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Maclean’s: To Deprogram a Jihadist

Author: Susan Mohammad
February 2, 2009


News last week that Said Ali al-Shihri, a former inmate of Guantánamo, has emerged as al-Qaeda's deputy leader in Yemen intensified debate on how to deal with prisoners held at the U.S.-run detention camp in Cuba. But al-Shihri's narrative raised other interesting questions as well. In 2007, the U.S. released him to Saudi Arabia, where he underwent a much-trumpeted religious "deradicalization" program for jihadists that clearly didn't take. In the past, Saudi authorities have consistently claimed that none of the program's graduates have returned to terrorism in the five years since the program was established. But after al-Shihri's story began unfolding, authorities admitted that nine others have been rearrested. Despite the failure, Time has reported, the Pentagon won't change its policy on repatriating Gitmo's most dangerous detainees to the kingdom even though the Saudi program has been called into question.

Saudi Arabia is one of several countries running ambitious deradicalization programs in which Islamic scholars try to lead radicals to moderation. Similar initiatives are running in Egypt, Singapore, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Malaysia, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Indonesia. Canada could be next. Omar Khadr's lawyers have filed a proposal with the military commission at Guantánamo to have the alleged terrorist undergo a specialized deradicalization program should he ever return to Canadian soil; they've asked Hamid Slimi, chair of the Canadian Council of Imams, to create a rehabilitation plan. Even without a request from Stephen Harper for Khadr's repatriation, the proposal (which includes years of psychological treatment and a formal education) is a step closer to reality now that Guantánamo will close. Khadr's fate may be discussed when President Barack Obama visits Harper in the coming weeks.


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