UK Inmates being radicalised by jihadist behind Bluewater plot

A terrorist serving a life sentence for a notorious bomb plot is a pivotal figure in the spread of extremism in the prison population, The Times has found.

Anthony Garcia, 38, who was convicted in 2007 for his role in a cell planning to bomb the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, is alleged to have persuaded scores of prisoners to adopt his extremist brand of Islam and jihad.

He is said to have influenced former gang members and murderers who had no interest in religion before entering the prison system, offering them physical training and religious instruction.

Several recent terrorist attacks have been linked to jail radicalisation, including the murders at Fishmongers’ Hall in London in 2019, the killings last year of three men in a park in Reading and assaults on prison officers.

Counterterrorism sources confirmed that Garcia, who is understood to be in HMP Full Sutton, a high-security prison in East Yorkshire, held a leadership role there because his terrorist cell had direct links to the suicide bombers who killed 52 people and injured hundreds more in London on July 7, 2005. He was also looked up to by inmates as a veteran of an al-Qaeda training camp.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed that Garcia was watched closely because of his terrorism conviction. However, a source said: We disagree with these claims and have no evidence to suggest that Garcia is displaying radicalising or bullying behaviour.

Last year a former senior counterterrorism police officer said that the prison service failed to respond to intelligence from sources other than their own.

A London gang member who spent time in prison with Garcia told The Times. He used to do circuit training with his group on the wing. Altitude training, he called it. He would say it would get your lungs strong. He used to hold lectures in his cell. Sometimes he would record them on a mobile phone and distribute them to other prisons. He also translated Islamic State lectures.”

Garcia was part of a cell rounded up in 2004. He played a key role in the plan to bomb shopping centres and nightclubs, buying 600kg of fertiliser. He and others in the cell had been to al-Qaeda camps and were part of al-Muhajiroun, an extremist group. The men were under MI5 surveillance when they met Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, two of the July 7 bombers. Garcia was jailed for life by the Old Bailey with a minimum 20-year term after being found guilty of conspiring to cause explosions likely to danger life.

Jonathan Hall, QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, who is investigating extremism in prisons, said yesterday: I cannot discuss individuals but what is striking is the ability of some terrorist offenders to occupy heroic status in the prison gang. These gangs then act as a vector for the power and influence of terrorist offenders. At worst this leads to specific acts being encouraged.

At the least, people who are coming to the religion for the first time or rekindling interest in religion are having their understanding shaped by the undue influence of these individuals.

Yesterday the Commission for Countering Extremism called for new laws to combat extremist content online that stopped short of terrorist preparation. Sir Mark Rowley, a former head of counterterrorism at the Metropolitan Police and a co-author of the report, said that new powers that counter those who radicalise the vulnerable in society could also help prison authorities counter the growing challenges they face in prisons.

The Ministry of Justice said: We have trained nearly 35,000 officers to spot the signs of extremism and increased the number of counterterrorism staff. We will separate the most subversive prisoners from the general population where necessary.

Case study
A convicted murderer with no previous religious background is alleged to have become an aggressive jihadist after spending time with Anthony Garcia.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, killed a woman more than a decade ago.

An inmate who spent time with the killer in HMP The Mount in Hertfordshire claimed he called himself mujahid and portrayed himself as the emir, or leader, of a group of self-styled extremists.

I have met a lot of extremists in prison, me personally I’m not Muslim, but I’ve met them, said a serving inmate, who did not want to be identified. He was the worst. He was radicalising other prisoners, but at the same time, he was a gang boss.

The Times has confirmed that the alleged extremist spent a short time on the same wing as Garcia in a high-security prison in 2012. It is not clear what level of influence the terrorist had on him but past cases have shown that radicalisation can happen in weeks. The serving inmate said that the man had boasted of connections to Garcia.

It is understood the prisoner’s conduct has attracted the interest of counterterrorism agencies. He is assessed, however, as someone who wants to be part of the Islamist prison gang rather than a terrorist threat.

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