Posted on November 20, 2006

New Iman Sparks ‘Potentially Dangerous’ Muslim Prison Stand-Off

Daily Mail (UK), Nov. 20, 2006

A “potentially explosive” stand-off between two rival groups of Muslims has developed in Britain’s largest jail, independent watchdogs warned today.

The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at Wandsworth jail in south London said there was a “schism” among Muslim prisoners over the prison’s newly-appointed imam.

The board’s annual report said there was evidence some Muslim inmates were applying “pressure” on fellow inmates to “adopt more militant lifestyles and belief systems”.

There were also “very worrying” implications of rocketing use of illegal mobile phones by prisoners, it went on.

The report said: “There is a schism existing amongst Muslims in the prison about the imam. “There have been petitions from two opposing sides on this subject to the governor.

“We are concerned that unless sensitively managed this issue could become even more emotional and potentially explosive.”

It added: “The issues surrounding the current imam should be resolved as quickly as possible.”

IMB chairman David Jamieson said: “It is an issue of how the current imam interprets the Koran.

“There is a difference of views between the Asian Muslims and the North African and Afro-Caribbean Muslims.”

The document also reflected recent Press reports that attendance at religious services had increased because inmates were using them as venues for drug dealing and trading in illegal mobile phones.

“We believe it is essential that there are adequate numbers of officers present at all religious services to discourage illegal activities,” the study said.

Board members raised a series of concerns about a “major influx” of drugs and mobiles in Wandsworth, which holds 1,456 inmates.

Drugs were “slipping through the net” when new inmates arrived at the jail, especially remand prisoners, it said.

Use of passive drugs dogs was “almost non-existent” and the visitors asked why more was not being done to tackle the drugs problem.

The number of prisoners using mobile phones was “widespread and growing”, it added.

“Unless there is an effective preventative blanket introduced to curb the use of mobile phones, the situation is likely to get worse and the possible implications for security, drugs usage and bullying are very worrying,” the report said.

“Surely it is time to introduce effective jamming of mobile phones’ use in all prisons?”

Last month Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers raised concerns about staff attitudes to inmates at Wandsworth, reporting twice the average claims of staff victimisation.

A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “Any signs of radicalisation at the prison are firmly dealt with by a pro-active chaplaincy team.

“The recent Eid meal at Wandsworth was attended by 240 prisoners, representing virtually every Muslim prisoner and a number of non-Muslims, during which the imam was personally praised.”

She added: “Wandsworth has a good record on both mobile phone and drug finds.”