2014, a homeless, unemployed petty crook had his plan to behead a British
soldier thwarted by the police. A recent convert to Islam from Jehovah’s
Witnesses, Brusthom Ziamani appeared to be just another jihadi whose grand
plans ultimately ended in failure—until, that is, he ended up in a British
among a sea of other radicals in HMP Woodhill, in Milton Keynes, a town 50
miles outside of London, Ziamani staked out a position of importance. According
to an ex-prisoner speaking to the Times of London, Ziamani dubbed himself
“chief of the Sharia police,” making the rounds in his block to ensure that no
Muslim prisoners were breaking the fast during Ramadan.
would bring wrongdoers to the makeshift sharia court he ran from the confines
of a jail cell. The Times describes how
two “accused” appeared before Ziamani for the supposed crime of drinking
alcohol. Ziamani decreed the punishment to be a beating, which two of his
acolytes quickly—and savagely—delivered to the guilty parties.
not the only way in which the radicalism Ziamani had adopted outside of prison
manifested itself once he was locked up. Ziamani would also approach newly
detained Muslim prisoners about the depth of their faith, offering to take them
to the “emir” of the prison, another convert, who would then deliver radical
lectures from his prison cell.
eventually moved to another prison: HMP Whitemoor in Cambridgeshire. It was
there, last Thursday, that he and an associate donned fake suicide belts,
grabbed makeshift bladed weapons, and began to stab at prison staff while
yelling “Allahu akbar.” Although there were no fatalities, five victims ended
up in the hospital. British authorities are treating the incident as a
Kingdom is not the only Western country to experience such attacks in its
prisons. Al Qaeda’s first attack in New York actually did not occur on 9/11 but
10 months earlier in a Manhattan jail.
Mahmud Salim, a founding member of al Qaeda awaiting trial in Manhattan on
terrorism charges, sharpened a comb into an 8-inch blade and stabbed
corrections officer Louis Pepe in the eye. The ordeal left Pepe physically and
psychologically scarred. This problem has also blighted France. In September
2016, a French Moroccan radical, Bilal Taghi, stabbed two guards in the
radicalization assessment unit housing him in Val-d’Oise prison.
2018, a former associate of Osama bin Laden’s struck in a different French
prison: Vendin-le-Vieil in the country’s north. Christian Ganczarski, a German
convert, attacked four guards with an edged weapon. French officials believe he
carried out this attack in order to prolong his incarceration in France and
prevent extradition to the United States, where he faces terrorism charges.
March 2019, Michaël Chiolo—who had become an extremist in jail—conspired with
his visiting wife, Hanane Aboulhana, to stab two guards at Condé-sur-Sarthe
prison in northwestern France. Chiolo was injured and Aboulhana killed during
the police’s response. Chiolo said his actions were intended as revenge for
French authorities killing Chérif Chekatt, the Islamic State-inspired jihadi
who killed five and injured around a dozen more during a firearm and knife
attack on the Strasbourg Christmas market in December 2018. (Chekatt himself
had also been radicalized in prison.)
there is an issue to be addressed. And while the U.K. is just the latest
country to suffer the consequences, it had at least taken a preemptive approach
to dealing with it.
September 2015, the British government commissioned a report into Islamist
extremism in prisons, probation, and the youth justice system. The report,
carried out by Ian Acheson (a former prison officer himself), concluded that
Islamist extremism was “a growing problem within prisons.” This extremism had
manifested itself in a variety of ways, from so-called prison emirs who were
“exerting a controlling and radicalising influence on the wider Muslim prison
population” to “aggressive encouragement” of non-Muslims to convert to Islam to
“Muslim gang culture and the consequent violence.”
to this gathering problem, Acheson recommended “a central, comprehensive and
coordinated strategy … to monitor and counter” Islamist extremism in prisons. Acheson
also suggested that radical Islamist prisoners be held together within
specialist units, as opposed to being housed among the general prison
population, in order to diminish their influence. On that front, the government
correctly heeded his advice.
were other areas in which the government did not listen to him. Last month,
Acheson lamented that the prison and probation services are “still not capable
of managing a serious threat to our national security.” These claims were
bolstered by last week’s events.
One area of
concern involves prison chaplains. Most Muslim chaplains are Deobandis, a
revivalist and highly conservative form of Islam. While this is not an
indicator of extremism in and of itself, Deobandis are not representative of
Britain’s Muslim population. Furthermore, the Acheson report concluded that the
chaplaincy—while largely well intentioned—had “a weak understanding” of
Islamist extremism. There had also been “a lack of management control over
access to extremist literature and materials.” (This was likely a reference to
a Times story from April 2016 that revealed extremist literature had been found
in British prisons, including content justifying the murder of apostates.)
to which chaplains are properly qualified, properly vetted, and actually have a
positive influence on prisoners remains an issue of ongoing concern. The
inability to recognize Islamist ideology when it presents itself is also a
challenge. This is not just a problem limited to government: For example, after
seeing the Times headline concerning Ziamani’s sharia trials taking place in
prison, one staffer who focuses on countering violent extremism at a Norwegian
NGO tweeted: “It is not strange if Muslims want to practice their religion in
prisons. … Sometimes prison staff confuse religious practice with
radicalisation.” Unfortunately, well-meaning NGOs sometimes confuse
radicalization with religious practice.
In order to
understand the Islamist mindset, the U.K. prison services should engage more
with former extremists who understand the roots of the ideology but now
champion British values and Western democracy.
also need to adopt a more cautious when assessing the dangers posed by Islamist
prisoners. Last November, Usman Khan, who had just been released from prison
for previous terrorism offenses, stabbed two people to death and injured three
others in London. Khan was regarded as a reformed character: The two people he
killed worked for an organization that enabled students from universities and
prisoners to study and learn together and that had used Khan as an example of a
successful case study.
only free because his initial sentence of being jailed for an indeterminate
length of time was quashed at the Court of Appeal and replaced with a more
lenient one: 16 years, of which only eight years had been served. It is now
obvious that this leniency was a mistake. Khan was clearly still a risk.
in May 2016, appeals judges reduced Ziamani’s sentence from an initial 22 years
down to 19 years due to his age. (He had just turned 19 years old when
arrested.) He too, however, clearly posed an ongoing risk. A safety-first
approach is required when it comes to such individuals.
challenge is daunting. Prison services are attempting to diminish the prospect
of those incarcerated getting exposed to extremist ideology. However, just as
intelligence services cannot stop every terrorist plot, prison staff cannot
detect every potential pernicious influence.
is fail-safe. While accepting this reality, the U.K. government should assume
that radical Islamist prisoners are ideological devotees, not vulnerable
individuals who just happen to have been duped by extremist propaganda.
about their motives will only invite more problems for the U.K. government in
the future. As Ziamani showed last week—and as many others demonstrated before
him—the risk posed by radical Islamist prisoners does not come to an end just
because they are behind bars.
Headline; Radical Islamists Are Still a Threat Behind Bars
Source: The Foreign Policy