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Deradicalizing Islamist Extremists

NCJ Number
Angel Rabasa; Stacie L. Pettyjohn; Jeremy J. Ghez; Christopher Boucek
Date Published
244 pages
This study identified and analyzed the processes through which militants leave Islamist extremist groups.
"Deradicalization" is "the process of changing an individual's belief system, rejecting the extremist ideology, and embracing mainstream values." Studies of individuals who leave gangs and criminal organizations, as well as cults, religious sects, and terrorist organizations suggest that individuals follow a similar trajectory when leaving an extremist group. This report draws a number of lessons from an examination of this trajectory. First, it is important that there be efforts to facilitate the process of disengagement during the crucial early stages of contemplation about leaving the radical organization. Whenever possible, these efforts should be timed after traumatic events have been experienced by an extremist, such as immediately after his/her arrest. Second, a government targeted by radical Islamic extremists can make disengagement more attractive by implementing counterterrorism measures that increase the costs of remaining in an extremist organization while simultaneously offering incentives that increase the benefits of leaving the terrorist group. Third, although it is important that deradicalization programs focus on convincing jailed Islamist extremists to recant their beliefs, it is equally important that these programs continue to assist freed, rehabilitated individuals in finding a job and becoming linked to a supportive environment. In addition, the ex-militant should be required to continue counseling, and his/her behavior and associations should be closely monitored. The aforementioned general lessons learned from the factors that support leaving a criminal group, however, are not sufficient to deradicalize an Islamist extremist. Leaving an Islamist group implies the rejection of a radical ideology, particularly the obligation to participate in armed struggle as a religious obligation. The articulation of theologically grounded imperatives for renouncing violence by credible authorities is an important factor in reinforcing the decision to leave the group. 6 figures, 3 tables, and a bibliography with approximately 250 listings