Monday, 14 August 2017

Is it possible to deradicalise terrorists?

Is it possible to deradicalise terrorists?

Box, M. (2016). Is it possible to deradicalise terrorists? Retrieved from


The purpose of this paper is to explore the possibility that terrorists can be deradicalised. In the last entry of his book History’s Greatest Hits, Joseph Cummins (2007) describes the incident which has become known as 9/11: the attacks by al-Qaeda on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001. This was an event which would, in Cummin’s words, “… transform the world…” (p 308) dominating geo-political events to the present day. The question which has generated considerable discussion – in both academic circles as well as the public at large – is why a group of outwardly westernised individuals would do such an act. As the decade wore on and events evolved the fear of terrorism grow greater and greater. Australia has seen:

1.      commitment to two significant and ongoing military engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq;

2.      foreign interests the target of terrorist attacks in South East Asia;

3.      domestic plots being discovered;

4.      treat alert levels increasing with direr predictions; and

5.      terrorist attacks occurring in both Melbourne and Sydney.

Terrorism has become a significant part of life: for instance, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle (personal communications, 13 January 2015) commented:  “We work closely with our emergency services to plan, coordinate and monitor safety in our city, particularly when we host major events, such as New Year’s Eve, which attracted more than 450,000 people to the CBD.” These events dominate the media. A search of the popular Melbourne radio station 3AW’s website reveals that there is concern about the radicalisation of primary school students whose parents are fighting with Daesh in the Middle East (‘Radicalisation’, 2015). Now there is debate about whether primary school aged children who have been taken by their parents when they went to fight for Daesh should be allowed to return. Is it possible that these students can be deradicalised? This paper will first look at the theories which lay behind the phenomena of terrorism and then more specifically at radicalisation, deradicalisation and contrast it with disengagement and reconciliation. The paper will then explore examples of deradicalisation in Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. At this point criminological theories will be introduced then contrasted against policies being introduced as part of the War on Terror. However, first  ‘case studies’ will be introduced which provide an understanding of what is hoped could be deradicalised.

Case Studies.

The first example comes from the second wave of Jihadist associated with al-Qaeda: those responsible for the Madrid bombing (M-11). Spain is within the Islamic sphere of influence desired by al-Qaeda as it was previously controlled by the Umayyad Caliphate at the height of its power between the eighth and twelfth centuries AD (Doognue, and Kirkwood, 2005, p137). With this heritage it is not surprising that Spain has attracted immigrants from Muslim North Africa: especially the case after violence broke out in Algeria in 1992 (Jordon and Horsburgh, 2005, p170). It was the first generation from this wave of migration which the M-11 bombers emerged: a decentralised network with connections both internationally and nationally with like-minded individuals. The war in Bosnia played an important role as those “… members of the network who had fought in Bosnia organised excursions, trips and weekend breaks outside Madrid…” where they trained for Jihad (p177). The suffering of Muslim women and children at the perceived hands of western powers was inspirational to this group: after M-11 and on the eve of the Spanish general election they released a video “… threatening more killings and attacks because of the support Spain had given to the United States on the War on Terror…” (p 175) Spanish police  quickly interdicted this network arresting 56 individuals of which fourteen remain in custody (p 175).

The second group is that of home grown young people who have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight for – or provide material support to – Daesh. According to Napoleoni (2014, p xv) Daesh promises a return to the golden age when the Caliphate controlled an area which stretched from the Middle East into Europe and Africa: it was the centre of the civilised world. It is to this group that many young people are now being drawn. As explained to Parliament by the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop:

All too often I am approving passport cancellations or suspensions for a string of 16- to 17-year-olds who are seeking travel, always with ludicrously large amounts of cash, bogus stories of holidays and frequently without their family’s knowledge. In recent days, I have implemented emergency suspensions as the young person concerned is actually at the airport about to depart. (Bishop, 2015)

Jake Bilardi is a notable example. He comes from a background where his parents had separated whilst he was at school: a well-recognised stress/strain factor. He resided with his mother and was estranged from his father: Bilardi only reengaged with his father after his mother had died and he had converted to Islam (Smith and Rice, 2015). Angela Scaffidi of Senate SHJ -- where Bilardi undertook work experience -- described him as ‘a very special young man’ who was interested in Australian and international affairs (Clark, 2015). Being a loner, Birardi spend most of his time online and it was here where he was radicalised (Smith and Rice, 2015). Of significance is Bilardi has left behind a blog that details his radicalisation:

I was beginning to learn that what the media was feeding us was nothing but a government-sponsored distortion of the reality. It was from my investigations into the invasions and occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan that gave birth to my distain for the United States and its allies, including Australia. … It was an obligation upon every able Muslim to fight. (Levy, 2015)

Mayfield (2015) outlines that “… Jake Bilardi’s likely death as a suicide bomber in Iraq’s Ambar Province appears to have generated feelings of ambience and sadness in addition to the outrage more commonly associated which such an act.”

Mayfield goes further outlining how the International Crisis Group’s Jean-Marie Guehenno believes that “… jihadism has replaced Marxism, and that … [Daesh] and Al Qaeda had replaced groups such as the Red Brigades … as the attraction for ‘lost souls’.” Karagiannis (2012, p 102) concurs arguing that Islam became the successor to communism as the bastion of rebels with a number of similarities: both prioritise group goals over individual interests and have a vision of a perfect just society. Emerson (2009, p 22) takes this argument further stating that Islamists – in particular al-Qaeda – have recast the leftist anti-imperialism into an Islamic agenda. On the other hand, Phares (2008, p 219) argues that there are parallels in the anti-Semitic and anti-U.S. government rhetoric of the extreme right-wing with that of Islamists. It is rather problematic to believe that Islamists could be successors to both right and left-wing radicals; however, those linkages might just provide an insight into why it has such a wide spread appeal and the possibility of deradicalision.


Terrorists according to Cary (2009, p 13) are “. . . determent to impose their will upon others. Unlike nation states . . . terrorists resort to violence as the first and final solution.” There is significant academic literature that describes the motivations of terrorism. In a survey of academic writings on terrorism, Schmid and Jongman found the following key elements:

  1. use of violence;
  2. symbolic choices of victim;
  3. performance by an organisation;
  4. advanced planning;
  5. operational seriality;
  6. an absence of moral restraint;
  7. political motivation; and
  8. the use of fear and anxiety. (Weimann, 2006, p 21)
Pinto and Wardlaw (1989, p 4) argued that terrorism has two broad goals: (i) to induce widespread fear in the population; and (ii) provoke the government to overreact and thereby undermine their legitimacy. Williams (2004, p 7) defines terrorism as “. . . politically . . . motivated violence, directed generally against non-combatants, intended to shock and terrify, to achieve strategic outcomes.” Strategic outcomes are usually to polarise the population, undermine the government, or cause government forces to react violently (p 9). Whilst Richardson (2006, p 105) summed up the motives as to achieve revenge, renown and reaction. Tucker (1999, p 501) classifies terrorist motives into four main groups:

  1. nationalist or separatist agendas;
  2. retaliation or revenge for real or perceived injury;
  3. protest government policy; and
  4. defend animal rights.

These motivations are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Johnson (2002, p 8) defines blowback as the ‘unintended consequences of polices’ a term originally used internally by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) but has now been adopted and applied to international relations in general. This is the rebounding of policy against the interests of its perpetrator (‘Jihadist Blowback?’ 2008, p 41). The first CIA blowback was the 1953 coup d'├ętat in Iran. In 1953 the CIA orchestrated a coup d'├ętat replacing the elected left leaning Prime Minister Mossadegh with the repressive Mohammad Reza Shah, the Shah of Iran. A line can be drawn connecting these events, the 1980 Islamic Revolution and the evolution of modern terrorism --particularly Hezbollah and Hamas – furthermore, as a consequence recent events in Syria and Iraq (Kinzer, 2003, p 202). Veldhuis and Lindenberg (2012, p 239) go further arguing that in the pursuance of short-term security goals many governments are neglecting the how their policies are preventing them from achieving the long-term security goals: in essence causing significant blowback.

Radicalisation, deradicalisation and disengagement.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu states that a person is an extremist or radical when they “… do not allow for a different point of view; when you hold your own views as being quite exclusive, when you don’t allow for the possibility of difference…”(Davies, 2009, p 185). According to Lindekilde (2012, p 110) study of radicalisation has its “… roots in security concerns and debates over integration…” without a clear uniformly agreed definition. This is significant as before one can determine if terrorists can be deradicalised one needs to be able to determine if they are in fact radicalised.

Veldhis and Staun outline that definitions of radicalisation evolve around two elements: (i) violent radicalisation involving the active pursuit or acceptance of violence to achieve a goal; and (ii) broader radicalisation where emphasis is placed upon active pursuit of acceptance of far reaching change in society (Borum (a), 2011, p12). The first of these elements appears to be more specifically targeted towards terrorism. For instance Borum (2011(b), p38) defines radicalisation as the development and adoption of extremist beliefs that justify violence. Khosrokhavar (2013, p 286) goes further by describing it as “… a process by which an individual or a group adopts a violent form of action as a consequence of extreme political, social, or religious ideologies questioning the prevailing social, cultural and political order.” Ozerdem and Podder (2011, p 65) outline that “… youth in such [western] countries are motivated to join violent organizations due to feelings of alienation from larger society, and as a function of socio-economic deprivation.”

Logic would suggest that deradicalisation is the reversal of the radicalisation process: the prefix ‘de-’ means the “… undoing, reversing, or ridding of … the action, condition …”(Landau, 1984, p 163). However, deradicalisation is a more complicated scenario than just reversing the causes of radicalisation. Cronin (2006, p 18) outlines that terrorist organisations end because of:

1.      capture of the leader;

2.      failure to transition to the next generation;

3.      achievement of the group’s aims;

4.      transition to legitimate political process;

5.      undermining of popular support;

6.      repression; and

7.      transition from terrorism to other forms of violence.

Furthermore, despite the lack of an organisation Ozerdem and Podder argue that the former members have “… violence entrenched reality of their lives, and it is the most destructive element since reliance on violence to secure what a free society can be secured institutionally or rightfully, remains a key transformative process…”(Ozerdem  and Podder, 2011, p 71) Therefore, it is argued that deradicalisation not only needs to address the causes of radicalisation but also rehabilitate the effects of that radicalisation: the actions and experiences the individual has been exposed.

The complicated nature of deradicalisation is highlighted by Horgan (2008, p 6) whom argues that what many people describe as deradicalisation is in fact disengagement. He outlines that why people join a terrorist group has little to do with what they do whilst in the terrorist group and what they do has little to do with why they leave (p 3). Deradicalisation is a process which involves both physical disengagement and psychological disengagement: it is the psychological transformation which is the most important. This involves the changing of ideas and beliefs: resulting in disillusion with their organisation or a change in priorities (p 4). For instance, the end of the Cold War saw many Marxist terrorists change their priorities with the changed geopolitical environment.  

Examples of Deradicalisation

The first example to be examined is the Irish. The Irish are an interesting case as they have experienced two significant periods of radicalisation in the twentieth century which each concluded with community reconciliation: the first being the period leading  up to and following home rule from 1919 to 1923 and the ‘troubles’ from 1969 to 1998 (Sullivan, 2011, p 304). From as early as 1867 the Irish had learnt that they could counter the superiority of the British Army through the use of prisoners, martyrs and causing fear on the British mainland with the use of explosives (Hannah,  Clutterbuck and Rubin, 2008, p 18). Ireland achieved dominion status – similar to that of Australia, Canada and New Zealand at the time – in 1921 which was short of the independence sought by the republicans: this caused a split in the political elite and ultimately a civil war (Pelling, 1974, p 268). Rather than the abandonment of nationalist goals, emergence of moderate politicians and changed external environment which Kissane (2012, p 46) argues are traditional catalysts to deradicalisation it was early elections which fulfilled this role. Those who did not participate in the process quickly lost influence and had to reconcile with popular support: this was ultimately a reversal of public support for violent action (p 53).

A change in community perception led to the Good Friday Agreement bring to an end the troubles in Northern Ireland. Neumann and Kleinmann (2015) argue that it should be remembered that in the 1990s the threat of the IRA was centre stage whilst Islamist slowly grew in strength. During this time significant funds were received by the IRA from none other than the United States and New York in particular (Kushner, 2011, p 207): an interesting revelation in that in less than a decade New York would become the centre of radicalisation modelling following the events of 9/11 (Borum (a), 2011, p 40). Utilising the violent extremist risk assessment model Beardsley and Beech (2013, p 10) assess the radicalised terrorists of the IRA had high scores for alienation, perceived injustice, lack of empathy and dehumanization. It is argued by the International Crisis Group (2007, p 7) that the segregation of prisoners by British authorities saw heightened radicalisation through the preservation of organisational hierarchies and the creation of virtual training camps within prisons. Following the Good Friday Agreement prison release was used as an incentive for deradicalisation and participation in the peace process. Horgan and Braddock (2010, p 269) highlight that “… should an individual violate the conditions of release, or the group to which he/she was affiliated break the ceasefire, the member would have been expected to serve out their sentence[.]” This is a significant ‘leap of faith’ that those radicalised would toe the line; however, Horgan and Braddock argue that the strengths of the affiliated groups would use their extreme authoritarian power to ensure compliance. Those released were provided with support to reintegrate into the community through an European Union sponsored program which provided them with training in pre-employment, business planning and social skills (p 270). Of the 450 people who participated in the release program, only 30 had their release revoked and 15 of those were due to terrorist related activity (p271). It appears that the strength of the terrorist groups -- who subsequently moved to peace promoters – played a significant role in insuring the success of the process: this was a strength which was achieved by maintaining their power within the prison system.

However, the maintenance of organisational ties is not always a positive for deradicalisation. Ganor and Falk (2013, p 124) outline how in Israel they aim to reduce the threat of terrorist prisoners by partial deradicalisation: this involves the realignment from Islamist groups which oppose a peace process with Israel, to one which supports such engagement with a hope that they will eventually disengage from terrorist activities. Furthermore, the authorities aim to lessen intensity of involvement along a continuum consisting of in descending order:

1.      institute attack;

2.      operational;

3.      administrative;

4.      membership;

5.      active support; and

6.      passive support (p 126).

This is achieved through the engagement with families and provision of training. The key for the Israelis is to get the terrorist to acknowledge that their actions were immoral through engagement with moderate clergy. Treating prisoners humanly builds upon vocational training and education to provide an alternative to militant organisations upon release; however, this is extremely difficult given that Palestinian society glorifies terrorism.   Furthermore, Ganor and Falk (p 128) argue the process is undermined by the periodic exchange of prisoners between the Israelis and militant groups: if one maintains affiliation and allegiance to the radical organisation one is more likely to be nominated for release: the complete opposite to what had occurred in Ireland.

On the theme of prisons an interesting example emerged in Egypt with the renouncement of violence by Egyptian Islamic Group: this is an important example due to the connection between that group and the current al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri. In 1995 the Egyptian Islamic Group cooperated with Zawahiri’s Islamic Jihad in an attempted assassination of then Egyptian President Mukarak: the crackdown that followed would see imprisonment of many involved and others go into exile (Hoffman, 2007, p 24). By 1997 rumours began to circulate that the jailed members of the Islamic Group were about to renounce violence and this occurred in July that year when one by one the leaders of the group renounced violence in open court (Wright, 2008). This isolated Zawahiri who attempted to persuade his comrades to continue the fight stating “if we are going to stop now, why did we start?”; however, when these attempts failed with the assistance of al-Qaeda he ordered the massacre of 58 tourists at  Luxor (‘The Path’, 2011). Wright (2008) argues that blowback occurred with this strategy as the population abandoned their support violent struggle, and Islamic Jihad in particular, leaving it without popular base eventually necessitating its merger with al-Qaeda.

The Yemini Committee for Dialogue was established in 2002 following the al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole and fears that if they did not ‘do something’ the United States would take action themselves (Horgan and Braddock, 2010, p 273). Porges (2010, p 28) argues that the aim of the program was to reintegrate those who had fought against the Soviets back into society. The process was grounded in a religious dialogue resting “… on the idea that because the political killing of civilians has ‘faulty intellectual foundations,’… the core tenets of terrorism can be disputed, thus weakening attitudes presumed to underpin support for terrorist activity. … [they] …invite the participants to discuss include the place of jihad in Islam and its justifications, the relations of the Muslims and others, the concept of the State, government, and ruler rights within Islam…”(Horgan and Braddock, 2010, p 275) If the militants renounced their allegiance to jihadist groups and accept the legitimacy of the government they would be released from prison (Jones  and Morales, 2012, p 217). However, there is not a consensus as to how successful the program was: despite regime claims of overwhelming success, Jones and Morales (p 217) states that it has a 40% success rate whilst Horgan and Braddock (2010, p 276) argue the recidivism rate is not verifiable. Nevertheless, the Arab Spring has changed the dynamics of the country making any further development of this program unlikely with the regime tittering on collapse (Peters and Besley, 2014, p 3).

With the same catalyst, Saudi Arabia established a counselling program after the Riyadh compound attack (Horgan and Braddock, 2010, p 276). Amborst (2014, p 244) argues that “… by Western Standards, and the understanding of many Saudi citizens, Saudi Arabia is a theocracy … for some conservative Salafists it is a state governed by opportunists who bend Sharia law as they please[.]” The Saudi program according to Soloman (2014, p 36) is focused upon combatting thought with thought: the aim of the program is to achieve repetition and the abandonment of terrorist ideologies (Jones  and Morales, 2012, p 217). Horgan and Braddock (2010, p 277) outline that the “… Saudis developed a series of measures intended to de-legitimize what the Kingdom deemed incorrect and/or violent interpretations of the Qu’ran.” Furthermore, they make a comparison with the Yemini scheme stating that the “… religious subcommittee is comparable to the Yemini [Committee for Dialogue] … in that it is composed of clerics, other religious experts, and university charged with engaging the participants in open discussion about their experiences and interpretations of the Qu’ran and Islamic duty.” This scheme involves psychological assessments and treatment; however, it is the clerics who take the lead. The program is designed to be holistic, addressing the needs of the former terrorist particularly focusing on their families: the government provides financial support to their families and assistance with the provision of schooling for their children; furthermore, there is an aftercare program upon release (Hannah,  Clutterbuck and Rubin, 2008, p 37). The Saudi’s claim that their program has a 80-90% success rate, however, release and participation is limited to only Islamist sympathises – not those engaged in terrorism -- which would account for the willingness to disengage (Soloman, 2014, p 36).

In contrast to the formal programs in the Middle East, those in South East Asia have been ad hoc but inventive. The al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiya has been particularly active in the countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Abuza, 2003, p 153). No other country has been affected as much as Indonesia: a terrorist attack – in this case the 2002 Bali bombings – would serve again as a catalyst for action. Their program, according to Horgan and Braddock (2010, p 273) is a police centric approach which operates on an ad hoc basis. The International Crisis Group  (2007, p 12) illustrate that the program came out of an aim by the police to identify Jemaah Islamiya members whom may be willing to cooperate and provide them with intelligence. Unique to this program is the use of former terrorist like Nasir bin Abbas. He uses his notoriety as a former Jemaah Islamiya leader to meet with youths and former terrorists to explain that they have “… misunderstood the Islamic struggle and the meaning of jihad...” (Horgan and Braddock, 2010, p 273) According to former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty it is this very respect as a Jemaah Islamiya leader which enables bin Abbas to achieve results. Another former Jemaah Islamiya member and Bali bomber Ali Imron takes a different approach arguing that although there is nothing wrong with their interpretation of Islam, they have been in error as they “… did not know for sure … the status of those we targeted, nor did we try to persuade them by other means…”(‘The Path’, 2011, p 13) Indonesian officials provide both financial and logistical support to the families of participants: assistance to travel and also with support of children. However, Horgan and Braddock (2010, p 274) argue that it “… is probably inaccurate and certainly premature to consider this true ‘deradicalisation.’”

Fellow ASEAN member, the Philippines has also taken a unique approach to deradicalisation. The United States and Australia consider the southern Philippines to be a safe haven for terrorists with a number of Islamist groups active in the region (Jones  and Morales, 2012, p 213). Jones and Morales (2012, p 214) outline that the “… main driving force behind terrorism in the region can be attributed to socioeconomic marginalisation and retaliation to repressive military action, rather than religion and militant extremist ideologies.” Moreover, this is a phenomena connected to blowback  from governmental neglect and repression. There is not a structured process of deradicalisation in the Philippines, in fact the prison system in that country lacks the resources to adequately manage the basic system. As a consequence prison gangs are used to maintain control within the prisons with regular meetings between the Bosyo (gang leader) to discuss issues such as disputes, conditions to general prison operations (p 221). Terrorist inmates in the new Bilibid Prison are not given any special status but rather are distributed amongst the gangs. Jones and Morales (2012, p 220) argue that the association with these gangs are a positive engine for “… the purpose of disengagement and eventual de-radicalisation of terrorist inmates …” with them slowly being incorporated into the new group which acts as a substitute for the terrorist group. The Pilipino strategy has similarity with that in Northern Irelands: the control of the gang is used to limit recidivism. In essence, the criminal association is seen as preferable to a terrorist association along the lines of the Israeli attempts to lessen the intensity of terrorist involvement. In many respects the Pilipino strategy has in isolation evolved into a hybrid of these two institutionised schemes.

Criminological theories

Although the majority of these examples have focused on terrorists in the prison environment it is argued that these schemes are as applicable to terrorists outside of these institutions. For instance, it is conservable that Jake Bilardi -- one of the examples introduced at the beginning of this paper – would have benefited from the engagement which all of these programs provide and the elimination of the causes of alienation. Of particular use would have been the Indonesian counselling with a former disgruntled Jihadist something which the British Security Service (MI5) looks favourably upon (Jones, 2015).

Developmental crime prevention relates to reducing the risk factors for a person committing criminal acts: social, economic, familial, educational, biological and environmental characteristics. If a person is subjected to stresses or strains in their developmental years their connectiveness and adherence to social norms will be detrimentally affected (White & Haines, 2000). Labelling theory sees crime as a construct of those with the power to label a particular action as being criminal. This labelling has a psychological effect on those whose actions are labelled as criminal or deviant in that they are affected by the stigma of the label that directs their future. This was illustrated by a study conducted by William Chambliss (1976, p 155) at a United States high school looking at two different groups -- the Roughnecks and the Saints – who both were involved in anti-social behaviour. The difference between the two groups is that the Roughnecks came from lower social economic backgrounds and were labelled as ‘no hopers’ whilst the Saints were seen as good kids, young leaders, and were able to kept their behaviour relatively secret by travelling to other towns. Being labelled as ‘bad’ reduced the opportunities available to the Roughnecks who could not shake off their ‘bad’ label and eventually lived up to that label.

It is argued that there are parallels  with the disengagement of terrorists. Each of the previous examples has not attached negative labelled to those involved in terrorism. The key factors of these interventions was the openness to the belief that they could change and facilitate that change: in the majority of cases providing support to the ‘whole’ person including support to their families and addressing their psychological needs. It should be remembered that following 7/7 the United Kingdom Home Office identified “… the root causes of terrorism … [are] discrimination, deprivation and alienation facing British Muslims, UK foreign policy, the plight of Muslims across the world...” (Warraich and Nawaz, 2005, p 75). Although not necessarily designed to do so strategies such as those in Ireland have been beneficial to social inclusion: unfortunately this approach is not always followed.

Recently in Australia there has been focus on radicalised people like Bilardi going to Iraq and Syria to fight with Daesh. In response the Australian Government introduced -- and the Parliament enacted -- the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 (the bill). The explanatory memorandum to the bill states that:

The Bill implements the Government’s responses to the evolving national security landscape and in particular, the threat posed by Australians engaged in, and returning from, conflicts in foreign States. The latter category of persons, collectively referred to as foreign fighters’, may have fought alongside listed terrorist organisations in overseas conflicts and return to Australia with enhanced terrorism capabilities and ideological commitment.

In essence this legislation made it an offence to go to a declared area -- the area where Daesh operates was quickly declared – which is a strict liability offence with the alleged person having the onus to show that they were in the declared area for humanitarian or family reasons. Recently Australians who had joined Daesh requested assistance to leave the group and possibly assist in the deradicalisation process along the lines of the Indonesian process (Iggulden, 2015). However, the Prime Minister Tony Abbott rejected this notion stating that they were no longer welcome in Australia: “If you go abroad to become an Islamist killer, well, we’re hardly going to welcome you back into this country … You will be arrested. You will be prosecuted and you will be jailed, because it is a serious criminal offence under Australian law to fight with terrorist groups overseas…” (Iggulden, 2015). Unfortunately, Australia has taken the view that those who become involved with groups such as Daesh cannot be rehabilitated nor is there an environment created which would allow deraticalisation of the likes of Bilardi or members of a local terrorist group such as that involved in M-11

This paper has explored the possibility that terrorists can be deradicalised. The answer to this question is yes, however, it is dependent on the society to which they belong. When the populous that has previously supported terrorists turn their back on the tactic – like in Ireland and Egypt – then this will be a push factor towards disengagement and ultimately deradicalisation. The end of the cold war also demonstrated that a changing in the geo-political environment – particularly the removal of grievances – can facilitate the same process; therefore, it is important for policy makers to assess the long term consequences of decisions such as military intervention or cohersive criminal justice innitative to avoid blow back. However, in places such as the Palestinian territories where the populous is supportive and glorifies terrorism then they are problematic: it is argued that the same applies to a subculture remains focused on terrorist activities – such as the Islamist online movement – then more is required by authorities. The examples presented here make it clear that engagement by a respected and legitimate authority on the subject – such as a religious leader or former terrorist – can be very successful in facilitating the process. When the person is taken as a whole – with the provision of support and training opportunities – the negative labels are nullified.   Most importantly authorities need to be prepared to engage and accept the former terrorist back into society – just like the parable of the prodigal son of biblical times – unfortunately something the Australian Government is presently not prepared to consider.




(2008, 4 October) ‘Jihadist Blowback? Syria and Lebanon.’ The Economist. p 41.

(2011, 16 May) ‘The Path of Evil: A Decade of Fear.’ Newsweek. 157(20) p 39.

(2015, 11 February) Radicalisation in Victorian schools. 3AW 693 ( accessed 30 May 2015)

Abuza, Z. (2003) Militant Islam in Southeast Asia: Crucible of terror. London, Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Amborst, A. (2014) Radicalisation and de-radicalisation of social movements: The comeback of political Islam? Crime, Law, Social Change, 62, 235-255.

Beardsley, N. and Beech, A. (2013) Applying the violent extremist risk assessment (VERA) to sample of terrorist case studies.

 Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, 5(1), 4-15.

Bishop, J. (2015, 26 March) Question Time – National Security. accessed 28 April 2015.

Borum, R. (2011) (b) Radicalization into Violent Extremism I: A Review of Social Science Theories.  Journal of Strategic Security, 4(4), 7-36.

Borum, Randy (2011) (a) Radicalization into Violent Extremism II: A Review of Conceptual Models and Empirical Research. Journal of Strategic Security, 4(2): 37-62.

Cary, S. (2009) The Tipping Point: Biological Terrorism. Journal of Strategic Security, 2(3), 13-24.

Chambliss, W. (1976) The Saints and the Roughnecks. in W. Chambliss and M. Mankoff (eds) Whose Law, What Order. New York, Witey,.

Clark, S. (2015, 9 March) Islamic State recruit declared ‘white jihadi identified as Melbourne teenager Jake. ABC News Online. ( accessed 18 April 2015)

Cronin, A. (2006) How al-Qaida Ends: The decline and demise of a terrorist group. International Security. 31(1), 7-48.

Cummins, J. (2007) History’s Greatest Hits: Famous events we should all know more about. London, Pier 9. 

Davies, L. (2009) Educating against extremism: towards a critical politicisation of young people.

 International Review of Education, 55, 183-203.

Doognue, G. and Kirkwood, P. (2005). Tomorrow’s Islam: Uniting age-old beliefs and a modern world. Sydney, ABC Books.

Emerson, M. (ed) (2009) Ethno-Religious Conflicts in Europe: Typologies of radicalisation in Europe’s Muslim Communities. Brussels: Centre for European Political Studies.

Ganor, B. and Falk, O. (2013) De-Radicalization in Israel’s Prison System.

 Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 36(2), 116-131.

Hannah, G. Clutterbuck, L. and Rubin, J. (2008) Radicalization or Rehabilitation: Understanding the Challenges of extremist and radicalized prisoners. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

Hoffman, B. (2007) The Global Terrorist Threat: Is al-Qaeda on the run or on the march? Middle East Policy. 14(2), 44.

Horgan, J. (2008) Deradicalization or Disengagement? A process in Need of Clarity and a Counterterrorism Initiative in Need of Evaluation. Perspectives on Terrorism, 2(4), 3-8

Horgan, J. and Braddock, K. (2010) Rehabilitating the Terrorists?: Challenges in Assessing the Effectiveness of Deradicalization Programs. Terrorism and Political Violence, 22,267–291

Iggulden, T. (2015, 19 May) Government takes a hard line approach to Australian extremists. Lateline ( accessed 29 May 2015)

International Crisis Group (ICG) (2007, 19 November)

 Deradicalisation and Indonesian Prisons: Asia Report no142.

Johnson, C. (2002) Blowback: The costs and consequences of American empire. London: Time Warner Paperbacks

Jones, C. and Morales, R. (2012) Integration versus Segregation: A Preliminary Examination of Philippine Correctional Facilities for Deradicalization. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 35(3), 211-228.

Jones, T. (2015, 1 June) Q&A

Jordon, J. and Horsburgh, N. (2005) Mapping Jihadist Terrorism in Spain. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. 28, 169-191.

Karagiannis, E. (2012) European Converts to Islam: Mechanisms of Radicalization. Politics, Religion & Ideology, 13(1), 99-113.

Khosrokhavar, F. (2013) Radicalization in Prison: The French Case. Politics, Religion & Ideology, 14(2), 284-306.

Kinzer, S. (2003) All the Shah’s Men: An American coup and the roots of Middle East terror. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

Kissane, B. (2012) Electing Not to Fight: Elections as a Mechanism of Deradicalisation after the Irish Civil War. International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 6(1), 44-54.

Kushner, H. (2011) Financing Terrorism. In Gus Martin (ed) The Sage Encyclopedia of Terrorism. 2nd edn. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Landau, S. (ed) (1984) Funk and Waknalls Standard Desk Dictionary. Vol 1, New York, Funk & Wagnalls

Lindekilde, L. (2012) Neo-liberal Governing of “Radicals”: Danish Radicalization Prevention Policies and Potential Iatrogenic Effects. International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 6(1), 109-125.

Mayfield, T (2015, 13 March) ’Jake Bilardi: both perpetrator and victim.’ ABC Online: The Drum. (

Napoleoni, L. (2014) The Islamic Phoenix: The Islamic State and the redrawing of the Middle East.  New York, Seven Stories Press.

Neumann, P. and Kleinmann, S. (2015) How Rigorous Is Radicalization Research? Democracy and Security, 9(4), 360-382)

Ozerdem, A. and Podder, S. (2011) Disarming Youth Combatants: Mitigating Youth Radicalization and Violent Extremism.  Journal of Strategic Studies, 4(4), 63-80.

Pelling, H. (1974) Winston Churchill. London, Wordsworth Editions.

Peters, M. and Besley, T. (2014) Islam and the End of European Multiculturalism? From Multiculturalism to Civic Integration. Policy Futures in Education, 12(1), 1-15.

Phares, W. (2008) Inflaming hearts and fooling minds. In The war of ideas: jihadism against democracy New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pinto, S. and Wardlaw, G. (1989). Political Violence. Canberra: Australian Institute.

Porges, M. (2010) Deradicalisation, the Yemeni Way. Survival: Global Politics and Stratergy, 52(2), 27-33

Richardson, L. (2006). What Terrorists Want. London: John Murray.

Smith, A. and Rice, S. (2015, 22 March) Jihad Jake. 60 Minutes (Australia)

Soloman, H. (2014) Combating Islamist radicalisation in South Africa.

 African Security Review, 23(1), 17-33

Sullivan, C. (2011) Irish Republican Army. In Gus Martin (ed) The Sage Encyclopedia of Terrorism. 2nd edn. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Tucker, J. (1999) Historical Trends Related to Bioterrorism: An empirical analysis. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 5(4), 498-504.

Veldhuis, T. and Lindenberg, S. (2012) Special Section: Assessing the Effectiveness of Counter-Radicalisation Policies in North-Western Europe. Limits of tolerance under pressure: a case study of Dutch terrorist detention policy. Critical Studies on Terrorism, 5(3), 425-443.

Warraich, S. and Nawaz, I. (2005) Preventing Extremism Together: Working Groups. London: U.K. Home Office.

Weimann, G. (2006) New terrorism, new media. In Terrorism on the Internet: The new arena, the new challenge. Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press.

Whites, R. and Haines, F. (2001) Crime and Criminology: An Introduction. 2nd edn, South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Williams, C. (2004) Terrorism Explained: The facts about terrorism and terrorist groups. Sydney: New Holland Publishers.

Wright, L. (2008, 2 June) ‘The Rebellion Within.’ The New Yorker. 84(16), 37.

1 comment:

  1. Great post!!Thanks for sharing it with us....really needed.Our expertise is in all areas of Criminal Law (including everything from assault, apprehended violence orders, drink driving & drug driving, traffic offences, computer crime through to drug importation and murder trials) and we have a high profile within the Criminal Law area. Sydney Indecent Assault Lawyers