Vienna Terrorist Fooled Prison Deradicalisation Programme into Thinking He Was Reformed

Vienna
HERBERT NEUBAUER/APA/AFP via Getty Images

Islamist terrorist Kujtim Fejzulai had fooled Austrian officials running a deradicalisation programme he was attending before his early prison release that he was reformed — similar to London Bridge terrorist Usman Khan.

Twenty-year-old Fejzulai, who killed four and injured 22 during a shooting spree in Vienna on Monday, was later confirmed to have been convicted of terrorism offences in April 2019 after he attempted to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State.

In 2018, he travelled to Turkey, a transit state to Syria, but Turkish police arrested him two days later in a jihadist safe house. The ethnic Albanian was imprisoned in Turkey for four months before being deported to Austria.

Still considered a “young adult”, he was only subject to Austria’s juvenile courts, and was conditionally released just 14 months into his 22-month sentence. Officials have now revealed that he was on a deradicalisation programme while in prison and managed to deceive his probation officer into deciding he was no longer a terrorist threat.

Broadcaster ORF reports that without the ruling by the deradicalisation panel, Fejzulai would not have been eligible for early parole on December 5th, 2019.

The director-general for public security, Franz Ruf, said that the jihadist had “shown himself to be reformed” and “apparently had complied with all of the conditions — namely those of the probation service and the deradicalisation programme”. Interior Minister Karl Nehammer remarked in more blunt terms that the Islamist had managed to “deceive the judiciary’s deradicalisation programme”.

For more than one reason, the Islamist terror attack committed by Kujtim Fejzulai in Vienna on Monday bears similarity to Usman Khan’s November 2019 attack on London Bridge.

Khan was also a convicted terrorist who had been released early. He had been attending a post-release rehabilitation programme when he fatally stabbed two people, both of whom were running the rehabilitation event. Further, a report into the rehabilitation of Islamist inmates conducted by Kings College London noted that Khan “was considered a success story of an extremist turning their life around”. His lawyer also said that he had been “deceived” into believing his client had been reformed.

The KCL report, published in July, concluded that jihadist prisoners were engaged in widespread “false compliance” — which researchers said was based on the Islamic concept of “taqiyya”, using deception to hide one’s real intentions — during deradicalisation programmes to convince authorities and parole boards that they were reformed and would not pose a threat upon release.

Islamist Adel Kermiche, who beheaded 85‑year‑old Catholic priest Jacques Hamel in France in 2016, had also employed false compliance to aid his release from prison after previously being convicted of trying to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State.

Former al-Qaeda member turned MI6 spy Aimen Dean said that there “is no such thing as a rehabilitated jihadist” and that attempts to deradicalise do not work.

“The only way [a jihadist] can demonstrate that they’ve renounced violent extremism is if they have sung like a canary and provided damaging intelligence on the networks that recruited them,” said Dean earlier this year, calling for longer prison sentences for terrorists.

The remarks echoed those of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in February, who admitted that “really very few” Islamists can be deradicalised, stressing the importance of the “custodial option”.

Austria’s Justice Minister Alma Zadic explained on Tuesday that even if Fejzulai had not been under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, Austrian law states that felons must be conditionally released “after two-thirds of the term of imprisonment, if the conditions are met”.

A similar system operates in the United Kingdom, where most prisoners are automatically released on licence halfway through their sentences. Following the London Bridge attack committed by Khan — and the stabbing attack in February in Streatham, London, committed by Suddesh Amman, who had also been released early from prison — the British government passed emergency legislation to stop the automatic early release of terrorist inmates. Extremists must now serve at least two-thirds of their sentence and be deemed no longer a threat to society before early release.

The new law saw a legal challenge over the summer from Mohammed Zahir Khan, who had been convicted of terrorism offences before the law was passed, but saw the rules retrospectively applied to him and others. Zahir Khan complained that treating terrorists differently to criminals was not only a breach of human rights, but was discrimination against Muslims. The High Court ruled against him in August.

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