Jail: Jihad’s New Recruitment Center

Jail: Jihad’s New Recruitment Center

By Tamara Dickey

Reintegration of ex-Violent Extremists (VE) rarely occurs without intervention programs, many of which include forms of deradicalization and/or disengagement from terrorist organizations.  Most often states’ primary engagement with VEs is when they are detained or in prison.  Unfortunately, a broad general analysis of prisons has shown that many lack policies, capacity, and intention in their role on Countering Violent Extremists (CVE).  Prisons, in both Western and non-Western states, have recently been identified as incubators for terrorist if detainees and prisoners are not handled tactically.  Detention centers, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, have also been coined terrorist universities (Thompson), pressure cookers for extremism, and centers for jailhouse Islam.

The structure and organization of prisons and detention centers has been identified as a key problem in Countering Violent Extremists (CVE), mainly the issue of consolidating large groups of offenders together.  By grouping vulnerable low level offenders with already radicalized VEs the manifestation of mass radicalization was allowed to transpire.  According to a prison guard who spoke to the New York Times, training and the capacity for controlling this particular environment of potential radicalization did not occur.  “We are not really trained or prepared in any way to deal with religious radicalism […]. If we have such a hard time regulating something as simple as cigarettes, how do you expect us to regulate something as abstract as ideas, as religion” (Thompson).

In the case of these detention centers, prison authorities were ill equipped to understand the radicalization process.  Guards lacked the training and expertise to control the radicalization efforts within the centers.  Prison infrastructure and the capacity to handle massive numbers of detainees was also a critical problem. Coalition prisons, as an example, soon became a free training ground for recruitment and radicalization.

Critics have pointed to high profile cases of terrorists who can be traced back to detention centers and prisons, as examples of failed CVE actions.  For example:

  • 9 members of the Islamic State’s top command were held at Camp Bucca, a detention center that struggled with rapid radicalization of detainees (Barrett 20).
  • Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, the brothers responsible for the violent assault on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo are suspected of being radicalized in a French prison (Temple-Raston).
  • Department of National Intelligence estimates that 30% of Guantanamo Bay detainees, both confirmed and suspected re-engagement, have “re-engaged” with terrorist groups (“Summery of the Reengagement of Detainees Formally Held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba”).

Analysis of United States’ detention centers in the Middle East found gross overpopulation, as well as a lack of policy regarding detainee radicalization and reintegration as a leading problem in recidivism.  Andrew Thompson, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom wrote in a New York Times article “the United States must convince its regional partners to avoid mixing radicals and moderates, and provide alternatives to prison for small-scale criminals. If we continue to replay the history of mass incarceration in the Middle East, we will remain stuck in the current cycle where our counterterrorism efforts create more terrorists” (Thompson).

New ideas on prison organization and policy have refocused attention on reintegration and rehabilitation verses detention.   Since, most detained or imprisoned VEs and suspected VEs are released– which can be seen in the case of 626 Guantanamo Bay detainees who have been released, repatriated, or resettled (“Guantánamo by the Numbers”)– primary focus on preventing recidivism of terrorist depends on the efforts of disengagement from terror organizations and deradicalization programs.   Combating Violent Extremist (CVE) must therefore include best practices of engaging with VEs being and continue through the detention process, which include programs for disengagement and/or deradicalization.


Work Cited:

Barrett, Richard. “The Islamic State.” The Soufan Group, 2014. http://soufangroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/TSG-The-Islamic-State-Nov14.pdf.


“Guantánamo by the Numbers.” Human Rights First. October 30, 2015. Accessed November 1, 2015. https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/gtmo-by-the-numbers.pdf.


“Summery of the Reengagement of Detainees Formally Held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” Department of National Intelligence. July 15, 2015. http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/GTMO Sept_2015.pdf.


Temple-Raston, Diana. “French Prisons Prove To Be Effective Incubators For Islamic Extremism.” NPR. January 22, 2015. Accessed November 1, 2015. http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2015/01/22/379081047/french-prisons-prove-to-be-effective-incubators-for-islamic-extremism.


Thompson, Andrew, and Jeremi Suri. “How America Helped ISIS.” The New York Times. October 2, 2014.

One thought on “Jail: Jihad’s New Recruitment Center

  1. Women’s essential contribution to peacebuilding

    Including women in peace negotiation processes is essential to sustainable DDR efforts. Throughout history, all sorts of arguments have been made to exclude women’s participation in peacebuilding: lack of negotiation skills, lack of experience, war being a men’s field and some others that have proven to be mistaken not only because it is clear war isn’t exclusively dominated by male combatants but also because women have experienced war in different roles: as victims, perpetrators and peacebuilders. In 2000, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security acknowledged the importance of including women in peacebuilding. The Security Council, urged member states to increase the representation of women at all decision-making levels for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict, and expressed its willingness to incorporate a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations and involving women in all peacekeeping and peacebuilding measures. For the first time, women’s perceptions and contributions were recognized in post-conflict scenarios. Yet, since the approval of Resolution 1325 it hasn’t always been the case that women are actively included in peacebuilding efforts. In that sense, women are still stigmatized and marginalized in their communities in a post conflict environment.

    Women tend to be the most affected during conflicts but they are also more likely to unify and advocate for peace. Besides, they have proven to create non-violent resistant strategies that enrich the creation of a peace environment. In Colombia, for example, la Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres –The Women’s Pacifist Route- is a non-violent feminist movement that has made visible the way war has affected Colombian women. Since 1996, the movement has claimed for truth and justice and has successfully transformed the idea of women perceived solely as victims of the conflict into a more active role of women being socially and politically engaged in peacebuilding. Today more than 10,000 women in Colombia belong to the Pacifist Route and without doubt one of their greatest achievements has been sensitizing society on realities that were commonly ignored. These women mobilize pacifically and originally; they usually want to ridicule war by using tactics such as dressing in vivid colors -to challenge the vision of war as a black and white subject-, they make soap bubbles to imitate war bombs and they have confronted illegal armed groups with pacific chants when they have been stopped before starting their protests in areas hard hit by the conflict.

    A clear understanding and promotion of women rights accompanied by initiatives to vindicate their rights is key to conflict and post-conflicts situations. Without those elements it is difficult to create sustainable peace.

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