LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s prisons have failed to recognise the dangers of Islamist “gang-type activity” and the impact of Islamist groups has been underestimated for too long by authorities, an independent report into the prison service said.
The landmark review on “Terrorism in Prisons” said that for the last 15 years groups of prisoners had adopted “an anti-state Islamist stance” that condones or encourages violence towards non-Muslim prisoners, prison officers and the general public.
The review was commissioned after a 2019 attack near London Bridge in which Usman Khan, a convicted Islamist militant who had been released early from prison, killed two people.
The report said there was a clear strand of prison behaviour that could be illustrated by referring to Khan’s time there. “Much but not all of it is related to Usman Khan’s role in Islamist groups within the prison,” the review said.
Islamist group behaviour had come to be seen as part of the prison landscape, the report said, and warned that militants who have been convicted of serious offences tended to exert influence within groups of prisoners.
The report said there was an understandable fear of discriminating against Muslim prisoners generally by focusing on a particular “flavour of gang-type behaviour”.
It cited a tendency to regard Islam as a “no-go area” leading both to a reluctance to focus on Islamist group behaviour and an overloading of responsibility on prison imams.
“The point is to ensure that terrorist-risk behaviour…is nipped in the bud, and take action to ensure that Islamist groups are not the dominant source of prisoner power and that prisoners do not feel the need to adopt particular pro-terrorist identities in order to fit in,” the review said.
After the review, justice minister Dominic Raab announced a raft of measures on Wednesday including the use of “Separation Centres” in prisons to target what the government said were “influential and charismatic terrorists” to keep them away from the main prison population.
(Reporting by Farouq Suleiman; Editing by Mark Heinrich)