UK & World News

  • 2 January 2014, 19:07

Jailed Terrorists Refuse To Change Beliefs

Almost three-quarters of those jailed for Islamist terror offences in the UK have rejected efforts to steer them away from extremism, Sky News has been told.

Sources said 110 of the country's 150 terrorist offenders, who are currently in prison or on parole, are resisting rehabilitation.

Analysts have told Sky News the security services will be faced with an increasing challenge trying to monitor those who retain extreme views once released.

The Government's counter-terrorism strategy, Contest, is aimed at encouraging extremists to re-examine their beliefs and choose a path of non-violence.

But experts say tackling the terrorist mindset is extremely challenging.

Dr Usama Hasan is a senior researcher in Islamic studies at the counter-extremist think tank, the Quilliam Foundation.

He said: "It shows the extent of the challenge that, 12 years after the 9/11 attacks in the US, you've still got the majority of these people not wanting to deal with any examination or discussion of their hardline ideas."

Whitehall sources have told Sky News that every single senior jihadist jailed in the UK in recent years has refused to engage with the anti-extremism programme.

They include the likes of Abdullah Ahmed Ali, who led a terror cell which planned to blow up airliners with liquid bombs.

It has been claimed the plot could have been more deadly than the 9/11 attacks. Ali and his fellow plotters were arrested and jailed in 2009.

Dr Hasan said it was not surprising that every senior terrorist figure had rejected overtures by prison authorities.

"If you look at their background and ideology, it is hardline jihadists' ideology which is the same as that of al Qaeda. 

"It is very fanatical, it's narrow minded, it's entrenched. It is absolutely certain that it is the correct world view and anybody who opposes it is its enemy and is the enemy of God.

"It's very difficult to change that view amongst such individuals."

Of the 150 people convicted of terrorist related offences in recent years, 40 have agreed to participate in the Government's anti-extremism programme.

The 40 are drawn from the ranks of those who were jailed for lesser offences - so-called foot soldiers.

Raffaello Pantucci, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said reaching such offenders remained extremely challenging for the authorities.

He said: "I think individuals who have pursued a path of radical extremist ideas are very difficult to persuade away from those ideas.

"I think trying to persuade them when they're within the context of a prison is understandably even harder.

"The news that around three-quarters of these individuals are not responding to Government attempts to reach out to them with deradicalisation programmes is certainly negative, but is not entirely surprising."

Around 30 terrorist offenders are already back out on Britain's streets on probation - some continue to hold extremist beliefs.

Mr Pantucci said that monitoring growing numbers of these offenders will prove increasingly challenging for the authorities. 

"It poses a difficulty for the security services because you are seeing a lot of people coming back out of prison who don't necessarily seem to have rejected the beliefs that they had before," he said.

"These are individuals that the security services have to watch out for and they need to be aware of these people and watching someone requires a substantial amount of resources."

He added, though, that it wasn't necessarily the case that all those coming out of prison still retaining some radical beliefs, would pose a threat to national security.

"We've certainly seen, historically, that people have rejected these ideas for a variety of reasons, sometimes because they've reached a decision they simply want to move on to another stage in their lives," he said.

Dr Hasan said the authorities still had plenty of time to reach the senior convicted jihadists as they are serving much longer prison sentences.

But he said a more robust approach might eventually be needed to try to influence their thinking.

Experts acknowledge there is only so much the authorities can do to persuade inmates to address their offending behaviour.

Even if they continue to hold on to their extremist beliefs, once they've served their sentence - like everyone else - they will be eligible for release.

Official sources have said they are encouraged that 40 terrorist offenders have agreed to participate in efforts to put them on a path away from violent extremism.

Although officials are hopeful other inmates will follow suit, there is a real risk significant numbers of convicted terrorists will re-join society in the future with the same beliefs that got them jailed in the first place.

In response to the revelations, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson told Sky News: "Challenging the extremist ideologies of individual prisoners can be a long and complex process.

"There is no one size fits all solution.

"Such interventions are a process - not an event.

"That is why we have a range of robust interventions to address these dangerous beliefs and to manage offenders effectively while they are in prison."

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