Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Rehabilitating Reformed Jihadists | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- A number of former Saudi jihadists who had been detained in the kingdom for security reasons are now serving the final days of their sentences. During their period of detention, the Saudi Interior Ministry has been actively working on their rehabilitation with the intention of reintegrating them back into society.

Ahmad al Shayi, Saleh al Ghamidi, Saddam al Saqabi and Saleh al Quayri are amongst those who are spending their current days contemplating their future plans, which they will carry out after leaving the grounds where the Ministry of Interior is conducting the care program.

The advisory program seeks to re-educate the former jihadist extremists, many of whom had dropped out of school at an early age. It has had a tremendous influence on bringing the young men back to their senses after having been deluded by a false pretense of jihad. The program is being implemented by a group of highly esteemed clerics with the support of specialized social and psychological experts.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior has spent approximately 10 million Saudi Arabia Riyals (SAR ¬ the equivalent of approximately US $2.6 million) on the advisory program, while the total expenditure on the detainees has reached approximately 76 million SAR (the equivalent of approximately US $20.2 million).

The advisory program is comprised of four subcommittees: The Religious Committee, the Psychosocial Committee, the Security Committee, and the Media Committee. The number of religious specialists working in these committees is approximated at 160 personnel, while the social and psychological workers number 40.

The aforementioned advisory committee body is assigned with the task of rectifying and reforming the ideas of the misguided youth, identifying the reasons for their actions and understanding their psychological state and intellectual doubts and concerns. Thus far, it has recorded considerable success; 700 of the detainees were released on the recommendation of the committee after being thoroughly assessed.

Regarding the methodology; the advisory committee follows two procedures: individual sessions (meetings) and practical group sessions. The individual sessions are carried out in the presence of religious, psychological, and social specialists. They listen to the detainee, get acquainted with him and allow him to express himself without any reservations or limits, according to the program supervisors.

“Meetings are emotional, embraces are exchanged and tears are shed by the detainees when they apprehend the extent of their suffering also realizing the inherent mercy. They understood that we want what is best for them and that we want to help them to become constructive rather than destructive,” said a member of the committee.

The psychological team takes heed of the signs manifesting on the detainees, which are indicators of their sincerity and intentions. The advisory committee body holds seven-week practical courses in jails for 20 detainees at a time with the aim of educating them on concepts such as takfiri and jihadist ideology, their rules and regulations, in addition to concepts such as loyalty, faith, leadership and community, among others. The are also taught how to avoid misleading, delusional books and to understand the importance of religious thought and the role of clerics and scholars, while grasping the basics of psychology and the Muslim stance towards sedition and the sanctity of the blood shed as a result of this delusional approach.

The men enrolled in these courses undergo written examinations during the seventh week following the end of their coursework to assess what they have learnt, in addition to providing feedback.

The Saudi Interior Ministry has expressed its dedication to expand the care program so as to gain a farther reach beyond the prison walls. This comes after witnessing the positive results of the advisory program, which is designed to keep the detainees busy with activities that are both entertaining and beneficial.

Comprised of 10 subsidiary programs, the care program includes religious, social, cultural, psychological, sports, medical security, artistic, vocational and humanitarian courses. The program serves those who have completed their sentences and have been deemed ready for discharge.

The Ministry of Interior has provided the grounds and facilities for the implementation of the rehabilitation program, which include football Pitches and swimming pools, among other recreational facilities. Additionally, there is also a library, research hall and classroom. Moreover, those in charge did not overlook the fact that the detainees are quite young in age, thus providing them with games, including PlayStation.

Sheikh Ahmad Jailan, the coordinator of the care program, recounts the story of one of the detainees who upon his release insisted on taking the PlayStation with him. He would not budge so that those in charge could do little but give in to his pleas, however only after consulting his colleagues first. The PlayStation was replaced by another one so that the rest of the detainees could still play. Officials at the Ministry of Interior do not hesitate to meet the requirements requested by the detainees, in addition to providing them with foodstuffs, including chocolates and sweets.

The youth spend most of their time playing sport and engaging in recreational activities and games. They interact with one another and there are no signs of hostility or introversion amongst them. Those managing the Interior Ministry’s Shariah program in conjunction with the care program set written examinations for the detainees, especially on the subjects of jihad and takfiri ideologies.

Upon examining some of tests, Asharq Al-Awsat found that how these detainees react to matters related to jihad after reforming their once deviant thoughts. They display a clear understanding of the importance of fulfilling the laws of the Islamic Shariah. Furthermore, those running the care program are exerting tremendous efforts to familiarize the detainees with the ambitions of the enemies of the state who seek to destroy national interest and attack the kingdom’s security and economy. The personnel working as part of the care program speak to the detainees with utmost candor and enlighten them as to the threat posed by terrorism and the operations that take place in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, they distribute questionnaires to access the efficacy of the program and readjust it according to the findings.

Asharq Al-Awsat was the first Arab newspaper to be granted access into the locations where the care program was being implemented. Saleh al Ghamidi was engrossed in painting a picture and was soon joined by Ahmad al Shayi who came along with his drawing pad and colors and sat down to draw next to him. The program has recently passed a decision to set up an exhibition space as part of the program in which the detainees may display their artistic work.

Al Shayi, whose hands have been deformed as a result of being manipulated in a bombing incident, struggled to grip the colored pens as he drew a little red bleeding heart to symbolize the lost homeland that the youth lose sight of when they are recruited and exploited by these misguided calls to jihad. Under the heart he wrote, “This country is bleeding, can we make it stop?”

These two art pieces created by al Ghamidi and Ahmad al Shayi are the pioneering pieces to be exhibited in the gallery space and will be kept as a memory and reminder of those who have fallen victim to this deviant and destructive ideology.

The detainees often spend their time in jest and laughter, especially when the subject of marriage is mentioned. Many have expressed their desire to marry a relative except for Ahmad al Shayi who doesn’t seem to be convinced by the idea. When asked who he would consider marrying, he said, “I will marry an Iraqi girl form al Amira Street,” as his friends erupted in laughter.