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Can an ISIS Terrorist be Rehabilitated and Reintegrated into Society?

This panel discussion was held on June 10, 2020, from 11am-12:30pm Eastern.

Read a summary and analysis of this topic produced by ICSVE after the event in Homeland Security Today.

Chat Log:

11:11:21  From felix opondo : Hello Everyone…. Felix Opondo from Kenya

11:12:31  From Mike Counts : I can think of one other thing we need to look at, and that is the software that people are running. Software- in other words, what teaching. What fiqh. Which scholarly sources that act as a guidebook for a whole way of life.

11:13:25  From Moussa Al-Hassan Diaw (DERAD) : yes

11:13:48  From Rennie : How do you know if rehabilitation is having the effect required??

11:14:36  From Emanuel Banutai : hello to everyone from Slovenia

11:14:57  From Mike Counts : I am aware of some examples of bad software. Al Ahkam as Sultaniyyah is bad software. Mawardi is trash. In time of war, it makes people commit lawless acts of violence. Reliance of the Traveller is also trash. Each of these sources have been specifically cited by Daesh and this is the material that persuades people of the idea that Kalifah is fardh and jihad is mainly violence.

11:16:16  From Mike Counts : With that being said, I’d like to have a look at any set of sources that is not trash. Are there decent sources that do not qualify as bad software, or is this an exercise in simply asking people to abandon fiqh and ignore centuries of scholarship?

Anne Speckhard (later insert) There is a wonderful book put out by Quillam written by Salah al Ansari and Usama Hasan on exactly these issues of what militant jihadist claim from Islam and what most scholars of Islam would answer. It’s called Tackling Terror: A Response To Takfiri Terrorist Theology. You can download it from Quillam.

11:16:34  From Gem : so good to be here learning from Australia

11:17:52  From Dr. Lisa McConnell : Are your interviewees primarily male? Female? Single? Married? Have children?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Lisa you often ask very involved questions that I cannot answer quickly in chat, but I can refer you to our papers as Molly did below.  We interviewed both male and females, married and single, most females had living children with them, but some had died. Please see our paper for all the details “ISIS in Their Own Words” here:

11:18:51  From Dr. Lisa McConnell : What is the typical profile of the respondents?  

11:19:09  From Molly Ellenberg : For a full description of the first 220 ICSVE interviewees, you can read our paper “ISIS in Their Own Words” here:

11:19:37  From jeffreyallan : To what extent does revoking the citizenship of ISIS members pre-empt the possibility of rehabilitation for potential returnees and further justify remaining engaged in a jihadi cause?  What does the evidence show?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Great question Jeffrey.  While it is against international law to render a person stateless, UK in particular has stripped citizenship of most ISIS members imprisoned in SDF territory who have a second citizenship so Jack Letts is now considered only Canadian by them, Shamima Begum Bangladeshi although Bangladesh refuses to grant her citizenship, etc. There is so little evidence at this point, but anecdotal evidence. I’ve interviewed both of the two mentioned above and it’s a very bitter pill to accept that your country refuses you in the first case when Jack had documented OCD as a teenager before leaving, and Shamima was 15 when leaving.  I don’t believe either is radicalized or endorses ISIS more than ever as a result but there is bitterness, hurt and disappointment and that extends to relatives and friends who feel the same that the law was not fair to them. I worry more about the radicalizing effect on those who already have a sense of grievance that this confirms it–that Muslims will not be treated well by the law, are rejected by Western society etc.  Drives them toward ISIS.  Likewise many Western ISIS men in SDF prison tell me our countries reject us even though we surrendered to the SDF, maybe we should have stayed with ISIS even though we no longer thought they were correct.  That’s worrisome also.  But again probably more so for the wider circles the treatment of them influences.

11:22:40  From Sean Griffin : deradicalise, or disengage? perhaps easier to modify behaviour and the expression of  being radical

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) My view is disengagement happens as you separate them from their group and they can no longer engage in violence due to imprisonment but if you don’t also change their commitment to violent ideologies you may find them returning to violence, best to do both. Disengagement  is easiest of course and as Moussa pointed out today it’s not illegal to have beliefs as long as behaviors don’t violate the law, troubling and worrisome as those beliefs may be.

11:22:43  From Rennie : I believe that the second wave of terrorist is on the horizon

11:23:15  From Moussa Al-Hassan Diaw (DERAD) : disengage and if possible derad too

11:23:39  From Halkano Abdi WARIO : How is the COVID19 impacting on deradicalization programmes on those in detentions and camps and on possibilities of surviving IS cells regrouping for a come back give it’s impact on coalitions fighting the terror group?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Great question Halkano.  For many COVID is hampering effective efforts, slowing down building programs and engaging in them as travel from Iraq to SDF territory is difficult now, border is closed to most travel and if you get sick there you may not get out.  

11:23:45  From Sean Griffin : being radical not a crime….

11:24:29  From Moussa Al-Hassan Diaw (DERAD) : being an extremist/terrorist is a crime and we have the international sanction list of terrorist groups

11:25:01  From Rennie : Sean Griffin, that is the true

11:25:22  From Christie LaPlume : imposing radical agenda on those who don’t want it, and killing them for that, is a crime – for sure

11:25:48  From Maha Ghazi : Is there any successful deradicalization program in the world until now? what are the factors that lead us to this conclusion “success”, Is that only the recidivism or there are other elements? 

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Thank you Maha for this great question. General Stone measured success of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq that I helped write and design to be applied to 23,000 detainees and 800 juveniles in terms of recidivism.  He said there was no recidivism but that can also be attributed to the tribes engaging in the Awakening Movement, people fed up with al Qaeda in Iraq, getting caught and being much more careful not to get caught again, etc.  And obviously many from al Qaeda in Iraq later joined ISIS.  Baghdadi being prime among them and he had been in Camp Bucca but not through our program!

11:26:06  From Gem : how long do longitudinal studies go to see what kinds of generational or even decade/s long change has occurred in individuals and community to see re-engagement or successful deradicalization?  

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) That’s a great idea but it’s too early for that.

11:26:10  From elizabeth.joslyn : Can you talk about the funding source for such a multidimensional approach? 

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Most people in this field find funding the hardest part.  Most countries now run prison programs which are state funded.

11:26:21  From Dr. Lisa McConnell : Yes – please address the metrics used to declare “successful” deradicalization.

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Many prison programs use checklists and the VERA is prime among them and better because it also allows for the opinions of the person using it.  Holistic and team approaches best and evaluating repeatedly over time as people flip back and forth.

11:27:42  From Hank Cohen : Has the average returnee engaged in acts like beheading people?  What is the psychological impact?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Most returnees that are not imprisoned would never admit to such crimes so we don’t know.  As I said in the meeting one teen who beheaded said it made him vomit immediately and he described acute stress response and long term chronic PTSD with alcohol abuse to manage flashbacks.  Many told me they suffered from the torture and other crimes they committed against others.  In treating returnees we have to treat their traumas as well if we expect them to be able to function and rehabilitate, even if we thoroughly despise what caused the traumas.

11:28:19  From Hank Cohen : From Hank Cohen.  I asked the question about beheadings.

11:29:26  From Gem : would be very interesting to know if there is re-engagement with terrorist groups information on whether that second/third what ever is more or less involved in violence?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) We found cases where there was reengagement please see this article.  Keep in mind no one joins a terrorist group except it meets his or her needs in some way so if they return from prison or the group and try to reenter society but face all the same push and pull factors and stigma as well they may simply return to the group.

11:30:17  From Dr. Lisa McConnell : How long did the process take for him to recognize how he was viewed?

11:30:21  From Rennie : How can deradicalization truly occur when Jihadist teachings continue to prevail in the liberal world???

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) By really working carefully with the person so he understands the terrorist claims about Islam and what moderate scholars say and he is confident that the terrorist group has it wrong.  And when he is firmly redirected into healthier ways of meeting his needs that serve both himself and society much better than terrorism does.

11:30:56  From Gem : Did this person you talk of need to move to a new geographical location? to find “new” community?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Good question as you hear stigma on release is a huge issue, same with returnees.  Relocation can help also to keep him or her from reengaging with former negative influencers.  

11:31:39  From elizabeth.joslyn : Is this process interrupted when there is a turn over rate of the counselors? Is it important that the same individual works with the same counselors through these phases? 

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) I would assume yes, but new people maybe bring new energy and ideas as well.

11:31:49  From Mike Counts : Imam question- what are some examples of Islamic fiqh that informs your understanding of what the Islamic way of life is supposed to look like? I acknowledge that you don’t go all the way into it with the person you’re trying to deradicalize, but where are You coming from? Which sources  are you dealing with? I hope not Reliance of the Traveller or al Ahkam as Sultaniyya, because those sources are the source of your problems. What sources are you dealing with that are actually good?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Please see the Quillam reference top of this chat.

11:32:35  From Jocelyn Belanger : RE: GEM in this paper it was  12 months with repeated measures.  Webber, D., Chernikova, M., Kruglanski, A. W., Gelfand, M. J., Hettiarachchi, M., Gunaratna, R., … & Belanger, J. J. (2018). Deradicalizing detained terrorists. Political Psychology, 39(3), 539-556.

11:36:19  From Emanuel Banutai : please mute mics if not speaking…

11:36:45  From Vyana Sharma : Would there be  access to the slides please? 

11:38:27  From Rennie : This approach looks great but application and outcome is the issue for concern

11:39:29  From Fazil Kurdi : May I have Mr. Radhwan’s contact information?  This is Fazil Kurdi from Kurdistan Aid – KAID from the US. Thanks, 

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Redouan Safdi agrees to be contacted at

Moussa Hassan Diaw at

Omar Shariff at

11:40:11  From angela ewing : Interesting, I’ve only see Reliance of the Traveller – what are other options? 

11:42:08  From Paul K : Individual successes are fine, however how do you differentiate between those who are genuinely deradicalizing and those who are not – for example the Fishmongers Hall / London Bridge attack conducted by an attendee at a offender rehabilitation conference in London 2019 ?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) – this is an excellent question Paul and gets to the heart of the matter.  Are we doing effective and genuine work or just checking boxes, are their crises that can flip a person back into jihadism, can those who are being treated fake it enough to make us believe they are safe when they are not.  No program is going to have 100 percent success but programs that simply help on release are probably not enough, treatment and regular evaluation in prison before release will likely give a better outcome, etc. 

11:43:03  From Mike Counts : Question- what are names of sources and examples of fiqh that are used to radicalize people, and what are some names of sources and examples of fiqh that lead a person to the non-radicalized version of Islam? Names of sources and examples of fiqh, please.

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) I refer you again to the Quillam doc cited at the top of this chat

11:44:31  From Sean Griffin : Good point @mike counts.  At the end of the day its all down to risk management, and trust in the system(s) you are operating

11:44:33  From Maha Ghazi : Do you believe that individuals that converted to islam are easier to deradicalized more than the muslims by birth in Europe

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Maha this is also a great question.  We found in our chechen study of suicide bombers that those who grew up in practicing homes were less likely to be represented than those who found Islam with jihadist groups, likely because those who grew up in practicing homes understood their religion and were not easily tricked.  In interviewing parents of ISIS travelers in Belgium I was repeatedly told that ISIS recruiters tried to discredit fathers of Muslims and say that they were kafr for raising their families in Belgium versus under shariah and once they created this rift they stepped in as father figures and guided their recruits into ISIS. This was particularly successful in families facing divorces.  Likewise converts are already somewhat adrift from families that might step in and protect them and easily tricked about what Islam is and is not.  Similarly in Belgium many recruiters told their proteges you don’t speak Arabic so you don’t know what the Quran really says, trust me…

11:44:44  From Mizan Aslam : Thanks to ISCVE especially Anna for having me in this timely impactful OL session

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Most welcome :)

11:45:13  From Jocelyn Belanger : RE: PAUL K. – how about psychological evaluation and multiple observations from different sources?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  These are a must Jocelyn.

11:45:41  From Anne Speckhard : these are great questions and we will get to them

11:45:55  From Sean Griffin : sorry – my last was response to @paul K

11:46:07  From Mike Counts : Why is it that these deradicalized people need to change their names after the fact? Given that terrorists are fringe, not real Muslims, and don’t have any meaningful support from regular Muslims for example in the West. Who are we worried about here?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Good question Mike.  Many find it hard to reintegrate as those who might take them back fear that they will be under surveillance which is likely true, hated, etc.  And while some admire them for going, many judge them severely and reject them and many families suffered alot from their choices and are angry when they come home.

11:46:26  From Zora A. Sukabdi : Good question from Halkano Abdi WARIO. As governments are limiting people to go to places of worship during Covid19 pandemic, due to social distancing, the current narratives of radical groups are: the governments are thoghut and moving away people from prayers (prejudice/distrust, provoking terror actions during pandemic)  

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Anytime our public policies play into the ISIS/al Qaeda grievance claim that Muslims and Islam are under attack they will use it.

11:46:53  From Mike Counts : Shouldn’t they be welcomed back to the fold of real Islam with joy and excitement? You’re no longer a terrorist! What good news! We all love it! That’s what you would expect, yes?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Please see above.

11:48:05  From Dr. Lisa McConnell : Choice & Accountability seem to bring the highest level of “success” in deradicalization efforts – is that an accurate statement?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Thank you Lisa, but no I believe it’s more than that.  What we want really is a change in behaviors that sticks and a change of mind and heart that will protect them from returning to it.  Some of that is not about choice or accountability but education and some of it is about the larger systems they are embedded in that as Redouan told us are discriminatory and painful to those who are the victim of it.  So it’s not just choice which of course has to be taken into account or just accountability, it’s much more. 

11:48:12  From cd : There is fear in muslim communities to absorb returnees for the reason that they will be surveilled/scrutinized the way a returnee would. Perhaps even discriminated against based on their faith

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  And likely that is a real fear grounded in reality.

11:48:20  From Mike Counts : These are good quotes but I’m looking for names of sources. Where’s that coming from?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Please see the Quillam doc and contact the speakers for more.

11:49:03  From Edessa Ramos : what about the crimes they have committed? How do we deliver justice to their victims and their families? Will there be trials, and will it be under the purview of “crimes against humanity”? And how will their case be different from the trials of torturers and those involved in heinous crimes against humanity? Without addressing the justice issue, how will society be enable to receive them back?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Most Western nations won’t accept returnees at this point unless they are confident that they can prosecute them OR that they are really quite innocent.  If prosecuted in the West, they will serve prison time likely and it will be longer sentences for violent crimes.  Crimes against humanity have been used successfully in Germany prosecuting for having taken homes of others, having a slave, etc. but they can also be prosecuted for terrorism charges depending on the national laws.  Of course there has to be justice served for a returnee to be brought home. SDF also is asking to try them in Syria which is problematic but preferred by France, Sweden and many other European countries.  But at some point they will be released, and hopefully after a good rehabilitation program!

11:49:05  From nndukwe : I would be interested in post intervention outcomes/evaluation. I.e. how is this measured? How is success defined? Also challenges.

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  These are the challenges now.  VERA is popular in many programs as well as holistic and regular evaluation from a team perspective also observations with prison cameras and from other prisoners, guards etc.  But a good psychopath can fool some…

11:49:14  From Mike Counts : Source Source Source Source Source Source Source

11:50:26  From Henry.Severs : @Moussa … How is gender (particularly the broad range of roles women and girls performed within ISIS) approached with this DDRR approach? 

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) I wish Yasmin was well and could have addressed this.  We will have her in a future panel.  I can say many women committed terrible crimes, but others were truly homemakers.  There is a wonderful success story in Belgium of Laura Passoni who returned, was prosecuted, received a stay of sentence and now lectures to high school kids about “don’t be fooled by extremists as I was.” 

11:50:44  From elizabeth.joslyn : I echo that question 

11:51:28  From Farzana Islam : I would like to flag the importance of prevention.  Alongside these very important deradicailsation measures, prevention to catch issues and individuals before they become full-blown problems should be a policy priority.

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Indeed Farzana we hope to run a panel on prevention issues, it’s much more important actually.

11:53:39  From Maha Ghazi : Pqrticipqtion in deradicalization programs is voluntary. so what do you do with those high-risk convicted who reject rehabilitation?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Keep approaching them with charismatic imams and counselors, offer incentives in prison to take part, listen to them and care for them and possibly get them to change their minds.  Or let them serve their sentences untreated.  Voluntary participation is the ethical thing.

11:53:52  From Maha Ghazi : participation* 

11:53:58  From Anne Speckhard : if there is time I will tell you about people who have beheaded, but keep in mind a person like that convicted will not be getting out of prison anytime soon if convicted for it.

11:54:06  From Hisyaam Muhaimi : I am curious to how were these radicalized individuals were discovered by state actors/authorities.]

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  International bodies now track them quite well and alert one another, sometimes their communities turn them in etc.

11:55:00  From harjit.sandhu : Excellent point by  Edessa Ramos. What about justice to their victims? Without addressing the justice issue, how will society be able to receive them back?

I investigated several of them for the crimes against humanity in the Balkans. I don’t think some of them even understand the damage they did to their victims and their families.

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Harjit this is so true.  Many are only focused on themselves.  They went trying to meet their own needs, were sorely disappointed, traumatized and still focus only on themselves.  Justice systems should require that they pay the price for their crimes as well as try to help them rehabilitate which means they take full responsibility for what they did and that they were part of a killing/raping system.

11:55:46  From angela ewing : Rabia I’m sorry I can’t see yr msg

11:56:27  From Henry.Severs : @Moussa what tools or methodologies (e.g ERS, ERG22+ etc) are used within your programme to assess individual needs and drivers to inform the tailored interventions needed to manage the risk of detainees and support the their successful rehabilitation and reintegration? And how frequently as these assessments undertaken to ensure interventions remain relevant?

11:57:01  From harjit.sandhu : We can always say: “every saint has a past; and every criminal has a future”.

11:57:07  From Mike Counts : Question- is there any focus on Hizb ut-Tahrir? It passes the ideology along to people while stopping short of telling people to engage in violence- although there are plenty of alums of this group that have gone on to do so. Are there any efforts to engage with people that are involved with this group to varying extents?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Mike this would be in terms of prevention.  Sharia4Belgium and Andjem Choudary are prime examples of feeders who get away with it at least did up to a point.

11:57:27  From Kerem Ali : are we drawing a distinction between jihadi fighters, executioners etc and ‘home grown’ radicals? if we believe we can rehabilitate fighters & executioners, can we say the same for US soldiers based at Abu Ghraib?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Let’s not mix non-state actor terrorism with actions of states, but important to consider.

11:57:31  From Dr. Lisa McConnell : What are the key elements required for strategic and “successful” prevention into violent extremism & terrorism?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  This is not a simple question for chat and we are focusing on prison rehab here.

11:58:35  From Moussa Al-Hassan Diaw (DERAD) : Yes Hizb ut Tahrir is part of this…

12:01:07  From K-Marie : I have a similar question as some participants above please. Are there best practices for the various evaluation tools, how often do we test persons within our programs and how do we from a policy perspective determine the best deradicalization programs?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) I would recommend weekly evaluations with a team perspective as one person can miss what another catches, and using both psychologists and Islamic experts.  Tools abound including the VERA and many other checklists.

12:02:29  From Christie LaPlume : Is there effort to use the findings of de-rad programs, to help keep folks from joining in the first place?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  This is exactly what our Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Program does.  We interview ISIS men and women in prisons who are willing to now disavow and condemn their group as unIslamic, corrupt and overly brutal so we have insider testimonies to use to disrupt ISIS’s face to face and online recruitment.  I think it’s brilliant :) You can see the 180 counter narratives we have made here in 27 languages  We campaign with them regularly on facebook all over the world

12:03:07  From Dan Sturg : To me  Disengagement is giving up committig violent aspects of the ideology while maintaining the underlying radical belief system. Derdadicalization is a more complete distance and normalization of their belief system.

12:05:54  From Anne Speckhard : thank you Dan Sturg for your definitions which I did just from the top of my head :)

12:07:05  From Kerem Ali : absolutely

12:07:10  From Rennie : Yep we in Trinidad need greater education on terrorism/radicalization/HVE

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) Rennie we’d be very happy to help run counter narrative campaigns in Trinidad.  We interviewed at least three Trinidaians. 

12:08:07  From Anne Speckhard : The VERA as Elaine Pressman says is informed and driven by the operator, so it’s not just a checklist, but also informed by the operators

12:08:57  From Anne Speckhard : I would add that it needs to be done regularly, there needs to be a holistic evaluation including what is seen on prison cameras, heard from others in the prison, observations over time, and team evaluation from psychologists and imams.

12:09:19  From K-Marie : Yes Rennie I definitely agree with you re Trinidad.  We need to have greater strategic communication and introduce education campaigns that focus on educating the public about terrorism and violent extremism.

12:10:34  From Anne Speckhard : In Trinidad we can help you with online campaigns if you like with our Breaking the ISIS Brand counter narratives

12:11:12  From Mike Counts : The Khawarij were specifically fighting against caliphs and they never had a caliph. Imagine someone that doesn’t have a caliph, is a Muslim, and fights against Muslims that have established a caliphate. How is that Daesh? That sounds more like….you.

12:11:13  From harjit.sandhu : Very well said, Oomar.

12:11:27  From Maram : very interesting and inspiring intervention 

12:11:37  From Maram : thank you Oomar 

12:11:46  From Dr. Lisa McConnell : I think it’s safe to say we (practitioners, academics, and other stakeholders) understand WHY (root causes) people are radicalized. The question then becomes WHAT to do and HOW to implement? What preventative measures are most effective? How do you know? What metrics are used? For those that require legal responses, perhaps we should consider what “successful” deprogramming exists – holistic intervention seems to be most effective. Let’s consider policies and their impact. 

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Step by step we get there.  When I started in this field we were learning what causes radicalization, now we have shown what does.  Next we will understand how treatment works… and how best to evaluate.

12:12:09  From Dr. Lisa McConnell : Teach choice & accountability.

12:12:19  From khadija Tirha – Italy : completely agree with Omar! thank You!

12:14:47  From Edessa Ramos : I work in Mosul where re-radicalization is a big risk among young people who are fed up with state-sponsored oppression. Can you help my team with PVE/CVE campaign in Iraq?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  We would be delighted to help you Edessa, and stay safe in Mosul.  

12:15:24  From Christie LaPlume : I think providing options – other than joining ISIS – is worth exploring…

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Thank you Christie, yes that’s a key aspect of the psychological counseling, redirecting needs to better ways of meeting them.

12:15:30  From cd : Choice also needs to be contextualized. Choices aren’t always clear and opportunities to make choices aren’t always equal across the board. For example, people in low income housing/welfare do not have to same opportunities/choices to make decisions the way that people with more resources do.

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Yes that is why we cannot see this simply as a problem residing inside an individual, it also involves systemic racism, discrimination, marginalization which is frustrating the individual and making many cognitive openings to listen to groups like ISIS

12:16:21  From iPhone : Any insights on successful programs such as the ones in Singapore and Malaysia?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  I cannot address this here but yes many scholars have written articles and books on these issues.  Singapore did a very good job of supporting family members, as did Saudi Arabia. 

12:16:25  From Jocelyn Belanger : RE: Christie Laplume – absolutely! see Schumpe, B. M., Bélanger, J. J., Giacomantonio, M., Nisa, C. F., & Brizi, A. (2018). Weapons of peace: Providing alternative means for social change reduces political violence. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 48(10), 549-558.

12:16:54  From Mike Counts : It sounds like this is similar to an evaluation of whether someone is close to the deen. Except we aren’t exactly talking about the deen. Although some might actually want to talk about the deen, yes? Stay far from terror and radicalism and be close to the deen. Perhaps that is the goal for some people.

12:19:12  From Gem : long term evaluation is very hard in many spheres but it is so important to hear the longer term thoughts of people with both hindsight as well as time to ruminate on choices from a distance both for the individuals mental health and safety but also with time to become the fully deradicalized person they have become. How can we encourage longitudinal and generational evaluation?

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  We certainly should but as this field is just starting to evaluate, it will take time.

12:21:32  From Gem : meant to add the community and family impact from seeing and hopefully welcoming people and supporting the positive change…

12:21:53  From Malena Rembe : Dr McConnell, I fully agree with you that the WHY(in plural) is quite well understood, while the WHAT and more importantly HOW is still very much on individual level and in small numbers comparatively. And sometimes quite cloaked if programmes are run by state representatives. And with no agreed indicators/points to measure results are difficult to measure. The WHY however IS important to understand what can be done to prevent people from becoming radicalised in the first place – obviously much more cost effective in human, social and legal aspects.   Not the topic for today’s discussion but would be interesting to discuss in the future.

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  We had such a short time but we tried to show you today some of how these programs are working and both facing challenges and getting to successes at times.

12:22:34  From Pahar Aziz : Q for Omer, Omer, The extremists groups using the Khawarij (الخوارج) as a pretext to kill, behead.. etc those disobey their rules, so labeling these group as Khawarij based on their origin, I think at least in my opinion maybe far from their titles. Would you please explain further if it is possible?

12:25:30  From Rizwan Mustafa : really interesting perspectives, thank you to everyone who contributed.

12:26:43  From Rizwan Mustafa : Da’esh actively distance themselves from the Khawarij label and position those who level those accusations at them as deviant and non Muslims.  their faith proposition is compelling and they cite from mainstream Sunni Muslim sources.

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Indeed, some think it’s useful to label ISIS as Khawarij but there are issues in doing so as well. And they HATE it.

12:27:10  From Gem : prison as punishment or rehabilitation…so different in different countries and for different crimes and both are supported and have “positive” and “negative” outcomes for individuals and recidivism as well as for victims resilience…is there any country getting it right by age or gender?  

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Saudi Arabia claims success but many of their cases are arrests for having propaganda and violent offenders are generally not released after rehab.

12:27:57  From Sean Griffin : FT article on London attack:

12:28:12  From Dr. Lisa McConnell : Competing interests and funding issues 

12:33:06  From elizabeth.joslyn : thank you all so much! 

12:33:11  From Tasnime Akunjee : hope yasmin gets better soon

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  I hope so too.  

12:33:14  From Ahmad Helmi : Just sharing some links on deradicalization/rehabilitation practices from Singapore if anyone interested: 




Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Thank you Ahmad!

12:33:23  From Ahmad Helmi : cheers

12:33:27  From harjit.sandhu : Thank you Anne, and the colleagues at ICSVE in organizing this session. Great presentations in dealing with a sensitive and tricky issue.

Anne Speckhard – (later insert) You are most welcome!

12:33:28  From Gem : Any success in this space is amazing…very exciting to hear the great work being done! appreciate your time and effort

12:33:28  From Dr. Lisa McConnell : Cheers! Continue the good work in the fight!

12:33:28  From Christie LaPlume : thank you to Ann and the speakers/facilitators

12:33:29  From detlevq : Thank you, interesting presentations

12:33:34  From Sean Griffin : Thanks!

12:33:40  From Jocelyn Belanger : Thank you Anne et al.!

12:33:45  From Ruby Kholifah AMAN : thank you for this forum

12:33:45  From Gün Kansu : thank you very much

12:33:49  From nndukwe : Thank you Ann and colleagues. 

12:33:49  From Avinu Veronica : thank you. good deliberations

12:33:51  From EH : Thank you !

12:33:53  From khadija Tirha – Italy : thank you so much!

12:33:54  From Dan Dias : Thank you all

Anne Speckhard – (later insert)  Thank you all for participating.  Hope to see you at our next one also :)

About this event

Have you ever wondered if an ISIS terrorist, or anyone imprisoned under terrorism charges can be successfully rehabilitated and reintegrated into society? It’s an important question concerning the potential repatriation of ISIS men, women and children currently detained in Iraq and Syria. Of the approximately 45,000 foreign fighters that streamed into Syria, many who ultimately joined ISIS, many have been killed, while others have made their way home. Meanwhile, 2000 foreign fighters and thousands more ISIS women and children are currently imprisoned by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in overcrowded conditions while disease, including the COVID-19 pandemic, threatens and Turkey continues to destabilize the area trying to oust the SDF from the territory.

What will happen if the prisoners escape or if countries decide they must take them home, as Finland recently did with its ISIS women and children housed in Camp al Hol?

Countries differ in their response to international pressure for repatriations, sometimes arguing on behalf of returning the women, and children at least, as the SDF struggles with not enough prisons, understaffing, regional instability, prison riots and the repeated escapes by detainees as occurred when over 200 ISIS detainees escaped during the Turkish invasion of SDF territory in Fall 2019.

Whether any of these 2000 FTFs and the thousands more women and children will make their way back home is still an unanswered question and if they do, then the question becomes: Can a former ISIS member ever be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society?

If so, what does it take to turn him or her away from one of the most lethal terrorist groups and ideologies of the century? What is terrorist disengagement and how does it differ from deradicalization? How can we ensure that terrorists who return home can both face justice and after paying for their crimes at some point safely re-enter society? What are the key elements of a successful rehabilitation and repatriation program?

Watch ICSVE director Dr. Anne Speckhard and a team of experts, each of whom have helped to put together and actually carried out programs designed to rehabilitate terrorists. Each of the experts discussed these questions, their work and present a case of a successful rehabilitation of a prisoner under terrorism charges.

Mr. Redouan Safdi, from Belgium is a Muslim counselor at the prison in Hasselt which is a prison designated for terrorist offenders. He is also imam at a mosque in Koersel, Belgium.

Moussa Hassan al Diaw, from Austria is the Founder and Chairman of DERAD Austria. He serves as an assignee and contractual partner of the Federal Ministry of Justice in Austria for deradicalisation and prevention in prisons, interventions and training concerning jihadism and political Salafism. He has served as a consultant on religious extremism for the Chancellor of the State Brandenburg in Germany, as a teacher at the University of Education Linz, University Krems, and University Onasbruck, and as a trainer for police officers in Germany and Austria. He teaches at the University of Vienna and has published two scientific studies of extremists in Austria, one looking returnees and those who wanted to travel to ISIS and another looking at female extremists in Austria.

Oomar Sharif is a therapist and behavioural interventionist from the United Kingdom. A former member of an extremist group, he is now a CVE specialist at the West London Initiative with expertise in community engagement, counter- and alternative-narratives, disengagement, and early prevention.

Yasmin Mulbocus, a BSc (Hons) Criminology/Sociology, currently works as a freelance caseworker tackling child sexual exploitation, domestic violence and violent extremism. Due to her previous background both as a survivor of child abuse and a former Al Muhajiroun female recruiter from 1996 to 2000, she works in conjunction with third sector organisations such as Inter-Diversity Ltd as well as the local authorities as a freelance caseworker/interventionist/associate education engagement mentor. She is now completing her MSc in Terrorism and Political Violence. (She was unable to attend.)

Dr. Anne Speckhard, Director of ICSVE has in-depth interviewed over 700 terrorists and their close associates, family members and hostages if they have been suicide bombers (and already dead) from various parts of the Middle East, North Africa, Russia, Europe and the Balkans.  Most recently she in-depth interviewed 239 ISIS prisoners, returnees and defectors. In 2007 she designed the psychological and Islamic challenge portions of what became the Detainee Rehabilitation Program to be applied to 23,000 detainees and 800 juveniles held by the U.S. forces in Iraq.  She has consulted and conducted research regarding terrorism in prisons around the world. Dr. Speckhard will moderate the panel.

This is the second discussion in this series of panels discussing ISIS Foreign Fighters. The first panel: Issues of ISIS Prisoners and Repatriations in a Time of COVID has been recorded and can be watched here.

This Zoom event was funded by the European Union’s Internal Security Fund – Police
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