Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 6 Issue: 1


Spanish Corrections officials continue to try to deal with the growing radicalization of Muslim prisoners. A new 89-page manual marked “confidential” provides guards and officials with a guide to the radicalization process, giving tips on what to watch for in dress, language, and behavior that might indicate a prisoner’s adoption of radical Islam, political extremism, or jihadist violence (El Mundo [Madrid], December 30, 2008). The manual offers the following advice:

• Officials must be familiar with the prisoner’s background in terms of family involvement in Islamist activities or the prisoner’s own experience with jihad operations.

• If a scar is found on the prisoner during a frisking procedure and the guard suspects it was the result of a wound inflicted in Bosnia, Chechnya, or Afghanistan, it must be photographed and passed on to the warden.

• If a cell is papered with holy texts, it must be photographed and the warden notified.

• Guards must watch for newspapers or journals published by extremist organizations. Oddly, the manual singles out Gara, a bilingual Basque/Spanish newspaper published in San Sebastián. While the paper might appeal to imprisoned members of the Basque ETA terrorist group, it is unlikely to appeal to would-be jihadis, few, if any, of whom might be expected to read Basque.

• Careful watch should be kept of prisoners who go from no prayers to praying five times a day. Whispering the suras of the Koran while working or reciting the Tasbih (short phrases glorifying God) on the Muslim rosary are also suspicious behavior.

• Other suspicious activities include refusing to shake hands with female social workers and listening to Islamic audio recordings instead of music.

• Physical signs to watch for include the prisoner’s eyes no longer being red as a result of smoking hashish, the growing of beards, shaving of the head or the complete body, careful cutting of the nails, or the appearance of a prayer scar or callus (“zabiba” – raisin) on the forehead as a result of bumping the head on the ground while prostrating during prayer.

The manual also includes a glossary of Islam-related words and phrases as well as a complete listing of radical Islamist publications. Authorities are warned prisoners may use what the intelligence community refers to as “idiot codes,” which rely on a pre-arranged agreement on the secret meaning of certain words or phrases. Despite the name, such codes are virtually unbreakable unless the users persist in using the same words or phrases over an extended period.

Islamic radicalism is a growing problem in Spain’s generally liberal prison system. There are an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 Muslim prisoners in Spain, though only a small percentage of these could be classified as Islamist extremists. The great fear is that the prison environment lends itself to recruitment activities by jihadist leaders. After a prayer leader is selected for a cell block, other prisoners may begin to enforce Islamic rules among Muslims in the block. In 2004, 110 extremists turned a lecture hall into a mosque without permission. The loud call to prayer angered non-Muslim prisoners, but authorities only requested the Muslims to keep the noise down (El Mundo, September 9, 2004). In the same year, a prison-based group known as the “Martyrs of Morocco” devised a plot to ram a truck carrying 1,000 pounds of explosives into Madrid’s National Court building, where the judges and trial-records of the March 2004 Madrid train-bombers were located. Bomb-making formulas were found in cells as well as extensive jihadi correspondence between prisoners that escaped scrutiny because of a shortage of Arabic translators in the corrections service (Los Angeles Times, December 24, 2007).

Spanish prisons have attempted to accommodate Muslim prisoners by allowing them to pray in congregations and rescheduling meal-times to accommodate Ramadan observances. In 2006, the Islamic Commission of Spain arranged for approved Imams (prayer-leaders) to try to persuade Muslim prisoners to avoid radicalization (La Vanguardia [Barcelona], July 31, 2006).


Two Kenyan nationals were among those killed in a New Year’s Day missile strike on a house in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal agency. Although the strike occurred on January 1, the identities of those killed were not confirmed until January 9. Although U.S. officials do not comment officially on missile attacks in the Frontier region of Pakistan, it is believed the attack was carried out by a Hellfire missile launched from a CIA Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) (Daily Nation, Nairobi, January 9; Daily Times [Lahore], January 10; al-Jazeera, January 9).

The two Kenyans are believed to have been associated with al-Qaeda since the mid-1990s. Osama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ali Msalam) was wanted in connection with numerous bombings in Pakistan, including the 2008 Danish Embassy suicide attack and the September 20, 2008, bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. Al-Kini was also a suspect in a foiled attempt to assassinate former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (Daily Nation, January 9).

Both Mombasa native al-Kini and his Kenyan lieutenant, Shaykh Ahmad Salim Swedan, were wanted for their roles in the deadly 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam and had five-million dollar bounties on their heads. According to a Kenyan security official, “Kini received money from al-Qaeda to run the East African cells. He was a logistician for the terrorists in this region before he went to Pakistan” (The Standard [Nairobi], January 11). Al-Kini first trained in Afghanistan in 1994 before returning to Kenya. Following the embassy bombings he fled to Pakistan. After becoming head of al-Qaeda operations in the Zabul province of Afghanistan in late 2001, al-Kini rose to become al-Qaeda’s operations chief for Pakistan.

Shaykh Ahmad Salim Swedan also fled Kenya after the embassy bombings but sneaked back to carry out the Kikamabala bombing in 2002 before fleeing again to Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.

The strike took place in the village of Karikot, where seven suspected militants from Punjab province were killed in a pair of missile strikes on December 21, 2008. The area is dominated by Ahmadzai Wazir fighters led by Maulvi Nazir, an opponent of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mahsud (The Nation [Islamabad], December 23).