Europe warned of ISIS radicalisation threat in prisons

European countries could face a major radicalisation threat within their prison systems from returning ISIS fighters, reports on terrorism reveal.

Researchers from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalism analysed the risks posed by extremists in 10 major European countries.

The individual reports, published on Monday, highlight the dangers posed by returning ISIS fighters and concerns over them radicalising others within the prison system.

A report on Belgium reveals that if all extremists who left return to the country and are jailed, one in 10 women in prison will be an ISIS fighter.

It says that almost half the country’s current extremist inmates are former ISIS fighters and nearly a quarter of those showing signs of radicalisation are serving sentences for non-terrorism crimes.

“Some of the women who remained with ISIS until the last battle in Baghuz have been proselytising in the Kurdish camps, chiefly in al-Hoi, and they could seek to achieve the same in Belgium,” the report warns.

“The ability of female penitentiary institutions to properly handle these returnees (in terms of monitoring or differentiated detention regimes, for example) would largely depend on the pace of returns: a massive return would be much more challenging than a progressive, limited inflow of returnees.

“Radicalisation or terrorist recruitment in prison are not new phenomena in Belgium, but they have reached unprecedented magnitude in the aftermath of the Syrian conflict and the mobilisation of foreign fighters from Europe.

“This has created serious concerns among Belgian security services and policymakers, who since 2015 have adopted a series of measures to improve the monitoring of terrorist and radicalised inmates as well as minimise the risk of radicalisation of other inmates.”

It goes on to say that half of the extremists serving sentences in Belgium are due for release shortly.

A separate report on France, cites prison overcrowding as a major issue in the spread of ISIS propaganda and reveals that 148 ISIS prisoners are due for release in the next two years.

A report focusing on the Netherlands praises the separation of extremists into specialist wings, away from other prisoners, to prevent them spreading extremist ideas.

But it said the country would have to consider how to deal with returning women and children from ISIS because it will not have the room to accommodate all of them.

“When assessing the Dutch approach to managing extremist offenders, the choice to concentrate offenders in special terrorism wings and designate specific staff to deal with this offender group in prison and post-release has been effective for quite some time,” the report said.

“Separating extremists has prevented this group from radicalising or recruiting other inmates. It also allowed prison staff to develop in-depth [knowledge] about and expertise with this group of offenders, which has led to highly professional and well-trained staff.”

The immediate challenge of repatriating Dutch women and children from Syria might force the Netherlands’ government to decide soon whether further action is needed, it said.

“If and when this group returns, it is a given that they cannot all be held in the current terrorism wings and, as such, the Dutch approach to terrorist offenders will likely continue to be characterised by policy thinking on paper and pragmatic solutions in practice.”

Last week, the ICSR issued a warning that European governments urgently needed to adopt a uniform plan for the repatriation of ISIS fighters, thousands of whom are expected to return or are due for release from prison.

It revealed that if ISIS fighters from the West were to soon return, prisons across Europe would be overwhelmed.

Peter Neuman, the report’s author, said many such militants had been convicted of lesser charges to get them into custody. As a result, many are serving only short sentences.

“Our report is very urgent because within the next two to three years some countries will have a significant number of people in prison being released back into society and that is something to prepare for,” Mr Neuman said.

“Rehabilitation is really important in view of how many people will be released. There needs to be linking up between prison and probation. This is urgent.”

The UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate issued a report warning European governments of the “great risks” posed by returning female ISIS recruits and urging them to “urgently” examine their prosecution and rehabilitation policies.

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