Jihadi 'Islamic State' Ring Spanning 17 Prisons Uncovered and Dismantled

A jihadi network claiming to have links to the Islamic State and spanning 17 prisons has been uncovered and dismantled in Spain.

In total, 25 prisoners have been questioned and connected to the organization, which worked in prisons to radicalize inmates. The majority of the suspects are Moroccans or Spanish citizens of Moroccan ancestry, Agence France-Presse reported. One was also Danish, and the remainder were Spanish citizens who had converted to Islam.

"Although the investigation began by focusing on an inmate in a particular prison, to date the illegal activity of the group extended to 17 prisons, which account for 55 percent of jails that house prisoners linked to jihadist terrorism," the European country's Interior Ministry said in a Tuesday statement, according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

The Soto del Real prison is visible through its chain-link fence, near Madrid, on November 03, 2009. A jihadi network claiming to have links to the Islamic State and spanning 17 prisons has been uncovered and dismantled in Spain. DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

The Interior Ministry explained that the group's existence alone was a threat, but it was even more worrying as several radicalized members were set for release. Although the group did not reportedly have a "concrete plan" to launch a specific attack, those connected with the organization had a "belligerent state of mind towards prison staff."

Two of those connected to the jihadi group had been jailed in connection with the 2004 Madrid train bombings, an anti-terrorism source told the AFP. That attack left more than 1,800 people injured and 191 dead, becoming Europe's worst terrorist assault.

Previous research has shown that Europe's prisons are a prime location for jihadi groups to recruit and radicalize. One 2016 study found that more than half of the foreign fighters heading to the Middle East from Europe had previous criminal records, with about 27 percent being radicalized while in detention.

"Jihadism offered redemption for crime while satisfying the personal needs and desires that led them to become involved in it, making the 'jump' from criminality to terrorism smaller than is commonly perceived," said the report, which was published by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence (ICSR) at King's College in London.

Rescue workers search through the wreckage of a commuter train after it was devastated by a bomb blast during the morning rush hour in Madrid, Spain, on March 11, 2004. Getty Images

The United Nations has also warned that prisons can often become "incubators for terrorism by constituting environments where violent extremism can thrive."

Estimates suggest that some 5,000 European nationals have traveled to Syria, Iraq and other destinations to join jihadi movements. As conflicts in Iraq and Syria wind down, many in Europe are concerned about what will happen when and if these individuals return home.

According to the ICSR report, the problem of radicalization is a "social problem" that is largely due to the existence of "a 'Muslim underclass' in the big European cities," who often reside in "ghettos." Young people in these communities who become disenfranchised from society may seek out alternatives and a sense of purpose with extremist groups.