Conflict & Justice

Re-education school for Muslim extremists

(Describe first the center that's run by the Saudi government.) It's remarkable, nothing like a prison. There are six residential compounds and it's called a resort. Inside you have Playstations, table tennis, swimming pools, it's like holiday camp. (How much access did you have?) Pretty unlimited, we were able to move around and speak to a number of the guys there which was remarkable. (Let's listen to your story.)

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Here at this compound, two men play table tennis, but this is a prison, or as the staff call it, a care center. Here the Saudi government is exploring new ways to make its way with radicals, many of whom have been in Iraq and joined the insurgency. This tank exploded outside the Jordanian campaign in Iraq and this 19 year old man delivered the bomb. He is the rarest kind of Jihadist, a suicide bomber who survived. He says nine civilians were killed and 60 others injured in the explosion. He says he didn't intend to explode the tanker. He's one of the care center's star graduates. 192 men have passed through here in the past eighteen months, 108 of them from Guantanamo Bay. Religious motivation inspired the men to join the Jihad, but the care center is about integration and de-radicalization. The Saudis have a team dedicated to the de-radicalization, and the head of the team stresses that only the Saudi government can authorize Jihad and there is no legitimate Jihad today. But the Saudi kingdom has been affected by radicalization, and the Saudi security forces now train counter-terrorism forces who work abroad. Between 2003 and 2004, more than 100 civilians were killed by terrorists, and the government has arrested more than 700 terrorists this year and it's these threats that motivate the rehab program. This man says he was given his job back and is given a stipend by the Ministry of the Interior after graduating through the rehab center. Supporting terrorists in this way might seem disdainful but the Saudis insist its an integral part of the rehab program. The care center staff are convinced that their program is working: in the 18 months since the program opened, none of its graduates have returned to militancy, but they were all just Al Qaeda foot soldiers and the center realizes it's just the early days. Convincing Al Qaeda leaders to give up their arms might take more than just the care center.

(The bomber you interviewed from the Jordanian Embassy explosion, how did he survive?) It remains a mystery to me to be honest. I found his story quite implausible. (The other people you talked to, were their stories more credible?) Yes, they were more credible. These people didn't want to be suicide bombers, but just fighters against the U.S. and British forces in Iraq. (You yourself were once a part of an extremist group.) Yes, the Liberation Party which is transnational but founded in Palestine in 1953 and doesn't believe in violence but does create the arguments which sustain terrorism. I was a member of the group for three years. (What was your attraction to it?) I was at Birmingham at the time, this was right after 9/11 and I found the organization's arguments to be powerful and seductive, it was a confusing time. I thought the rejection of Western ideas and capitalism was interesting but at the same time it wasn't an Eastern ideology, it was preaching chaotic ideas, but something much purer. It was similar to joining a Marxist movement, to me. (Your ideas changed on your own, correct?) I was open to that interpretation and I reexamined the path I had chosen. I started a PhD program in Islamic Thought which at the time I believed was going to entirely reinforce my views and when I embarked on my research, I found more to Islam which I had not experienced. (What about the folks at these reform schools, is that something that can be taught?) I found that the Saudi prison is not rejecting Jihad, but they're saying that the state hasn't given permission to people to fight. And that is persuasive to a lot of people.