Posts Tagged ‘Radicalisation’

COIN Inside the Wire – Jihadist Rehabilitation in Saudi Arabia

6 July, 2008

Journalist Shiraz Maher has an interesting article in today’s Sunday Times looking at Saudi efforts to rehabilitate captured Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants.

Although the Saudi programme’s emphasis on rehabilitating and releasing captured terrorists back into society makes it controversial in some quarters, there is increasing appreciation among COIN practitioners of the importance of ensuring detainee operations are consistent with the wider strategic goal of winning the war of ideas and securing the support of the population – a concept now often referred to as ‘COIN inside the wire’.

As such, the Saudi model – itself inspired by the success of a similar programme run by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) in Singaporean prisons with Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) detainees – is increasingly being implemented by US detention programmes in Iraq (see The Financial Times article linked to below).

Extracts:

It has been called the Betty Ford clinic for jihadists and within minutes of arriving at the Care Rehabilitation Centre on the outskirts of Riyadh, you can see why. The small complex, where the Saudi Arabian government is exploring a new way of reforming its wayward radicals, feels more like an exclusive boarding school than a Saudi jail.

The Times

Inmates have access to swimming pools, table tennis and PlayStations. In the evenings, guards and prisoners play football. An air-conditioned tent sits adjacent to the sports field, serving as a dining hall and common room where, when I visited, the prisoners were tucking into rice and lamb with fresh fruit for pudding.

In return for this privileged treatment, the prisoners – Islamic extremists, some of whom are convicted murderers – are obliged to attend lessons based around Islamic law and the jurisprudence of jihad. A team of psychologists teaches detainees how they should manage their emotions, particularly when reacting to world events.

….

The Saudi government insists all this is necessary to promote genuine rehabilitation and foster a meaningful relationship with the jihadists. But in the easy-going atmosphere of the “resort” – nobody calls it a prison – where inmates are referred to as “beneficiaries”, it is easy to forget the seriousness of some of their crimes.

The centre is divided into six areas, four of which hold Saudi nationals who fought (or tried to) in Iraq. The other two hold returnees from Guantanamo Bay.

….

The government has realised that the use of force alone will not contain Al-Qaeda. It has created an ideological security unit that coordinates the kingdom’s efforts in the war of ideas against its native jihadists. Those arrested in connection with terrorism are routinely subjected to attempts to reform their thinking.

Five jails, each housing 1,200 prisoners, have been built specifically for jihadists with the purpose of promoting ideological reform through dialogue and debate. Religious instruction in these prisons is directed by an advisory committee, which is also closely involved with the care centre.

The new prisons are far from the relaxed environment of the Care Rehabilitation Centre. Housing some of the most senior Al-Qaeda leaders in the kingdom, they are maximum security with sophisticated systems to deter any militants hoping to target them, including the use of buried seismic cables and microwave detection equipment.

CCTV also operates in the prisons, including cells and interrogation rooms. Most prisoners have a cell to themselves or occasionally share, although the rooms have been designed to minimise contact with other prisoners and are largely self-contained. Cells are fitted with their own televisions, encased behind toughened glass, and are centrally controlled by the guards. They are used to transmit religious education lectures prepared by the advisory committee directly into cells where inmates later have an opportunity to debate ideas and ask questions using an intercom.

After serving their sentence in these jails, prisoners are moved to the rehabilitation centre, which opened 18 months ago. It is designed to be a halfway house where ideas first introduced by the advisory committee in prison are consolidated and developed. The men are also given extensive support to help to reintegrate them into society after they leave, the thinking being that so doing makes them less likely to reoffend.

The initiative was largely inspired by circumstance after a senior Al-Qaeda figure surrendered in response to a royal amnesty. Unsure about what to do with him, the government asked a local sheikh, Ahmad Jilani, to live with him and ensure that he did not abscond while it searched for a more permanent solution.

“We discovered that after living with the sheikh, who challenged his ideas, he began telling us everything about how he was recruited, what attracted him [to jihad] and how Al-Qaeda is operating in the kingdom,” said General Mansour al-Turki, a spokesman for the interior ministry.

….

Families are encouraged to make regular visits to the centre, allowing inmates to socialise with spouses and children. Families have a crucial role to play in reforming the radicals and the centre offers advice on how to help prisoners to readjust after release. The emphasis on preparing both the families and the inmates for reintegration is particularly relevant to those returning from Guantanamo Bay.

….

How successful the centre is being in challenging jihadist ideas is hard to measure. The majority of men I met there were not Al-Qaeda’s ideologues but its foot soldiers. Most had answered the call to jihad without fully understanding the Islamist world view and, although religiously motivated, were fuelled by events.

Since its inception none of the inmates from the care centre has reoffended, but a visit to the home of Mohammed al-Fawzan, who tried to join the Islamic army in Iraq and was arrested on the Syrian border, reveals a more intriguing reason why some of those released from the care centre might want to sustain their good behaviour. Parked outside his modest one-bedroom apartment in a poor district of Riyadh is Fawzan’s new Toyota Camry, costing just under £15,000. The flat has been renovated and modernised with a fitted kitchen and bedroom furniture installed in preparation for his wedding. Fawzan’s living room hosts a 37in high-definition television with surround sound and a Blu-ray player. All this has been provided by the government, including an additional £15,000 for his wedding. And incentives are not limited to financial aid. The government also ensured that Fawzan was reinstated in his old job.

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Further Reading:

In addition to the above article, Shiraz Maher has produced a documentary segment about the care centre that will be broadcast on Wednesday’s Newsnight (BBC2 10.30pm).

Also of interest on the subject:

The Business End
Andrew K. Woods, The Financial Times

Provides a detailed profile of Major General Douglas Stone’s efforts to apply similar principles to the US detention programme in Iraq.

Extremist Reeducation and Rehabilitation in Saudi Arabia
Christopher Boucek, Terrorism Monitor

Rehabilitating the Jihadists
IISS

Singapore’s Muslim Community-Based Initiatives against JI
Muhammad Haniff Hassan, Perspectives on Terrorism

Update (18 July 08):

Indonesia’s Approach to Jihadist Deradicalization
Kirsten E. Schulze, CTC Sentinel vol.1 no.8

Also relevant is the following extract from pp. 94-5 of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, Operation Iraqi Freedom: Strategies, Approaches, Results, and Issues for Congress [PDF]:

Detainee Operations

The broad “reconciliation” intent extends to an additional subset of the Iraqi population — those who have been detained by coalition forces.

Accountability. By the beginning of 2008, coalition detainee operations had evolved markedly from the days of the formal occupation, when they were characterized by under-staffing, limited facilities, and — due to ongoing aggressive military operations — a large and quickly growing detainee population. In the early days, it was common to find local communities frustrated first by detentions they perceived to be groundless, and then by the difficulty of determining the location and status of those detained.

One important, gradual change since then, according to coalition officials, is much better accountability, based on the introduction of biometrics, better information-sharing throughout the detention system, and simply better cultural familiarity with the multi-part names commonly used in the region.

“COIN Inside the Wire” Detainee Program. A second major change, introduced by the current MNF-I leadership, is a set of “COIN inside the wire” practices, designed to identify and separate the truly “irreconcilables” from the rest of the detainees.

This new approach is based partly on a better understanding of the detainee population, which apparently includes far more opportunists than ring-leaders — for example, under-employed young men who agree to emplace an IED in exchange for a one-time payment. The opportunism seems to be corroborated by the low recidivism rate — about 9 out of 100.

According to coalition officials, in the past, the coalition used its theater internment facilities simply to “warehouse” detainees. Those facilities effectively served as “jihadist universities” where detainees with extremist agendas could recruit and train followers. Today, the coalition cultivates the majority of the detainee population by providing detainees with voluntary literacy and vocational training, and bringing in imams to offer literacy and religious education. A family visitation program allows about 1,600 visits per week. According to a senior coalition official, “Now detainees themselves point out the trouble-makers.” To support this effort, two Theater Internment Reintegration Facilities are under construction, in Taji and Ramadi, to provide further education and skills training.

Detainee Releases. A third initiative is a planned release of detainees, projected to include a majority of the 23,845 current detainees in the coalition detention facilities. During 2007, the detainee population grew from about 14,000 at the start of the year to 25,000, due to surge operations and better incoming information from Iraqi sources. The release initiative is motivated partly by the overall emphasis on reconciliation, and partly by concerns that the forthcoming “security framework agreement” (see above, “Future Security Framework Agreement”) may place new constraints on coalition detainee operations. The targeted release program draws on the results of “COIN inside the wire” in separating the hardcore cases from one-time offenders. The program makes use of a guarantor system, in which tribal sheikhs and other local leaders may vouch for, and accept responsibility for, the future good conduct of detainees released back to their communities.

The release program calls for giving ground commanders the opportunity to comment on proposed releases. Some commanders have expressed concerns about the practical implications of the program, wondering in particular how jobs will be found for the released detainees, and what will restrain them from low-level, opportunistic criminality in the future if full-employment jobs are not found.

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Worrying Implications of the Terrorism Act for Insurgency Researchers

24 May, 2008

In a disturbing development of particular relevance to IRG members doing insurgency research in the War Studies Department at King’s – and to anyone working in the field in the UK – a masters student researching terrorist tactics at Nottingham University has been arrested and held for six days under the Terrorism Act after downloading Al-Qaeda related material from the internet.

Despite his Nottingham University supervisors insisting the materials were directly relevant to his research, Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. The student had obtained a copy of the al-Qaida training manual from a US government website for his research into terrorist tactics.

The case highlights what lecturers are claiming is a direct assault on academic freedom led by the government which, in its attempt to establish a “prevent agenda” against terrorist activity, is putting pressure on academics to become police informers.

Sabir was arrested on May 14 after the document was found by a university staff member on an administrator’s computer. The administrator, Hisham Yezza, an acquaintance of Sabir, had been asked by the student to print the 1,500-page document because Sabir could not afford the printing fees. The pair were arrested under the Terrorism Act, Sabir’s family home was searched and their computer and mobile phones seized. They were released uncharged six days later but Yezza, who is Algerian, was immediately rearrested on unrelated immigration charges and now faces deportation.

….

Sabir’s solicitor, Tayab Ali, said: “This could have been dealt with sensibly if the university had discussed the issue with Rizwaan and his tutors. This is the worrying aspect of the extension of detention [under the Terrorism Act]. They can use hugely powerful arrest powers before investigating.”

As well as the obvious implications for those conducting such valuable research, and for academic freedom in general, this incident raises other uncomfortable questions.

Since the passing of the Terrorism Act in 2006 it has been clear that the breadth of its provisions could potentially criminalise many people involved in legitimate research, indeed many people doing work in academia and in the private sector that is absolutely essential if we are to make progress in the ongoing ‘long war’. As such, it has also been clear that the authorities would therefore be relying upon a considerable amount of discretionary judgement when determining whether or not someone should actually be prosecuted under this legislation, which in turn raises questions as to how these discretionary judgements are to be made. Such discretionary judgements are not an ideal basis for any law, let alone one so sensitive, and one has to wonder whether in this case it was the Muslim identity of the individuals in question that prompted the arrests.

In many respects the Terrorism Act represents an important step in recognising and addressing the role played by the internet, and by radicalisation processes in general, in the current campaign being waged by Al-Qaeda and its decentralised affiliates. However, as this incident demonstrates, it is potentially highly problematic, and considerable care is going to be required if its implementation is not itself going to be a cause of further alienation and radicalisation among the UK’s Muslims.

Read the Guardian’s coverage of the arrests here.

Update: David here. I’ve blogged this also over at Kings of War:

Student researching al-Qaida tactics held for six days | higher news | EducationGuardian.co.uk

WTF is going on with the police?

A masters student researching terrorist tactics who was arrested and detained for six days after his university informed police about al-Qaida-related material he downloaded has spoken of the “psychological torture” he endured in custody.

Despite his Nottingham University supervisors insisting the materials were directly relevant to his research, Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. The student had obtained a copy of the al-Qaida training manual from a US government website for his research into terrorist tactics.

The case highlights what lecturers are claiming is a direct assault on academic freedom led by the government which, in its attempt to establish a “prevent agenda” against terrorist activity, is putting pressure on academics to become police informers.

I don’t get the reasoning behind this action. How can he be prosecuted for downloading something from a US government website? Why do those responsible not recognize that the AQ manual is required reading for anyone in this field? Get a grip!

Update: The more I think about this case the more puzzled I get. The article is portraying this as a threat to academic freedom and our commenters reckon its an example of profiling in action. Probably true on both counts but possibly defensible also (there really is a terror threat and radicalism is prevalent in universities). That said, the article mentions a ‘1,500 page’ Al Qaeda training manual which I am assuming (because its logical and about the right length) must be the Encyclopedia of Jihad downloaded from a ‘US gov’t website’. But I cannot find the full-length document on any government website. If anybody has a link please send it to me. What’s available are heavily redacted and translated versions. The real thing is available, I am told, in Arabic, on Jihadi websites. So, is the article wrong and he did not get it off a US government website? Or is the article wrong and what he had access to was the redacted version (which would be less worrisome and make the police look even worse)? Or something else? The story as reported just doesn’t add up. In any case, the basic point remains that discouraging precisely those students who possess the language skills and background from doing research on AQ terrorism is self-defeating.

Comic Strip Heroes vs. Al-Qaeda

26 March, 2008

In a novel effort to combat the Al-Qaeda narrative, innovative officials in the North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state in Germany have turned to comic strips in a bid to counter the radicalisation of young Muslims.

Following the success of a similar campaign against right-wing extremism in 2004, in which schoolboy hero Andi stood-up against xenophobia and racism, a new strip has been produced in which Andi helps his Muslim girlfriend rescue her brother from the influence of a radical friend and an Islamist “hate preacher”.

26MAR08_Andi

The comic — printed in 100,000 copies and distributed to every secondary school in Germany’s most populous state — aims to show young people the difference between peaceful mainstream Islam and the violent, intolerant version peddled by militants.

“We were always careful not to hurt feelings and anger people by painting a caricature of Islam,” said Hartwig Moeller, head of the NRW interior ministry’s department for protection of the constitution, responsible for intelligence gathering.

“We had to make clear we weren’t aiming against Muslims, but only those people who want to misuse Islam for political aims,” added Moeller, who despite his intelligence role says 50 to 60 percent of his work is educating the public about threats.

The cartoon, featuring boldly drawn Manga-style figures, is designed to be used in citizenship and religion lessons for schoolchildren aged 12 to 16.

“We have learned from our opponents. This is exactly the age at which the Islamists are trying, through Koranic schools and other means, to fill young people with other values,” Moeller told Reuters.

Athough unconventional, reaction from German Muslims has been generally positive, although there have been some reservations:

“We found the basic approach was right and good, we only regretted (the authorities) didn’t tell us about this initiative in advance, then it could have been made much better,” said Aiman Mazyek, general secretary of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.

He said the portrayal of the Islamist hate preacher was “a bit overdone”, but added: “There are people like that, I can’t say there aren’t.” He said copies of the comic have been distributed in mosques.

Another regional government, Hamburg, is also using the Andi story, and there has been interest from Austria, Denmark, Japan and the United States.

It’s hard to say whether the strategy will be effective, or should be adopted elsewhere. However, with the campaign in NRW state costing just 30,000 euros ($47,440) for the artist and the print run, as long as any such campaign is not counter-productive, which could be ensured via proper prior consultation with Muslim youth workers, there would seem very little to lose.

Read the Reuters article here.

Update 1:

A copy of the comic strip (in German) can be downloaded here. A follow-up piece from Reuters is available here.

Update 2 (15 April 2008):

Newsweek has a feature about a similar intitiative being run in the Middle East, with an X-Men style series called The 99, which is a creation of Kuwaiti psychologist and entrepreneur Naif Al-Mutawa.

A graduate of Tufts University in the United States with a triple major in clinical psychology, English literature and history, the 37-year-old Al-Mutawa also has a keen sense of symbols. Mainstream comics in the West have drawn heavily on Judeo-Christian narratives and iconography, he says. Why not create a cast of characters whose powers echo Muslim history and traditions? And because his company, Teshkeel, is the distributor of Marvel and DC comics in the Middle East, Al-Mutawa knows just where to find top writers, pencilers and inkers to make his new publications as polished as any on the market.

Countering Jihad in Germany

26 March, 2008

The international online edition of Spiegel magazine has an in-depth interview with Ernst Uhrlau, the president of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND. Uhrlau discusses the threat to Germany posed by Al-Qaeda inspired jihadist militants; the role played by homegrown terrorists, and by converts in particular; and the processes by which the marginalisation of Muslims can lead to radicalisation.

AFP/SITE Institute via SPIEGEL

The whole interview is recommended, but the following is an extract:

Uhrlau: Turkish Islam traditionally plays an important role for the domestic intelligence agencies. Milli Görüs, the largest Islamist organization in Germany with about 26,000 members, is under observation. With its extremist worldview, it poses a threat to our constitutional democratic order. But it is not an organization that preaches violence. Germany’s 2.5 million Muslims of Turkish origin come from a secular country that is strongly oriented toward the West, a country where militant fundamentalist movements are relatively insignificant — unlike Lebanon, say, where the radical Hezbollah has many supporters.

SPIEGEL: Does this mean that we should be pleased that the Turkish variety of Islamism is so strong in our country?

Uhrlau: At least we don’t have the kinds of problems that the United Kingdom and France are facing because of their colonial past. The Pakistani Muslims in England and the North African Muslims in France come from countries in which Islamist beliefs and violence play a more important role in parties and movements than in Germany. This is also reflected among the immigrant population.

SPIEGEL: Your counterparts in Paris and London are concerned about so-called home-grown terrorism. Is this something that we also have in Germany?

Uhrlau: The arrests in Oberschledorn are evidence that we also have this phenomenon in Germany. Even though many of the potential terrorists were born and grew up in Europe and do not stand out, they feel marginalized. As a reaction to this, the second or third generation of immigrants reverts much more strongly to its roots. In the process, religious belief becomes decisive. A process of isolation begins that leads to a parallel society. They are convinced that they must defend their own religion and values against the majority Western society.

SPIEGEL: Feeling misunderstood and wanting to defend your faith is one thing, but wanting to killing “infidels” is another.

Uhrlau: A fanatic prepared to commit violence sees himself as part of the ummah, the Muslim community of believers. He perceives any attack on his fellow Muslims — be it by the Israelis in the Gaza Strips or by the Americans in Iraq — as an attack on himself and his religion. Someone like this is an easy target for jihad or al-Qaida propaganda and can be recruited for the holy war against the “infidels.”

SPIEGEL: Did the refusal of the Social Democratic and Green Party coalition government under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to take part in the Iraq war reduce the risk of attack in Germany? Will a stronger German military presence in Afghanistan increase it?

Uhrlau: Jihad is triggered by current political developments. The jihadists do not reward us for having stayed out of the Iraq war. And whether we increase our presence in Afghanistan is irrelevant for the Islamists. As far as they are concerned, Germany is already not a neutral country. We are on the side of the hated Americans and we traditionally support Israel, which they consider a “Zionist entity.”

SPIEGEL: How large is the army of jihadists in Germany?

Uhrlau: We estimate that there are a few hundred extremists who are prepared to commit acts of violence. Up to 700 people are under various levels of observation by German intelligence and security agencies. Most of them live in our midst. A small proportion of these people, however, stand out by being frequent travelers. We currently know that more than a dozen people, including converts, have traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years, where they seek contact with like-minded people.

SPIEGEL: So you simply allow these potential terrorists to go about their business?

Uhrlau: As long as there is no concrete evidence that they are making preparations for attacks, we have no other choice. But we do attempt to monitor their movements and determine their destinations. Not all of them are potential bombers — some are traveling as couriers. The Islamists are very familiar with the technical possibilities which the intelligence agencies have at their disposal. Hence important messages are delivered in person.

SPIEGEL: Can you prove direct contacts to al-Qaida?

Uhrlau: We follow them into the inaccessible tribal areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan …

SPIEGEL: … where al-Qaida’s terrorist training camps are located …

Uhrlau: … and we try to find out what they are doing there and with whom they are meeting. A lot of information is due to intensive cooperation with intelligence agencies in countries through which these suspects pass on their way to the Hindu Kush region. Some are briefly detained and questioned for other offences on their way back. But the fact that we are on their tail doesn’t really deter them. They continue undaunted. This doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the construction of a bomb. Some specialize in propaganda, in recruiting other activists or in conveying information.

Read the full interview here.

The Bombers Who Weren’t

25 March, 2008

While it is increasingly recognised that success in the fight against Al-Qaeda inspired militancy requires we gain a thorough understanding of the processes by which self-selecting individuals become radicalised, there is less appreciation of the lessons that might be learned from an understanding of the processes by which potential terrorists have in the past de-selected themselves, and become de-radicalised.

In an article entitled The Bombers Who Weren’t, Michael Jacobson – a former staff member of the 9/11 commission, and a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy – argues that such processes of de-radicalisation represent ‘fault lines that counterterrorism officials should exploit.’

It’s become a truism of counterterrorism that we must understand how and why individuals become jihadists in the first place. But almost nobody is studying the flip side of radicalization — understanding those who leave terrorist organizations. We’d do well to start. Figuring out why individuals walk away from terrorist groups can help governments predict whether an individual — or even a cell — is likely to go through with a plot. Understanding the dropouts should also make it easier for governments to determine which terrorists might be induced to switch sides, help stop radicalization and craft messages that could peel away people already in terrorist organizations. The more we know about why terrorists bail, the better we can fight them.

Jacobson illustrates his argument with reference to a number of Al-Qaeda operatives who did de-select themselves – including Sajid Badat, who was supposed to conduct an identical mission to that of ‘shoe-bomber’ Richard Reid, but who pulled-out at the last minute, leaving his dismantled bomb at his parents’ house.

Jacobson identifies a number of factors which in the past have caused individuals to break with Al-Qaeda, some of which are ‘strikingly prosaic’. Common reasons include:

  • Disillusionment with the group’s tactics and strategy.
  • Lack of respect for the group’s leadership, particularly their lack of battlefield military experience.
  • Money, particularly when inadequate compensation is perceived as unfair treatment towards an individual.
  • Petty slights and personal animosities between operatives and leadership figures.
  • Family ties and personal connections, particularly as experienced by an operative following his re-insertion into society following a period of detachment in a training camp or other retreat.

Unfortunately Jacobson has no suggestions on how this might be translated into practical counterterrorism policy, acknowledging that ‘there’s no obvious silver bullet here’. Nevertheless, such ‘fault lines’ seem an avenue worth exploring, and understanding and then exploiting processes of de-radicalisation should be incorporated as a goal within broader counter-radicalisation strategies.

Read the full article here.