Jails on alert over Muslim converts

By Alex Mitchell
October 31, 2004
The Sun-Herald


A security alert has been declared in NSW jails and the activities of the growing number of convicts who are converting to Islam will be monitored.

One imam has been stopped from visiting jails after prison authorities became concerned about his firebrand religious message.

NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham said jail converts were instantly recognisable when they shaved their heads and grew beards.

"We have prisoners who are walking the walk and talking the talk of overseas terrorist groups," he said. "They've picked up the rhetoric and become extremely dangerous."

He said prisoners on the high security list would have their mail intercepted and copied, their phone calls monitored, their visitors strictly vetted and no physical contact allowed.

Special surveillance of Muslim prisoners in NSW follows overseas evidence that jails have become a recruiting ground for terrorist organisations.

While in Washington for the US-Australia Leadership Dialogue Group in June, Premier Bob Carr was briefed on Islamic conversions in jail.

In Madrid last week, a judge warned that Spain's jails were breeding grounds for Islamic militants after filing terrorism charges against 17 people who allegedly plotted to ram a truck packed with explosives into the National Court.

Spanish prison director Mercedes Gallizo has ordered a detailed report on all prison incidents involving Muslim inmates after it was revealed that the truck bomb plot was hatched by the "Martyrs for Morocco" who were jailed for last year's train bombing in Madrid.

Mr Woodham said about 20 hardline criminals had embraced the Muslim faith in the past couple of years; others were studying the Koran.

Covert conversions were causing major concern.

Mr Woodham is to ask prison chiefs from all states and territories for complementary legislation across Australia so national security prisoners can be transferred from one state jurisdiction to another.