Can terrorists be deradicalized?

May 29, 2017

By Michael Price

Investigators are still piecing together exactly what drove Salman Abedi, the suspected assailant in the recent concert bombing in Manchester, U.K., to kill 22 people and wound dozens more, but early indications suggest he had become a radicalized jihadist. How formerly harmless members of society go on to embrace violent extremist ideologies is a looming question in the world of counterterrorism, yet increasingly so is the problem of “deradicalization,” or convincing people to abandon an extremist mindset.

Worldwide, hundreds of deradicalization programs have sprung up. They typically consist of trained counselors either convincing the extremists their religious views aren’t founded in proper theology, treating the subject’s extremism as a mental health issue, or trying to nudge the extremist’s value system away from violence.

Despite their ubiquity, there’s been precious little effort spent evaluating whether these programs actually work, writes Daniel Koehler, director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-radicalization Studies based in Stuttgart, in a commentary published today in Nature Human Behaviour. He discussed his work with Science, as well as the dangers of failing to establish deradicalization program standards. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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10 comments on “Can terrorists be deradicalized?

  • Until we have mind-reading devices, I’m afraid that our inability to distinguish ‘radicalized’ terrorists from the more moderate kind 😐 is always going to limit the utility of these warm and fuzzy approaches. By the time we are certain we are dealing with a terrorist, the only hope to ‘deradicalize’ them is to be ready with a well-aimed piece of high-velocity lead (100% effective at deradicalization if correctly applied).



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  • NorthernVoice #1
    May 29, 2017 at 8:14 pm
    . . . to distinguish ‘radicalized’ terrorists from the more moderate kind . . .

    Sorry, NorthernVoice, but I am not clear what might be meant by a moderate terrorist, as opposed to a radicalized one.



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  • Of course people can be de-radicalised.

    They reasoned themselves into that position, they can therefore be reasoned out of it.

    A Radical’s power of reasoning may be weak, or imperfect, or even fundamentally flawed. Does such a weakness automatically translate to: ‘unable-to-reason’? Does it automatically translate to: unable to learn?

    I don’t pretend to know, I just see millions of people changing their minds every day about subjects that have radical proponents – including those radicals themselves. Something is going on in those heads.

    While it’s good to see that people are looking into this issue I can’t help thinking that prevention is better than cure. Education, and particularly education in critical thinking, are they keys to long term freedom from the violent oppressors that emerge from the ranks of the radical.



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  • The problem with modern complex societies, is that they are dependent on significant levels of respect for laws and for other citizens, with citizens entrusted with the responsibly of handling significantly dangerous materials and equipment, such as transport vehicles, machinery and chemicals. – Often with a casual lack of security, or wilful opposition to operating secure systems.
    A relatively small number of irresponsible idiots, criminals or terrorists, can disrupt systems and endanger large numbers of people.
    In the case of vehicles being used as weapons, several years of a lax approach to treating car theft, driving without a licence, and taking without consent, seriously, makes control of this more difficult than it need be!

    In some countries, the readily available access to guns is also a problem.



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  • Despite ordinary English police not carrying firearms, and the van suddenly being used as a weapon without warning, all three attackers were shot dead within minutes!

    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/03/london-bridge-closed-after-serious-police-incident-reports

    London police shoot dead three suspects after rampage kills seven

    At least seven people were killed and 48 injured after three attackers drove a van into crowds on London Bridge and then went on a stabbing rampage in nearby Borough Market.

    Police said armed officers shot dead all three attackers within minutes of receiving reports of the terrorist attack unfolding in central London. The three men were wearing suicide bomb vests that were later confirmed to be fakes.

    Eight firearms officers opened fire about 50 times on the three attackers in what the Met police assistant commissioner Mark Rowley described as a “critical” incident that was a matter of life and death, given the terrorists were wearing what appeared to be suicide belts. Rowley confirmed a member of the public was hit by a stray bullet and is among 36 people still in hospital, 21 of whom are in critical condition.

    Police believe all the attackers were killed in the confrontation, but Rowley would not comment on whether they were previously known to the police or intelligence services, citing ongoing investigations into their identities.



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  • Alan4discussion #5
    Jun 4, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Despite ordinary English police not carrying firearms, and the van suddenly being used as a weapon without warning, all three attackers were shot dead by police from an armed response unit within [8] minutes!

    I think it is a fair bet, that if this had happened in the US, the terrorists and/or the mentally unstable, would have been armed with guns, making the job of the police more difficult!

    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/04/trump-berates-london-mayor-sadiq-khan-terror-attacks

    Donald Trump has criticised the mayor of London, hours after seven people were killed and 48 injured in a terror attack in the centre of the city.

    “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack,” the president wrote on his personal Twitter account, “and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’”

    BTW: I see Trump has been making the above inane comments of an illiterate, or disreputable, – as usual!

    In response, a spokesman for Sadiq Khan said the mayor had “more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump’s ill-informed tweet that deliberately takes out of context his remarks”.

    Khan commented on the attacks in a statement overnight and in a television interview earlier on Sunday. In the interview, he said there was “no reason to be alarmed” by an increased and armed police presence in the city that day.



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  • LaurieB #7
    Jun 4, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    Do you think that these incidents will lead to all police officers carrying guns in the future?

    There are now more armed response units, but the UK system works on calling in specialist teams.

    Criminals know that carrying a gun will get them extra years in jail – and probably a shoot-out with an expert swat team if they don’t quickly surrender!

    The view has been that arming lots of less trained police, just escalates an arms race, and increases the likelihood stray bullets flying around.

    The UK police also use dogs very effectively – they run very fast, follow a scent trail, and they like the taste of criminal!



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  • Alan

    Yes, I remember a previous discussion somewhere here in the past about police officers carrying guns. I understand about the specialist teams and apparently that was effective in the past, (is that actually true?) but now, with several incidents like this one and the others in Europe in the recent past, I wonder if the government will take steps to keep armed police officers a rather permanent presence. About the arms race escalation, at least it’s hopefully very difficult for the public to purchase guns there in Britain and Europe as well. If this remains the case then I don’t think you’ll be victims of gun arms race like we have here in the States.



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  • LaurieB #9
    Jun 4, 2017 at 4:26 pm

    Alan

    Yes, I remember a previous discussion somewhere here in the past about police officers carrying guns. I understand about the specialist teams and apparently that was effective in the past, (is that actually true?)

    According to the news, in this incident, within 8 minutes of the van mounting the pavement and being used as a weapon, all three attackers, after ignoring warnings, were were shot dead by a specialist police unit.

    That seems a pretty quick response to me!

    but now, with several incidents like this one and the others in Europe in the recent past, I wonder if the government will take steps to keep armed police officers a rather permanent presence.

    I think they have done so in the cities affected, as a temporary measure.

    In the UK it is a criminal offence to carry an unlicensed gun, and an offence to carry a licensed gun in public unless it is in a locked case. Gun licences are also restricted in who may have them, and what kind of gun and ammunition they justifiably need. (eg. farmers have shotguns to shoot pests.)

    but now, with several incidents like this one and the others in Europe

    The French and Spanish police carry guns, but because the UK is a set of islands there is better border control on ports and airports.



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