On the 24th of February 2022, MIRAD’s Opening Conference was held which focused on introducing the project to the general public and the underlying issue of extremism and radicalisation on which the project is founded and aims to help combat.
The conference was open to the public and approximately 60 people were in attendance. The audience comprised of practitioners involved in monitoring, preventing and countering radicalisation, practitioners working with extremist/radical individuals, prison and probation staff, judicial staff, researchers, and other stakeholders and individuals interested in the field of Violent right-wing extremism and Islamist Extremism risk assessment and intervention.
External keynote speakers were invited to the virtual opening conference to offer a broader perspective and showcase the different relevant aspects. On behalf of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Aisyah Q. Yuliani spoke about her work regarding returning foreign terrorist fighters. The second speaker, David Hansen from the University College of the Norwegian Correctional Service, discussed and reflected on the country’s approach to assessing and rehabilitating extremist offenders.
Aisyah Quadri Yuliani, an international project coordinator who works for the UNODC in Kyrgyzstan, illuminated several areas of working with foreign terrorist findings that present challenges and opportunities.
The first obstacle to the effective and efficient use of risk assessment tools is that there is no single profile that fits all foreign terrorist fighters. This population has little homogeneity, and it is difficult to enrich the assessment with third-party intelligence, such as family or neighbours. However, several reliable factors can be looked at during the assessment process. These range from someone’s beliefs, intents and motivation to their history or capabilities and include an individual’s protective circumstances. Additionally, and this is where MIRAD comes in, gender-specific indicators exist which are better at explaining gendered differences in motivation or trauma. Another aspect that enhances the value of risk assessment tools is if they are utilised continuously. Assessing someone’s risks and needs often occurs once they are sentenced and incarcerated. However, individuals and circumstances change, and those who receive non-custodial sentences need to be assessed too.
During the presentation, several challenges to successful rehabilitation were also discussed. Firstly, there often exist different perceptions about the goal of the rehabilitation process among the various stakeholders. Whether it is deradicalisation or disengagement, the specific aim and division of roles should be clarified, for example, via multiagency information-sharing platforms. This also allows for the appointment of a first responder should any issues arise. In preparation for such circumstances, it is recommended to rehearse scenarios with security and defence actors and civil society. Another challenge is that it is hard to incorporate expertise from those FTFs who successfully rehabilitated simply because few of them had similar experiences. Some were active in the 80s in Afghanistan, while others only acted domestically. But there is still an important role for peers within the community.
There is an undeniable need for the rebuilding of positive social relations which go beyond immediate family members. This means that the individual should be surrounded by associates, friends or faith leaders who are not radicalised. Consequently, there is a vital task for the relevant community and/or religious leaders, who can help the community work through this together with the individual. They can do so by discussing the themes that matter to the community itself, ranging from the role of restorative justice to shame and honour. Additionally, there might be a need for community mediation between the person and their family. Important to note is that acceptance is not the goal. Instead, this mediation aims to enable cognitive behavioural change due to the realisation of how one’s actions affected their loved ones. This also implies the need for public-private partnerships, especially regarding aftercare.
David Hansen, who is part of RAN, has been working on preventing radicalisation in prison. In that context, an important role is that of the correctional and probation officers. In Norway, most prisoners have a ‘contact-officer’, who is a correctional guard that is assigned to two or three prisoners. They work one-on-one with inmates, which increases the dynamic security within correctional facilities.
Despite the work of these officers, however, the security within several prisons is no longer up to the standard of what has come to be known as Scandinavian exceptionalism. This is predominantly the consequence of increased issues with inmates with far-right extremist beliefs, gangs, and gang violence.
This issue also affects the violent extremist offender (VEO) population, as Norway utilises a dispersal model. This means that in most cases VEO is spread throughout different prisons and security levels, rather than residing within separate environments or wings. A quarter of VEO partakes in a voluntary mentoring scheme that aims to guide them toward disengagement. Be that as it may, it is unclear whether this program is effective because of the confidential nature of the conversations. Additionally, past analyses have returned mixed results.
Other external factors could also help explain the lack of clear results. Among these might be the import model that is used to provide several services. For example, there is no culture of structured professional judgements or regular visits of imams, as the main focus is still on radical Islam. Psychological services, such as risk assessment but also cognitive-behavioural therapy, are outsourced to external organisations. Also, several low-security prisons were closed in the past few years, which means that more people are directly released from higher security facilities into society. This undermines the power of religion and inmate management through dynamic security as deradicalisation tools within prisons.
Many thanks to all who contributed to this event’s success, and we look forward to sharing more news on upcoming project activities in the near future!