A SCOTTISH terrorism expert has called for more meaningful efforts to be made to reintegrate former terrorists into society.
Dr Sarah Marsden, a lecturer at the University of St Andrews, also argued current policy hampers efforts to protect the public from future attacks.
Recent UK proposals to deal with the threat include forced attendance at deradicalisation programmes, strengthening Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIM) and banning UK citizens from leaving the country or returning if suspected of involvement in terrorism.
But Dr Marsden claimed in a newly published study that more individualised approaches could yield more successful, long-term results.
And she suggested the UK government’s increasingly heavy-handed response to the terrorist threat was undermining efforts to successfully reintegrate former extremists.
She said: “Ignoring the interconnected aspects of someone’s life, their interpersonal relations and interaction with wider society overlooks the complex interplay of internal and external influences on extremist behaviour.”
Existing approaches to “deradicalisation” tend to look for specific indicators of risk, such as someone having an attachment to an ideology justifying violence or accessing extremist material.
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However, this fails to consider the “bigger picture”, or take the holistic, individualised approach necessary to support reintegration, she warned.
She added: “Focusing heavily on deradicalisation ignores, or at best underplays, the context into which someone is being reintegrated. As well as a willingness by the former terrorist to renounce extremism, society has to be willing to allow them to reintegrate on a personally meaningful level.”
Faced by increasing terrorist threats and attacks, the rehabilitation of extremists has fallen in and out of favour since first proposed in 2008.
With concern mounting over fighters returning from Syria and Iraq, plus the rising number of people being released from prison following terrorism convictions, Dr Marsden said the need to reintegrate extremists was “acute and growing”. At the end of their prison terms, those convicted of terrorism offences were generally released under supervision.
Dr Marsden – a lecturer in terrorism studies at the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St Andrews – pointed to the benefits of a less punitive approach.
She said: “While work with people convicted of terrorism offences is in its infancy in this country and further afield efforts are being made to encourage disengagement from terrorism and instigate effective deradicalisation initiatives.
“Denmark has developed a particularly innovative approach, delivering social support to people returning from Syria to facilitate reintegration, which may prove to be a more promising alternative.”
While Dr Marsden said it was difficult to address issues of reintegration in the wake of the recent Charlie Hebdo terror attacks in Paris, extremists convicted of training and facilitating terrorism will spend less time in prison than those convicted of more serious offences, and will return to society on release.
“As with all offenders, it is the responsibility of the criminal justice system to not only punish and deter extremists, but also to rehabilitate,” she added.