Ex-BNP activist 'recruiting prisoners to join al-Qa'ida'

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A former British National Party activist who converted to Islam in a maximum-security jail is being held in isolation on suspicion of trying to recruit fellow prisoners to terrorist groups.

Stephen Jones has been confined to a segregation unit in Whitemoor prison, Cambridgeshire, for three weeks while the intelligence services investigate his alleged links to al-Qa'ida.

It is thought to be the first time a prisoner has been put in isolation because of fears he was attempting to radicalise other inmates. The authorities were also said to be concerned about his safety. Two other Muslim prisoners are thought to be in the same unit.

Fears have been growing that extremist groups are using prisons as a fertile recruiting ground. Britain is believed to have more prisoners with terrorist sympathies than any other European country.

The Prison Officers' Association (POA) has called for extremist prisoners to be kept away from inmates who could be vulnerable to radicalisation.

Steve Gough, the POA's vice-chairman, told the BBC: "If you can get someone that's so right-wing to be converted, then a normal prisoner is going to have absolutely no chance."

An internal review of security at Whitemoor – where almost a third of the 500 inmates are Muslim – warned that officers were struggling to deal with Muslim gangs. It concluded that staff feared a "serious incident is imminent".

Henry Bellingham, the shadow Justice Minister, who has raised concerns about Whitemoor, said: "What we have got to do is work with the moderate Muslim organisations to try and stamp this out."

He said prison officers needed support to tackle the threat and added: "They have got a huge challenge, particularly at a time of overcrowding."

The Ministry of Justice has announced initiatives to curb the spread of extremism. They include rooting out extremists and improved training of staff.