service. Extremists are often seen by prison staff seen as ‘go-betweens’ between the prison service and ordinary Muslims. In addition, leading extremists have been allowed to lead Friday prayers and given mentoring courses that allow them to become ‘spiritual advisors’ to other inmates.


–          Increasing Muslim gang culture. There are increasing reports of Muslim gangs forming in prison, some of them involving known extremists. Some of these gangs aim to intimidate and attack non-Muslim prisoners. Convicted terrorists have additionally carried out violent attacks in prison against non-Muslim prisoners.


–          Extremist books in prison: Some Muslim prisoners, including known and suspected extremists, report reading pro-jihadist books in prison such as Milestones by Sayyid Qutb, the main inspiration for modern jihadist thought.


–          Extremists producing prison propaganda. Prominent pro-Al-Qaeda ideologues such as Abu Qatada have been able to smuggle messages out of prison to their supporters. Other convicted extremists have issued pro-jihadist statements from prison while others have appeared on Islamic TV stations from within prison.


–          Staff failings are fuelling radicalisation. A widespread lack of understanding of mainstream Islam and of Islamist radicalisation among Prison Service staff has undermined government efforts to tackle prison extremism. In addition, incidents of racism and prejudice by staff towards Muslim prisoners risk pushing them towards extremist ideologies.


Key examples:

–          In 2008, Abu Hamza led hunger strikes against conditions in Belmarsh (including over a supposed lack of halal food). He has also reportedly given sermons to other Muslims through the pipes that link prison cells. Some convicted terrorists, such as Andrew Ibrahim, have expressed excitement at being imprisoned with Abu Hamza.


–          In 2005, Rachid Ramda, an Algerian extremist who was later found guilty of organising the 1995 Paris Metro bombings, was allowed to lead Friday prayers in Belmarsh. This entrenched his spiritual and religious authority over other Muslim prisoners.


–          In 2005, Amar Makhlulif (also known as Abu Doha), an Algerian extremist who is wanted by France, Italy and the US on terrorism charges, was given courses while held in Belmarsh which enabled him to become a ‘listener’, a prisoner who officially mentors and gives advice to other prisoners.


–          In Frankland prison in 2007-8, convicted terrorists Dhiren Barot and Omar Khyam were involved in a series of violent attacks on other prisoners. A wave of tit-for-tat violence partly formented by Barot and Khyam led to boiling oil being thrown over prisoners, stabbings, arson attacks and attempts to destroy prison facilities.


–          In 2008 and 2009, two of the most prominent Arab jihadists imprisoned in the UK released pro-jihadist propaganda and fatwas from within Long Lartin prison. Adel Abdel Bary, a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, produced written pro-jihadist tracts from within prison aiming to refute criticism of al-Qaeda, while Abu Qatada issued fatwas from within prison which legitimised jihadist attacks worldwide.

–          In October 2006, Faraj Hassan Al-Saad, a Libyan detainee then fighting extradition to Italy on terrorism charges, used prison call boxes to appear live on the Islam Channel, comparing British prisons with Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and describing British courts as a “fascist courts martial”. The Islam Channel is itself run by Mohammed Ali Harrath, a convicted Tunisian terrorist who is the subject of an Interpol ‘Red Notice’.


Quilliam’s recommendations:


Quilliam recommends that government takes substantial action, including establishing a specialised de-radicalisation centre to house imprisoned extremists, in order to tackle prison radicalisation.


James Brandon, the report’s author and a senior research fellow at Quilliam, says:

‘The Prison Service has taken some steps towards tackling extremism but these are not enough. Islamist extremists are running rings around a prison service which often seems clueless about the nature of the extremist threat.

‘It is staggering that known extremists, with their accommodation and food provided by the government, are effectively radicalising other prisoners at taxpayer expense. If this situation is not tackled, British prisons risk becoming universities of terror.

‘It is time for the British government to consider serious long-term measures to tackle prison radicalisation. The most important of these is to create a specialised de-radicalisation centre which can ‘de-programme’ existing extremists as has been done in Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt and Yemen.’


Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, Shadow Security Minister and National Security Adviser to the Leader of the Opposition, the Rt Hon David Cameron MP, says:

‘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.

‘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.

‘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 pdf copy of this report is available online here. An executive summary is available here.


Immediate release – 15 November 2009


Notes to editors:

1. Quilliam is Britain’s first counter-extremism think tank.

2. For further information, please call Quilliam’s media line on 0207 182 7286 or 07590 229 917 or email [email protected].