Al-Qaeda prisoners in UK jails are being hardened instead of reformed, top Whitehall sources have told the BBC.
Support for anti-western Jihad is on the rise in prisons, sources claim
A major programme of radicalisation is underway in prisons, targeting vulnerable young men and preaching violent jihad, it has been claimed.
The BBC's Frank Gardner said sources claim Islamist convicts are undergoing the same process IRA members did at the Maze prison in Northern Ireland.
Ministers hope to tackle the problem by training prison imams, he added.
Frank Gardner, the BBC's security correspondent, said that senior Whitehall sources told him that convicted al-Qaeda inmates and their associates are using prison to build up networks and address books, making contacts with other prisoners who have supplied false documents and even weaponry.
Sources add that among 9,000 Muslim prisoners in England and Wales, a small hard core are devoted to recruiting other young men to extremism.
One government official said that they see prison as an extension of Jihad: if kept together they form a cell, but if dispersed they seek to spread their beliefs.
In an effort to counter this growing phenomenon, prison imams have been given specialist training.
Efforts are being made to identify those prisoners most susceptible to extremism and mentor them on their release.