UK prisons must do better at identifying extremist lies

Warning follows attacks by former prisoners who claimed to have renounced violence

A handout picture released by Counter Terrorism Policing South East on January 11, 2021 shows the custody photograph of Khairi Saadallah following his arrest on murder charges in Reading, southern England.  A Libyan asylum seeker who stabbed three men to death in a rampage through a British park last year was jailed for life on January 11. Judge Nigel Sweeney said Khairi Saadallah's attack in Forbury Gardens, Reading, last June was so "swift, ruthless and brutal" that none of his victims stood a chance. He rejected the 26-year-old's argument that he was not motivated by terror and that he had been suffering a mental illness at the time of the killings.
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The UK’s prison authorities must get better at identifying the lies of committed extremists to stop them carrying out terrorist attacks when they leave prison, a senior government adviser said on Monday.

Ian Acheson, who produced a report in 2016 on extremism in jails, said the prison service lacked the staff and skills to identify killers who falsely claim to have dropped their violent ideologies.

Mr Acheson said authorities had to get a grip on the threat of extremism behind bars after attacks in 2019 and 2020 by recently released prisoners.

He gave the case of Libyan Khairi Saadallah, 26, who murdered three men in a knife attack in Reading, 65 kilometres west of London, shortly after his release from prison in June 2020.

Saadallah sought the company of prominent extremist preacher Omar Brooks while behind bars.

In November 2019, Usman Khan, 28, killed two people at a prison rehabilitation conference before being shot dead by police.

Khan had been released early from his jail sentence after a conviction for plotting to bomb London’s Stock Exchange.

Other European countries have experienced similar attacks, including Austria where a 20-year-old extremist killed four people in November 2020 after being released early from prison.

Kujtim Fejzulai had been jailed for 22 months after trying to reach Syria to join ISIS, but was turned back after he reached Turkey.

In his report for the UK government, Mr Acheson championed the use of separation units to hold some of the UK’s most dangerous and charismatic extremists to stop them radicalising young inmates in the general prison population.

Specialist multi-disciplinary teams should be used for intensive work on a small number of extremists who could be persuaded to drop their ideologies, Mr Acheson said.

He was speaking at an online seminar called "Incarcerated and Indoctrinated: How to Tackle Extremism in Prisons", run by the Henry Jackson think tank.

“I don’t think we have the intervention programmes at the moment to really make a dent in that," Mr Acheson said. "That’s how we will stop future outrages."

He is working on a project with Staffordshire University to find new techniques to assess the risk of convicted terrorists being reintegrated into the community after serving prison sentences.

Mr Acheson said failures to adequately address extremism in prison could lead to a member of staff being killed.

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