BRITAIN’S jails are being targeted by Islamist extremists to recruit terrorists, the chief inspector of prisons has claimed
Nick Hardwick, who is due to retire from the role in the coming months, also warned of the growing presence of Muslims gangs behind bars.
The head of the watchdog, who will be replaced by Scotland Yard’s former head of counter-terrorism Peter Clarke, said vulnerable prisoners are being intimated to convert to Islam.
Mr Hardwick said: “There are undoubtedly a small number of very dangerous men motivated by a religion or ideology who are trying to recruit other people so they will go on to commit offences linked to that ideology or religion.”
He added some of the gangs were attempting use their faith to as a cover for violence and intimidation.
He told The Times: “You do have Muslim gangs but the point about it is, it is a gang.
“That is more important than it is Muslim. There might be pressure to join up, but how real that conversion is is the big question.”
Figures point to a growing number of Muslims in Britain’s jails, with numbers jumping by 120 per cent since 2002.
There are 12,600 Islamic prisoners in the UK, with 40 per cent of some of the high security wings in category A jail Long Lartin and about half of many wings in Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire declaring themselves Muslim.
A recent report on high security Whitemoor said the group were “profoundly affecting the social nature of the jail – and disrupting established hierarchies”.
Mr Clarke’s appointment, considering his previous role in confronting terrorism, is a sign Justice Secretary Michael Gove wants to tackle gangs and extremism in prisons.
Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Police’s head of counter terrorism Richard Walton said there were not yet any meaningful measures to deal with the dangerous issue.
He said: “We are convicting more people, so the challenge in prisons is bigger.
“Where operations start from within prison or with somebody who has just been released from jail, you know there wasn’t much success in de-radicalising them when they were in.
“There has to be more we can do. The issue of radicalisation in prisons is a concern. Everybody needs to think what more can be done.”
Concerns have also been raised about staff cuts in the Prison Service.
National Counter Terrorism Security Office Chris Phillips said it could lead to an increase in homegrown terrorism.
He said: “We have less officers generally in prisons than ever before and we also have less police officers to deal with them, so what we have is a growing haystack of extremists where we still have to find the single needle that’s going to go off and do something really nasty.”
Mr Gove recently ordered a review into the Prison Service’s approach to dealing with extremism.