The Muslim Weekly 24 - 30 AUG 2007
A new programme in Saudi Arabia is offering young terrorists rehabilitation from a life of violence in the name of jihad.
A Saudi government-sanctioned programme has been launched to reverse the terrorist way of thinking with success already shown.
Ahmed al-Shayea is recovering not only from being a member of al-Qa’ida, but from the burns over most of his body and missing fingers that are the result of an attack he carried out three years ago in Baghdad, it was reported.
Al-Shayea is among the newest members to join hundreds of other fighters, including detainees released from Guantanamo Bay, at a halfway house located on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Al Janderea.
"I would like to say to the American people that Islam forbids killing innocent people," said the deprogrammed al-Shayea through an interpreter.
Al-Shayea had dreamed of being a suicide bomber like the ones he saw in al-Qa’ida propaganda videos.
He was unemployed, 19 years old and lured to Baghdad by a school friend.
He nearly blew himself up while driving a tanker filled with explosives outside the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad. The attack killed nine Iraqis.
He ratted out his al-Qa’ida handlers, including the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who had flown al-Shayea and 23 other Saudis to Damascus, provided them safe houses in Syria and then smuggled them into Iraq.
"No doubt, they used me as a tool to kill innocent people," he said of his handlers.
Al-Shayea and other inmates say the Internet is much to blame for their indoctrination.
Twenty-year-old Saddam Saleh said he got his fatwa, the religious edict that serves as marching orders, from a questionable cleric who he found over the Internet.
"That is what caused all this problem that I am in right now," he said.
The former jihadists are given a second chance through the three-year-old programme sponsored by the Saudi interior ministry.
During their recovery, the men stay in a rehabilitation centre.
The staff use art therapy, sports and reading to rehabilitate the "students" through a "12-step programme."
Among their lessons is a new education about Islam.
"We tell them that they should give the right picture of Islam. They should not kill or bomb or do anything against Islam," said Dr. Ahmad Hamad Jilan of the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs.
Jilan and other instructors teach the inhabitants that jihad should not be waged against any non-Muslims with whom an Islamic nation has a truce or peace treaty.
Jihad must also be approved, he said, by the state.
Some al-Qa’ida members just need an attitude adjustment, argued the psychiatrist for the Interior Ministry.
Sociologist Hameed Kahaleel said many of the inmates had social problems before they were lured by jihad, but they know now it was a mistake for which they are repenting.
"We want to reintegrate them again into society," said Kahaleel, noting they've already had some successes.
"We have some examples outside. Now they are in the universities. They are in jobs. They are married. Some of them even have children. So, this programme has been successful in this area."
As Saleh put it: "I regret strongly for what I had done because unfortunately I was instead of building Islam, I was destroying Islam."
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