Warnings on jail Muslims were
ignored by ministers
By Rajeev Syal
and Chris Hastings
THE Government ignored specific warnings more than a
year ago that Muslim extremists were infiltrating prisons and
recruiting inmates, The Telegraph can reveal.
Jack Straw, the then Home Secretary, and Martin
Narey, the director general of the Prison Service, were told by
mainstream Muslim leaders that "bad practices" meant that untrained,
radical imams could operate in prisons.
Mr Narey was told separately, in a private meeting
with senior Muslims, that a lack of regulations was allowing the
extremists to pose as mainstream clerics and gain access to
"He was told that bogus representatives of the Muslim
community could exploit the situation unless qualified imams were
given similar status to Christian prison chaplains," said a senior
Muslim cleric. "Sadly, nothing was done."
The disclosure, which will embarrass ministers,
follows Friday's appearance in a Boston court of Richard Reid, the
suspected "shoe bomber", who developed
an interest in Islam from an imam while in Feltham young
offenders institution in the 1990s.
Special Branch detectives are trying to locate five
other young converts who have disappeared over the past six months,
and who are linked to Reid.
They are among up to 100 British Muslims thought to
have been trained by or be otherwise linked
to Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'eda terrorist network.
Police spoke on Friday to Abdul Haqq Baker, the
imam of the Brixton mosque where Reid studied.
Yard detectives have drawn up a list of five main suspects - all
British-born converts, some of whom may have changed religion while
in prison - from information from Mr Baker and other intelligence
Detectives are investigating suggestions that one of
the men could have been Reid's accomplice in his attempt to blow up
an American Airlines aircraft from Paris to Boston last weekend. The
FBI wants to question a second man.
Scotland Yard fears that Islamic fundamentalists have
recruited inmates to a network of terrorist cells across the
The recruits, drawn from Britain's 4,000 jailed
Muslims, are believed to have been primed to carry out atrocities
similar to those planned by Reid, who converted on leaving
Imam Abduljalil Sajid, a prison imam and a member of
the National Council for the Welfare of Muslim Prisoners, met Mr
Narey more than a year ago and warned him that qualified Muslim
clerics would not apply for the job because of poor terms and
The meeting, in Prison Service headquarters in
London, was followed by a series of letters asking Mr Straw for an
improvement in conditions for prison imams.
Mr Sajid, a leading member of the Muslim Council of
Britain, said the Government was to blame for allowing a situation
to develop in which "bogus" clerics could infiltrate prisons.
The Home Office has refused to grant Muslim clerics
the same pay and conditions as Church of England clerics.
"There is no formal contract and job description of
Muslim chaplains. We don't know what their qualifications are or
from where they are recruited."
Staff at one high security prison complained
yesterday about an imam who has since left the service. The unnamed
cleric allegedly handed
anti-American literature to inmates and played videos promoting
jihad. He is now training to be a pilot.
Last week the Home Office confirmed that it was
investigating three imams.
Tom Watson, a Labour member of the Commons home
affairs select committee, said: "I am very concerned about what
seems to be a cult of extremism developing in the prison system.
"Religious extremists should not be able to recruit
thugs to their private armies to carry out terrorist acts.
"I shall ask David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, for
a full inquiry into the way imams are allowed to work."
There is no suggestion that the majority of imams who
volunteer their services to the Home Office are involved in
recruitment activity, but officers in a number of jails have
A Prison Service spokesman said Mr Narey could not be
contacted for comment.
He said only one imam has had accusations of
extremism proved against him, one has been cleared and one is being
investigated. "All imams and religious representatives must be
Additional reporting by Daniel Foggo and