Two of the three killers in the Paris atrocities were allegedly radicalised in prison. How it can happen.

Richard Reid shoe-bomber


The savage murder of 17 people in France last week led to more outcries that Muslim prisoners are being radicalised while inside.

Chérif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, two of the killers, reportedly met in prison, where both allegedly fell under the influence of an extremist mentor. It has also been said that “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid was radicalised while behind bars.

However, there is often little evidence to support these claims. The full story of the Paris jihadis is yet to emerge, but in the case of Richard Reid, a report from Britain’s parliament in 2012 said that it was “unclear” when and where he had been radicalised.

“It is difficult to judge the extent to which radicalisation in prisons A) is genuine and B) endures beyond release.” – House of Commons Home Affairs Committee – Jan 2012

However, that does not stop the scare stories coming. The Daily Mail recently had two such articles: one warning that imams were radicalising inmates and another about “convenience Muslims” being “tomorrow’s extremists.”



There are three main reasons why Muslim prisoners may be vulnerable to radicalisation:

  1. The prison experience itself, which can often lead to feelings of loneliness, uncertainty and unhappiness that make prisoners eager to embrace new ideologies and new ways of life.
  2. Many Muslim inmates are treated with suspicion at best and outright racism at worst by their fellow prisoners and prison authorities.
  3. There can be a need for protection from other prisoners or gangs.

The Prison Service in England & Wales has often exacerbated the situation by strip-searching inmates, using guard dogs and not providing halal food – all things Muslims find deeply objectionable.

On top of that, over-crowded prisons and overwhelmed staff (as mentioned in our article about the 10 biggest challenges facing Britain’s prisonsresult in an atmosphere in which extremists can thrive. They are able to step into the breach and lead protests against authorities.


Islamic radical



Extremist recruiters often begin by offering moral and emotional support to frightened inmates. They give newcomers advice on how to survive in prison that later turns to spiritual and religious guidance.

Muslim prison gangs tend to form in environments in which resources are scarce, ethnic and religious conflicts are rife and the prison management can no longer ensure the safety of inmates” – International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence – 2010

This is not radicalisation through intimidation, brain-washing or threats of violence according to the Quilliam Foundation. Extremists become influential by gaining the sympathy and respect of other Muslim prisoners. They stand up against both the prison system and racist inmates to defend Muslim prisoners and the Islamic religion.

And they are not some kind of monsters:

Many of the most influential extremists in prisons are warm, out-going and charismatic individuals who have a reputation for consistently showing kindness and generosity towards other inmates. – Quilliam Foundation

When discussing radicalisation, however, it is important to remember that only one per cent of the 12,000 Muslim prisoners in England & Wales have been convicted of a terrorist-related offence according to the Young Review on black and Muslim males in prison.



To end on a lighter note after that heavy subject matter: if only one per cent of Muslim prisoners are terrorists, that means the vast majority of Muslims in England & Wales are #HappyMuslims (even if some extremists did grumble about this harmless and quite cute video).



TWITTER: @prisonwatchuk 

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