Terror Watchdog Admits Deradicalisation Programmes Don’t Always Work

Men, accused of being affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) group, sit on the floor in a prison in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh on October 26, 2019. - Kurdish sources say around 12,000 IS fighters including Syrians, Iraqis as well as foreigners from 54 countries are being held …
FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images

Jonathan Hall, QC, has admitted that deradicalisation programmes do not always work, comparing terrorists to sex offenders who lie to parol boards, telling them what they want to hear in order to secure release from prison.

Convicted terrorist Usman Khan was released on parole when he killed two people running the deradicalisation programme he was attending in London in November 2019. He was also talking to a psychologist and had been on an intensive Desistance and Disengagement Programme (DDP) for returning jihadists or convicted terrorists. Authorities had considered the Islamist a success story of a terrorist turning his life around.

Sudesh Amman, who committed a terror attack in Streatham in February 2020, had also been released early from jail and had attended a deradicalisation course while incarcerated.

Mr Hall, the independent reviewer for the UK’s terrorism laws, told The Times on Monday that after release, convicted terrorists should remain under surveillance and be subject to lie-detector tests because of the evidence that institutional de-radicalisation of prisoners “simply won’t work” with some radicals.

“There is no magic bullet, there is no special pill you can take that deradicalises people whether they’re coming back from overseas from Syria or whether they’re being released from prison. It’s a pretty difficult, complex and fraught process. You can’t tell the public that you can place someone with a theological mentor [. . .] and they’ll come out the other side. It’s far more difficult than that,” Hall said.

The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation said that while “there will be some who will change”, “you should be under no illusions. It is not some automatic process. And in many cases it simply won’t work.”

“Terrorists are deceptive like sex offenders. It’s well documented, you get people who will say things just because they know that’s what people want to hear. And this is a really tricky issue,” he added.

Kings College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) had come to a similar conclusion in a July report which revealed that Islamist terrorists were engaged in “false compliance” based on the Islamic concept of “taqiyya” — hiding one’s true intentions — in order to appear reformed and secure early release from prison.

The report had named Khan as one such terrorist fooling authorities, but also identified others using taqiyya in Europe, including Adel Kermiche in France. Kermiche was released from custody in 2016 after convincing the judge that he was a peaceful Muslim, just before he and Abdel Malik Petitjean beheaded 85‑year‑old Catholic priest Jacques Hamel.

The ICSR report also mentioned that some 40 female ISIS inmates at a French prison had tricked judges into believing that they no longer followed the extremist terrorist doctrines to receive lenient sentences. This detail and Mr Hall’s remarks raise particular concern as the Supreme Court deliberates ISIS bride Shamima Begum’s request to return to the UK to challenge having her British citizenship removed. While her lawyers claim she is harmless, the government told the senior judges that Begum has been “assessed to pose a real and current threat to national security”.

A former al Qaeda bomb-maker turned MI6 informant has said that there “is no such thing as a rehabilitated jihadist” and that the British government’s attempts to do so are a waste of time, calling instead for longer prison sentences.

“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,” Aimen Dean said earlier this year.

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