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Terrorism Prevention, Intervention, and Rehabilitation with Juveniles

ICSVE Panel Discussion featuring

Peta Lowe, Phronesis Consulting and Training

Anne Speckhard, Director ICSVE

This event was held at 11:00 AM EST on September 23rd, 2020 via Zoom

Many discussions of terrorist rehabilitation separate individuals into three (if not two) categories: Men, women and children. Because most of the children in the Syrian Democratic Forces camps are quite young and many were born or brought into ISIS by foreign fighter parents. They can objectively only be seen as purely victims, yet given strong views about their ISIS parents, most have not been repatriated or received adequate care for health, nutrition and the traumas they have undergone.  As they grow older in dire circumstances they are exposed to ISIS enforcers who spread the ideology and try to lure them into the group. A nine-year-old American boy who spent a year in these camps had been forced to appear in an ISIS video threatening the U.S. but is thankfully now repatriated and receiving care.  The U.S. Department of Defense warns that if not repatriated and addressed we may face these children on the terrorist battleground in the future.

In comparison to young children, older teenagers in ISIS were often conscripted or seduced into fighting with the adult men and to carry out executions and other heinous acts. If repatriated they may face prosecution as adults for terrorist crimes. The strong societal hatred and revulsion for ISIS makes careful age-appropriate treatment and care that addresses the unique vulnerabilities and experiences of juveniles in terrorist groups like ISIS at present lacking in many cases, although the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria [AANES] has attempted such treatment for older juveniles held in NES.

Beyond questions of treatment and rehabilitation for juveniles who have already joined terrorist groups, there is a clear need for prevention and intervention strategies that are tailored specifically to children and teenagers. It is critical to understand the developmental needs of children and teens and how terrorist groups manipulate both. Likewise, it is also crucial to understand what makes juveniles different from adults, even when they are in their late teens, bearded, and with a criminal history, and we cannot paint them entirely as victims. It is perhaps in these situations that we need most to take a juvenile-specific perspective.

At ICSVE’s eighth Zoom panel, Peta Lowe and Dr. Anne Speckhard discussed issues of assessment and intervention with juveniles, in both diversionary and rehabilitative settings. The discussion focused on the critical work of steering young people away from violent extremism and giving them proper treatment and reintegration strategies when they do become involved and if and when they are repatriated from the battle zones.

Peta Lowe is a Principal Consultant with Phronesis Consulting and Training in Australia. She is the former Director, Countering Violent Extremism for Juvenile Justice in the NSW Department of Justice. Peta has over 15 years experience working with young people who display violent and anti-social offending behaviours in both custodial and community contexts. She has worked with individuals, families and communities to address offending behaviours and criminogenic risks. Peta graduated from Newcastle University in 2005 with a Bachelor of Social Work (Honours Class I), from Charles Sturt University in 2010 with a Masters of Social Work (Advanced Practice/Couples and Family Therapy Specialisation), from Queensland University of Technology in 2016 with a Graduate Certificate in Business (Public Sector Management) and most recently in 2018 from Charles Sturt University with a Masters in Terrorism and Security Studies (Postgraduate University Medal). Peta led the Juvenile Justice NSW responses to countering violent extremism and counter terrorism including the assessment, intervention and management of young people charged with terrorism related offences in both community and custody and agency responses to manage the risk of radicalisation to violent extremism within custodial settings. Peta is trained and experienced in the use of a number of violent extremist risk assessment tools and has conducted and coordinated assessments of juvenile terrorism related offenders and young people vulnerable to being radicalised to violent extremism. She has also provided training to a range of professionals to use the VERA-2R risk assessment tool within Australia on behalf of Department of Home Affairs. Peta continues to present at a range of conferences and forums on young people and violent extremism, terrorism and radicalisation and assessment of terrorism offenders. Peta now consults and advises to a range of international, national and state organisations on violent extremism, terrorism and young people. She is an expert consultant with the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ), assisting in the development and delivery of training to international lawmakers, police, prosecutors, judges, corrections officials, and other justice sector stakeholders on good practices in Juvenile Justice in a counter terrorism context as part of their Juvenile Justice Initiative. As a Specialist Consultant for The Commonwealth Secretariat, she is currently working on a project to develop ‘Guidelines for Managing Return from Violent Extremism and Terrorism’ for Commonwealth member countries. Peta has written for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s, Counter terrorism Yearbook 2020 and continues to write and speak publicly about the risks and opportunities of working with youth in the context of violent extremism. Additionally, she continues to work as a practitioner, providing assessments and interventions for adults and juveniles who have committed terrorism related offences, or who are at risk or vulnerable to radicalisation to violent extremism. Peta is currently focused on developing and delivering training and education as well as assessment and interventions to; improve social cohesion, divert vulnerable young people from violent extremism, disengage and rehabilitate juvenile terrorism related offenders and reduce the risk violent extremism and terrorism in all forms poses to individuals and community safety.

Shane Healey joined the JJNSW CVE team in June 2018. Shane comes with a significant military intelligence background. Shane has worked and lived in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan, Kurdistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the UAE. Shane has an extensive background analysing the threat posed by terrorist organisations like the Taliban, al Qaeda and the Islamic State as well as their affiliates. Shane has been part of several domestic Counter terrorism operations. Shane has a diploma in Government (Security), Diploma of Security and Risk Management, Australian Federal Police Advanced Counter Terrorism Investigations Program, is trained as a user in the VERA-2R and holds a Diploma in Counseling.

Dr. Anne Speckhard is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 700 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past five years years, she has interviewed 247 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners  as well as 16 al Shabaab cadres and their family members (n=25) as well as ideologues (n=2), studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS (and al Shabaab), as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews which includes over 200 short counter narrative videos of terrorists denouncing their groups as un-Islamic, corrupt and brutal which have been used in over 150 Facebook and Instagram campaigns globally. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals, both locally and internationally, on the psychology of terrorism, the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS.  Dr. Speckhard has given consultations and police trainings to U.S., German, UK, Dutch, Austrian, Swiss, Belgian, Danish, Iraqi, Jordanian and Thai national police and security officials, among others, as well as trainings to elite hostage negotiation teams. She also consults to foreign governments on issues of terrorist prevention and interventions and repatriation and rehabilitation of ISIS foreign fighters, wives and children. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, the EU Commission and EU Parliament, European and other foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA, and FBI and appeared on CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, CBC and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly writes a column for Homeland Security Today and speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to TerroristsBride of ISISUndercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: and on the ICSVE website

Follow @AnneSpeckhard

This is the eighth discussion in this series of panels discussing ISIS Foreign Fighters and terrorist rehabilitation. The first panel, “Issues of ISIS Prisoners & Repatriations in a Time of COVID,” can be reviewed here. The second panel, “Can an ISIS Terrorist be Rehabilitated and Reintegrated into Society?” featuring Redouan Safdi and Moussa Al-Hassan Diaw, can be reviewed here and the report that was inspired by this panel can be found here. The third panel, “Can We Repatriate the ISIS Children?” can be reviewed here and the report that was inspired by this panel can be found here. The fourth panel, “Terrorist Rehabilitation in the Dutch Prison System,” can be reviewed here. The fifth panel, “Into and Back Out of ISIS: An ISIS Defector Speaks Out,” can be reviewed here. The sixth panel, “Fighting ISIS Online: An Introduction to Breaking the ISIS Brand,” can be viewed here. The seventh panel, “Talking Terrorist Propaganda with a Pro,” can be viewed here.

Chat Log:

11:01:22 From Molly Ellenberg : Here is the link to ICSVE’s event page, where you can see the videos and chat logs from all of our previous Zoom events:

11:02:02 From Molly Ellenberg : Here is ICSVE’s YouTube channel, which includes playlists for our counter narrative videos, subtitled in 27 languages:

11:03:47 From OMAR SHARIFF : hi Anne

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Hi dear Omar, glad you could join as you are expert in these issues being discussed today!

11:04:05 From Molly Ellenberg : You will be sent an email this evening with the link to today’s event page, which will include the recording of the event and the chat log.

11:04:35 From OMAR SHARIFF : it’s OOmar Mulbocus from London – West London Prévent

11:05:21 From Molly Ellenberg : ICSVE’s YouTube channel is linked above. The counter narratives can also be found on our website here:

11:06:33 From Molly Ellenberg : Social Media Tracking of ISIS Women and Real-Life Actions of ISIS Men on Their Behalf (Speckhard, Thakker, & Ellenberg)

11:06:47 From Molly Ellenberg : Here are some of our recent articles on our Facebook campaigns:

11:06:54 From Molly Ellenberg : Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Facebook Campaigns in Europe

11:07:20 From Molly Ellenberg : Hypertargeting Facebook Profiles Vulnerable to ISIS Recruitment with “Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Video Clips” in Multiple Facebook Campaigns

11:07:26 From Molly Ellenberg : Anti-ISIS and Anti-Western: An Examination of Comments on ISIS Counter Narrative Facebook Videos

11:07:32 From Molly Ellenberg : Mounting a Facebook Brand Awareness and Safety Ad Campaign to Break the ISIS Brand in Iraq

11:07:39 From Molly Ellenberg : Fighting ISIS in the Digital Space in Jordan

11:23:38 From Emmanuel DIDIER : I am a volunteer and Board member for Project Abraham (, a charity which supports Yazidi refugees in Toronto.  What information do you have about the Cubs of the Caliphate and their rehabilitation? Thanks! (

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Emmanuel thank you for your wonderful work on behalf of Yazidi victims.  We heard often about the Cubs in our interviews.  We are currently working on an article on this subject and will share it with you when it’s finished.  Glad to help as we can before then also.

11:47:38 From OMAR SHARIFF : more Prevention Program for young people around critical thinking – Oomar Shariff / London

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Indeed, many are agreeing that youth would do well with enhanced critical thinking skills and also cyber saavy skills training to avoid being radicalized online and in person.

11:53:38 From Mohamednoor D Ismail : I have previously work in peacebuilding and stabilization programs in South central Somalia and currently doing political violence monitoring. In Somalia, youths are at high risk of Joining Al shabaab terrorist.

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Welcome Mohamed.  You face many serious challenges in your work, thank you for what you do!

11:58:42 From Saed Abu-Haltam : I agree with Shane about that conversation should be had right away. However, perhaps that conversation should not be had by that FBI individual (depending on the level of engagement) as confirmation bias may translate this as evidence of the state vs the individual. The medium is the message … and sometimes a social worker, a therapist or someone that can genuinely express care (rather than investigative) is what that individual needs.

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Thank you Saed, this is an important comment and one of the reasons governments got out of the business of counter messaging terrorists and left that to NGO’s these days, except for DOD web operations…

11:59:03 From Emmanuel DIDIER : Aren’t we avoiding 2 fundamental aspects of the debate: 1) the attraction of the IDEOLOGY of ISIS; and 2) the extraordinary efficiency of the methodologies used by ISIS to impose that ideology to young people?

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Good point and as Peta pointed out ISIS is so skilled at this and we lag behind…

11:59:11 From Meera Barnett : We have Prevent Education Officers that work with schools to enable these types of conversations and encourage critical thinking. We also have many civil society organisations that do this work with schools and Pupil referral units.

12:02:53 From Rachel : I work closely with social workers in a London borough to facilitate these types of conversations and we are developing practice tools to use in direct sessions. These focus on their interests and beliefs to openup conversations that can then be used to tailor care plans and offer relevant support within a multi agency space. 

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Thank you Rachel and Meera, this is a skill indeed and much needed.

12:02:59 From Emmanuel DIDIER : Are there useful precedents with the Nazi Youth and Nazi feminine organizations?

12:04:43 From Todd Price : How much of the curriculum in prevention is in the learning plan in schools. 

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Thank you Todd for joining.  Schools need inoculation programs against all the propaganda youth will likely encounter or seek out in their teen years.  This is beginning and I hope will grow.

12:05:10 From John R : Are we submitting questions here at this point?

12:05:40 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : yes please join with questions!

12:05:54 From Alina : I have a comment/question about  security approach versus prevention/intervention approach.  Iam working with prevention of radicalization and violent extremism in Norway and this is the approach we are using

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Thank you Alina, as Peta and Shane discussed, when we over securitize or fail to explain security interventions in vulnerable communities in a manner that satisfies the community and brings their buy in, we open the door for violent extremists to promote their narrative and point to these security interventions as proof of the groups claim that the minority population is being victimized.

12:07:42 From Saed Abu-Haltam : There’s a research paper titled “Vaccinating Against Hate: Using Attitudinal Inoculation to Confer Resistance to Persuasion by Extremist Propaganda” published in November of 2019. It goes in depth on the topic of building resiliency (aka inoculation theory). Very insightful research.

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Thank you Saed, it’s a good paper and a point I’ve been arguing on behalf of for over a decade!

12:08:25 From Shane Healey :

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Thank you Shane for this great example of how a terrorist insider can be a powerful messenger against terrorism when he or she becomes disillusioned. This is the basis of our Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project idea.

12:08:35 From 998 7228 8820 : cyber education  not just for the kids but also for the parents. Often they do not know how to talk to their children about the online content their children are confronted with. 

Anne Speckhard (after the event): So true.  Some parents don’t know how to operate computers or would have a clue how to check the history of their children’s browsing if they were concerned.

12:08:58 From John R : Question: Living in the US, their are a lot of individuals with a law and order sentiment, with a highly oversimplified view of psychology and radicalization, resulting in a reactionary, rather than a preventative mentality.  How does one have a conversation that opens the door to more effective approaches to complex problems such as radicalization?

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Asking about their simplified views and listening often opens the door to confronting them with more nuanced views but that’s a process that must occur slowly to avoid a highly defensive and rejecting response.

12:10:42 From Todd Price : Thank you Anne this is an amazing discussion. Collaboration is key. Love your work. 

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Thank you Todd, we are a group, not just me.

12:11:39 From Omer : is there a compilation of such narratives of disillusionment from former extremists ? 

Anne Speckhard (after the event): We have 201 stories recorded in short videos of exactly this on our ICSVE Youtube channel!

12:12:49 From Emmanuel DIDIER : Thanks a lot Shane. And a useful illustration of the need to SUE those individuals: to make sure that their experience is PUBLIC and NOT LOST on others.

Anne Speckhard (after the event): A very important point from Emmanuel, that when these individuals are prosecuted the faces come to light.

12:12:52 From 998 7228 8820 : @John R: Education, training. Not just about the radicalisation proces but also intercultuaral sensitivitiy.  babysteps, start with the one’s that are in your corner. 

12:13:31 From OMAR SHARIFF : Part of my work in Prevent – established the YPAGE – Young Prévent Advisory Group: having these challenging conversations with young people/ we believe that young people can and must be part of the solution. Oomar Shariff -London

12:14:03 From Gitte Nordentoft : There is also a difference between presenting counter narratives versus helping the individuals develop alternative narratives for themselves and their lives through self reflection, dialogues, mentorship etc. 

Anne Speckhard (after the event): John, Omar and Gitte it sounds like you all understand how important cultural sensitivity is and taking it slowly and one on one reaching out to vulnerable individuals to make a real and important difference in their lives.  Thank you.

12:14:29 From Saed Abu-Haltam : Hi John. In my program, we focus on those real-life risk factors. (folks losing their jobs to automation is a huge contributing factor to radicalization, for example). If we say we’re here to help people in area 1,2,3,4 … that works! Also, if the level of prevention is more secondary or after, a program here in Canada successfully used “conversations against hate” kind of approach.

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Saed you point out the larger system around the vulnerable persons and that is so important.  Terrorist groups also will look at what is not working in the larger surrounding system and offer solutions.  If we don’t do the same, those with needs will more easily resonate to the terrorists.

12:15:21 From jointhelp kurdistan : How about the role of external power? Often we are talking about ideology and individs but not the bigger pictures of superpower who are helping to create it. Have we ever studied “The Taliban” deeper and broader than talking about individual recruiting and ideology? Ideology is only a tool that could be easily misused. As long as we are not taking this into consideration, and only focusing on small scales of individuality, we won’t get so far.  ISIS was not borne over the night, they were growing in Mosul, and was taking over the city step by step in front of everyone’s eyes, controlling import, export, taking taxes from businessmen etc. External power wanted them to be borne in addition to all political and social turbulences.  We need to address both, if we want to see changes.

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Indeed, in Iraq when so many military and intel guys were sent home, some without pensions and began to feel that the country was shifting and leaving them behind they got active plotting and this went on for a long time.  Terrorism is a multi-systems problem and often corruption, poor governance, unfairness, injustice from a much higher level than the individual are driving forces.  But that does not mean that we cannot also work on the individual level successfully, just that it will be much harder without addressing also these wider systemic challenges and problems.

12:15:40 From OMAR SHARIFF : Équipe young practitioners with Alternative narratives is key / OOmar Shariff

12:18:23 From Natasha Shawarib : How recent are the cases you’re talking about… why do you think such cases of radicalised violent young people are not as many as they were in 2017 or before

12:18:31 From John R : Let me add on to my question: I am gearing my question to non-Muslim, white conservatives: how do I approach them in a meaningful way so as to educate them to the realities of radicalization by way of how we foster radicalization through how we treat Muslim communities.  The goal is to open minds, get individuals to think about the real factors, not the false narratives pushed by media.

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Thank you John, you highlight an important point that we often heard in our 247 ISIS interviews as well, that it wasn’t terrorist websites but the mainstream media that was the first radicalizing factor.  We need to help youth to understand the media and keep perspective and also be thinking critically as they grow up surrounded by narratives that can poison their minds.

12:24:12 From Gitte Nordentoft : @John R: There is a lot of help to find in resources around how you facilitate dialogues. e.g. cultivate curiosity, ask questions, preserve their dignity, active listening, identify differences and common ground etc. These are very practical  guidelines for how to have these types of difficult discussions in online/offline spaces

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Thank you Gitte, would love to hear more about your work.

12:25:02 From John R : online spaces are particularly difficult

12:26:06 From John R : Fantastic, thank you all

12:28:19 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : thank you John!

12:29:47 From Jacobien : I have to leave to another meeting, thank you very much, I am not finished learning and listening.

12:30:02 From Jacobien : but see you next time

12:30:56 From Parallel Networks : sorry for the ramble

12:31:02 From Parallel Networks : very interesting talk

12:31:05 From Parallel Networks : thanks

12:31:43 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : not at all a ramble, very important points Jesse thank you

12:31:50 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : thank you Omar also

12:33:37 From OMAR SHARIFF : thank you Anne – Oomar Shariff –

12:34:10 From Rachel : Very thought provoking and interesting to hear from so many of you. Thanks for facilitating it! Absolutely agree that involving young people in the conversation is paramount

12:34:14 From Saad Shaheed : Thank you for the lively webinar!

12:34:21 From Justin Feltman : Thanks so much for your work, Peta & Shane, and speaking with us today!

12:34:24 From Emmanuel DIDIER : Excellent conference! Thanks to all! Emmanuel

Anne Speckhard (after the event): As always, we thank our speakers for sharing their time and expertise, especially in the middle of the night for them, and we thank all of you for participating actively in the chat and discussion making it an actual global discussion.  Till next time!

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