Counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation said radicals were also being allowed to lead prayers.
And its report said extremist cleric Abu Qatada had issued fatwas from Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire where he is awaiting deportation.
The Ministry of Justice said it had a dedicated unit to tackle the risk of extremism and radicalisation in prison.
The Quilliam Foundation said the study, to be published on Monday, was based largely on accounts sneaked out of prisons by high-profile extremists.
Terrorists smuggle fatwas out of secure prisons
In an authoritative report, Quilliam, a think tank funded by the Home Office, claims “mismanagement” by the Prison Service is helping Al Qaeda gain recruits and risks “strengthening jihadist movements”.
Abu Qatada, described by MI5 as “Osama Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe”, has published fatwas — religious rulings — on the internet from Long Lartin prison, in Worcestershire, calling for holy war and the murder of moderate Muslims, it reveals.
Abu Doha — said to be Al-Qaeda’s main recruiter in Europe — has taken courses in Belmarsh prison, south London, enabling him to mentor other inmates.
Qatada, a radical Islamist cleric who is wanted on terrorism charges in Jordan, is held in the the “supermax” segregation wing of Long Lartin. Built at the height of the IRA’s bombing campaign and designed to house dangerous inmates, it should be one of the most secure buildings in the country.
Like other jailed terrorist leaders, Qatada is meant to be cut off from his supporters outside. Yet it is said that last year, under the noses of warders, Qatada and Adel Abdel Bary, leader of the UK branch of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, were able to smuggle out a series of fatwas legitimising attacks by AlQaeda and endorsing the murder of moderate Muslims.
Qatada and Bary are two of about 100 Islamist terrorists in UK prisons.
The notorious “preacher of hate” Hamza, who was convicted in 2006 of inciting murder and racial hatred during his time as imam of Finsbury Park mosque, north London, has been able to give sermons to other Muslims through the water pipes that link the prison cells at Belmarsh. A charismatic figure who has led hunger strikes at the jail, he is thought to use the plughole in the sink in his cell to shout passages from the Koran.
Last March, in An Address to the Muslims, apparently smuggled out of his cell, Qatada equated the British government to pagans whom the prophet Muhammad fought and defeated.
Qatada said he hoped his writings would “fuel” the global holy war of Al-Qaeda and added he was confident that stories about Muslims in prison had succeeded in radicalising British Muslims and had made more Muslims start to “hate” British values.
Contrary to the tabloid perception that terrorist leaders are “fanatics”, the unpalatable truth is that many are intelligent, charismatic and capable of drawing not only their fellow inmates but also their captors into their circle of influence.
A prison inspectorate report at Long Lartin in 2007 warned that “support for staff was necessary to prevent their conditioning by a strong and united detainee group” — an apparent reference to Qatada and his cohorts.
Inspectors have separately warned of the rise of Muslim gangs whose leaders engage in violence and intimidation, sometimes forcing others to convert.
New Quilliam report: British prisons are incubating Islamist extremism
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.
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 stands for religious freedom, human rights, democracy and developing a Muslim identity at home in, and with the West.