ArchiveOODA OriginalRisk Intel Report

Radicalization and Recruiting in Prisons ? A Common Feature in Europe

On September 6, the director of the Federal Judicial Police in Belgium , Glenn Audenaert, brought a familiar concern to the European public eye: the danger of Islamist radicalization and recruitment in the prison system (source). The same issue was brought to the public’s attention in the United States in 2005 when several reports came out of California, exposing a widespread recruiting effort perpetrated by Islamist fundamentalists in jails across the state . Prison inmates are prime targets for charismatic radicals who use their time in penitentiaries to promote their radical cause by alluring young criminals to convert to Islam and adopt militant ideologies. Alienated, disillusioned, and in search of safeguard as well as a sense of belonging, these young men constitute a natural mark for radical leaders. Irene Becci, a specialist who studied the phenomenon in Italian and German prisons, explains, “In prison individuals are confronted with existential questions in a particularly intensive way” and religion can offer a “possibility to escape prison” at least for one’s mind and spirit” (source). It is a well-documented fact that al-Qaeda long ago identified present and former convicts for indoctrination. The difficulties to cope with the problem are many. Muslim inmates converse and pray in different Arabic dialects, and prison staffers admit that they lack the language knowledge to understand what the inmates are discussing. Limited resources often make it unworkable to train guards in foreign languages, so it becomes hard to detect radicalization. Therefore, prisons are increasingly being put under surveillance in order to have trained analysts study particular inmates and trends. Involved officials increasingly witness disturbing evidence of associations between ordinary criminals and known extremists where the former ends up evolving from a petty delinquent to a full-blown extremist. As in the US, European officials are increasingly alarmed with this phenomenon, as they follow the indoctrination of petty offenders who in many cases have turned into primed terrorists. In countries such as Belgium , France , Spain and the UK , recruited individuals have gone on to carry out attacks after their discharge from prison. Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber , converted to Islam while serving time in Feltham Young Offender’s Institution in west London. After his release, he attended mosques and other institutions where he could devote himself to his newfound faith. He got in contact with militants who ultimately coerced him to abandon the peaceful philosophy of the religion. Reid soon travelled to a number of countries, including Pakistan , Egypt , Turkey , in what is believed to have been his ultimate training and preparation for the attack he was to attempt to carry out onboard the US aircraft (source). Similarly, the main conspirators of the 2003 Madrid bombings , Jose Emilio Suarez Trashorras and Jamal Ahmidan, met while serving time in a prison in Spain for inconsequential crimes. There, they engaged in radical viewpoints and got recruited by a Moroccan terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda. Ahmidan carried out the bombings while Trashorras served as one of the main co-conspirators. This illustrates ways in which young men turn to terrorism during or after their time in prison. Some become radicalized within the prison walls: typically young men with problematical pasts, a seeded predilection for risk taking and with an unsympathetic or angry view of the world. Others go on to become radicalized in mosques and/or other religious meeting sites and are spotted by extremists in search of recruits. In these cases, as frequently happens, society fails to reintegrate these individuals into society, leaving the discharged convicts to face numerous difficulties that ultimately lead them to back

Want more insight?

This content is restricted to members only. Members get access to all of the content on this site. This includes over 3000 Risk Intel Reports, the Attack Database (10,000 entries), over 3000 Intel Advisories, Threat Group Profiles on 500+ groups and over 100,000 curated OSINT excerpts. Your membership also supports the cost of producing our hand-curated Daily OSINT report.

Please consider becoming a member. For more information please click here. Thanks!
OODA Analyst

OODA Analyst

OODA is comprised of a unique team of international experts capable of providing advanced intelligence and analysis, strategy and planning support, risk and threat management, training, decision support, crisis response, and security services to global corporations and governments.