Hundreds of former jihadis are set to be freed from jail. London terror attack shows the risks
The stabbing attack in London on Friday has thrust the issue of what to do with former terrorists back into the public spotlight, especially as hundreds more convicted offenders across Europe are due for release in the coming years.
It has also revived perennial questions for law enforcement and intelligence agencies -- who is at risk of re-offending? And can they be effectively monitored? How effective are deradicalization and rehabilitation programs?
In recent years, the jail population across Europe has swollen to include dozens of foreign fighters who had gone to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria. While ISIS' caliphate has been reduced to rubble and many of its fighters are dead or unaccounted for, some 1,600 have returned home to Europe according to the European Union -- and many have received prison sentences.
In September, the think tank Globsec examined in detail the cases of more than 300 European jihadists implicated in terrorism in a single year, 2015. Some had been killed, but 199 had been convicted of various terror offenses. Kacper Rekawek, one of the report's authors, told CNN that of that number, 45 were due for release by the end of 2019 and a total of 113 would be released from prison by the end of 2023.
Globsec says "jihadi ranks include hardened veterans who have already gone through more than one terrorism conviction and are intent on repeating their feats." According to Rekawek, their analysis found that among European jihadists implicated in terrorism in 2015 who had previously committed a criminal offense, almost 20% were implicated in a terrorist offense both times.
Earlier this year a returning fighter in jail in France was one of three men charged with plotting to kill prison officials. A leading authority on jihadism in France, Marc Hecker of the French Institute for International Relations, says that between mid-2018 and the end of 2019, 50 individuals convicted of terrorism offenses plus an additional 450 deemed radical will have been released from French prisons.
Many of those allowed back into society will turn their back on terrorism, but others will have been hardened by their experiences, and become part of new networks. Globsec concludes that "such individuals are likely to return to their pre-arrest activities and once again attempt to engage in terrorism."
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