The 19th anniversary of 9/11 has just gone by and the enquiry into the Manchester Arena bombing having started not too long ago. I feel it an apt time to revisit my undergraduate dissertation; ‘Is there a model of best practice in Counter-Terrorism’. I found myself drawn to this topic at university due to the apparent lack of research to find a solution, outside of a kinetic approach, to stopping terrorist attacks, predominantly in western states.
The research found that there is a three-pronged approach, Prevention, Rehabilitation and Aftercare. This model was developed by assessing literature on counter-terrorism measures of countries all over the world.
The Prevention aspect offers few surprises, tackling the causes of radicalisation and catching the signs early. The UK is seen as somewhat of a leader in this area, using the community as its driving force. Schools, families and local community leaders are used to tackle radical narratives and identify those at risk or showing signs of radicalisation. Educational institutions also aim to educate students across all age groups in such a way to protect them from radicalisation. The creation of a web of surveillance across the community can help to identify those at risk. This doesn’t come without its drawbacks, often it is the environment that people are in that leads to radicalisation, be that family members, peers or religious leadership figures.
The rehabilitation side I found of most interest. Vocational learning forms a significant part of global rehabilitation schemes. Research found that often the cause of radicalisation was a disenfranchisement with society. Radical groups benefit from this; providing members with a purpose, a common goal and a society they could feel a part of. Often bonding over a common ‘enemy’. The aim of rehabilitation is to tie the individual into civil society, give them a purpose, skills to get a job and so on. Leisure activities have been proven to be useful too and are used as part of the Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Saudi Arabian rehabilitation schemes. Sport can be beneficial in providing a sense of community and social interaction, that in many cases was lacking. The inclusion of seemingly insignificant aspects of society, such as sport, have been shown to make a considerable difference in the reintegration process. Rather than the traditional judicial response of punishment, offering opportunity through rehabilitation has found better results.
Aftercare measures are vital in any effective penal system. With the risks so high, tracking inmates convicted of terrorism charges after release is vital, yet not always done. I found there was no evidence in CONTEST (the UK’s current counter-terrorism strategy) of a robust aftercare system. This was disappointing to see as the work being done in prevention and rehabilitation will be let down by a lack of aftercare. No doubt opportunities have and will be missed as a result.
The example of Abdallah al-Ajmi is clear evidence of the need for a robust framework in counter-terrorism, detention is not the sole answer. He was a detainee released from Guantanamo Bay and repatriated to Kuwait in 2005, who subsequently carried out a fatal suicide bombing in Iraq in 2008. The US’ efforts in Guantanamo Bay have been heavily criticised for not following a model similar to that I explained above. It is widely thought by commentators that had Abdallah al-Ajmi received effective rehabilitation, reintegration assistance and been monitored after release, this attack could well have been avoided. This is by no means an isolated case; countless times you hear that a terror suspect was ‘known to intelligence services’. It just shows how important it is for a framework to continue working beyond the initial detention.
This is an incredibly complex issue and I of course don’t claim to hold the answers, but it is interesting nonetheless to explore what has worked for others and compare.