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Munasaha Program: An essential Tool in Saudi Arabia’s War on Terror | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat-The Saudi judiciary last Wednesday issued its verdicts in the country’s first terror trials, finding 330 Al Qaeda members guilty of a range of terrorism-related charges. Prior to their conviction, these defendants had been taking part in the government-sponsored Munasaha rehabilitation program that works in parallel with the war on the ground against the Al Qaeda organization. This war involves the uncovering of sleeper cells and terrorist operations as well as the fight against those who finance terrorist activities and promote an [extremist] ideology.

Psychologists, Islamic scholars, social workers and academics are involved in the Munasaha rehabilitation program that aims to analyze and rehabilitate terrorist ideology as part of the ideological war that Saudi security apparatus has been engaged in against Al Qaeda over the past few years. Approximately 100 religious figures, psychologists, social workers, and teachers help to operate the Munasaha rehabilitation program which aims to rehabilitate those who have been involved in terrorist activity.

Sheikh Mohamed al Najimi, a member of the Islamic Fiqh Academy, told Asharq Al-Awsat that those arrested for engaging in terrorist activity are enrolled in the Munasaha rehabilitation program before being transferred to the judiciary. He said that this program, which is implemented on both a general and personal level, has succeeded in convincing many of those who were previously involved in terrorist activity to abandon their destructive ideology. Al Najimi said, “We have counselled people who took part in well-known terrorist operations and by debating with them and utilizing evidence we have convinced them of the invalidity of their argument.”

Against the backdrop of the preliminary verdict issued against the 330 Al Qaeda members who were convicted of involvement in terrorist activity, al Najimi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Munasaha team researched those involved in terrorist activity and those who follow the Al Qaeda ideology or other Jihadist ideologies.

Al Najimi added that prior to enrolment in the Munasaha rehabilitation program detainees are psychologically assed to ensure that they do not suffer from any mental illnesses such as depression or schizophrenia. He also said that the social situation of potential detainees is also assessed prior to enrolment in the program to ensure that their families would not suffer from financial troubles as a result of their imprisonment, and that their family members would be willing to visit the detainees during their rehabilitation.

Following this, the Munasaha team draws up a report on each detainee’s psychological and social status, and it is decided whether the detainee will be enrolled in the program or whether social aid must be provided to ensure that the detainee is eligible for enrolment and is free of any [external] influences that may impede rehabilitation.

Al Najimi said that following enrolment, the Munasaha team analyzes the ideology that the detainee follows, whether this is the ideology of Al Qaeda or some other Jihadist ideology, by conducting a calm discussion with him. He said that the Munasaha team, which comprises of two sheikhs and a psychologist, meets with the detainee individually, bringing him texts and conducting discussions that refute his ideology and beliefs.

“Following this, the prisoner is enrolled in an educational program that is carried out by several individuals and this involves lessons in allegiance, as well as lessons that deal with [the true meaning of] Jihad and Takfir, and other lessons that deal with Saudi Arabia’s role in providing services to Islam and Muslims, as if he is in a school,” said al Najimi.

Al Najimi told Asharq Al-Awsat that he believes that this program has succeeded in rehabilitating the ideology of detainees. He defended the role that the rehabilitation program plays in combating Al Qaeda and other Jihadist ideology, saying that the proportion of those that complete the program and return to their former [Jihadist] ideology is no more than two per cent. Al Najimi also said that the Munasaha program had received a certificate from the US Secretary of State in recognition of its role in analyzing and fighting against terrorist ideology. Al Najimi also made reference to two US Congressmen who have called for the Munasaha program to be implemented on an international level in order to benefit from the Saudi experience in rehabilitating terrorists.