Is Prosecution or Rehabilitation the Better Response to Home-Grown Terrorist Recruits?

Saturday, May 23, 2015
U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger

A federal prosecutor and judge in Minnesota last week came together on an alternative to incarcerating five Somali-American men who were arrested after they tried to join the Islamic State (IS).


U.S. District Judge Michael Davis agreed to a rehabilitation plan for the men and placement in a halfway house. The prosecutor in the case, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, had previously opposed rehabilitation over prison for another Somali-American, Abdullahi Yusuf, who also wanted to join IS. Davis sent Yusuf to a halfway house as well. Luger appears to have had a change of heart however, and hopes to fight the recruitment of young people by IS with programs such as mentoring and job counseling.

The question is whether others in the criminal justice system will make the same switch for homegrown terrorists. The federal government estimates that between 150 and 180 Americans have tried to leave the country and join up with groups fighting in Syria.


Other countries have also tried to rehabilitate prospective or actual terrorists, Justin Salhani wrote at ThinkProgress.


Rohan Gunaratna, head of International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore who has written extensively on extremist rehabilitation, said governments should give rehabilitation a try.


“Terrorists are not born, but are products of circumstances. Therefore, it is necessary for governments to invest in soft countermeasures–delegitimising the radical ideology and addressing roots of grievances – along with the kinetic response,” Gunaratna wrote in “Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis”, a journal published by RSIS, in April. “These soft measures include terrorist rehabilitation and reintegration, community engagement and promoting moderation in beliefs (counter-ideology). In other words, to fight terrorism in the long-term, it is necessary to develop programs to both rehabilitate and reintegrate terrorists and extremists as well as community engagement initiatives to build societal resilience to prevent individuals from joining or supporting terrorist groups.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Judge Sends Terrorist Recruits to Rehabilitation Instead Of Jail (by Justin Salhani, ThinkProgress)

Key Question in MN Terror Case: Can the Radicalized be Rehabilitated? (by Laura Yuen, MPR News)

Deradicalization or Disengagement of Terrorists: Is It Possible? (by Jessica Stern, Hoover Institution, Stanford University) (pdf)

Islamist Terror Threat in U.S. Shifts from Groups to Isolated Individuals (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)


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