Deradicalization Conference Ends With Better Understanding of Terror Threat: Official

Razlan Rashid
160126_MY_IDC_WRAP_620.jpg A woman holds a placard reading “Terrorism Enemy of all Beliefs” during a vigil at the scene of a terrorist attack the day before that left eight people dead in downtown Jakarta, Jan. 15, 2016.

Top officials from Asia, the United States and Europe wrapped up two days of counterterrorism talks on Tuesday with a better understanding of the terrorism threat and acknowledging a need to make their deradicalization programs more comprehensive, according to a top official from host Malaysia.

Experts participating with the officials at the International Conference on Deradicalization and Countering Violent Extremism 2016 in Kuala Lumpur had called for a review of the programs to deradicalize potential attackers and jailed terrorists, saying they were not effective enough.

Some experts said the programs were not based on thorough research and lacked participation from local communities. Others called for a review of rehabilitation of convicted terrorists or detained terror suspects awaiting trial in prisons.

"We have developed a deeper understanding of this [terrorism] threat and a greater sense of mission," Malaysia's deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said in his closing address on Tuesday, emphasizing greater international cooperation to deal with what is the world's number one security problem.

"We have come closer to identifying its many motivations and misconceived objectives, and a new appreciation of how, in so many ways, we can work together to deal with its varied casual factors and consequential devastating effects," he said.

Zahid said countries fighting the terror threat "must ensure the effectiveness" of their rehabilitation programs by including "all parties," citing particularly "a very real need to engage and reengage our youth."


The Kuala Lumpur meeting came less than two weeks after an attack by the Islamic State (IS) militant group in the Indonesian capital Jakarta which left four civilians and four attackers dead. The incident followed IS attacks in Paris in November, which killed 130 people.

Ministers and officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the 10-member bloc’s strategic partners – the United States, France, Australia, Britain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, China and Italy – attended the meeting

Sidney Jones, a senior international conflict analyst, told the conference that "the biggest weakness of most deradicalization programs is that they have not emerged from a thorough study of where and how radicalization takes place."

Jones, who heads the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), said research is not a guarantee that programs would be successful, but those not based on concrete data are almost guaranteed to fail.

She said that the emergence of IS had helped focus attention of deradicalization with a particular interest in counter-narratives on social media but not many new ideas have been put forward, even as more Indonesians, including some teenagers, leave to join the group in fighting in Syria.

Among those killed in fighting in the city of Ramadi last month was a 15-year-old Indonesian from East Java.

At least two of the attackers in the Jakarta bombings were former prison inmates who had served their sentences and been released, indicating possible weakness in the prison rehabilitation process.

A clash of ideas

Delegates called for greater attention to rehabilitation of convicted terrorists and terror suspects awaiting trial in prisons.

In Thailand, for example, the number of terrorism suspects in overcrowded prisons in the country is growing, affecting the management and rehabilitation of inmates, an official from a government-funded institute said.

Most of the suspects are believed held in Thailand's insurgency-torn south, where rebels in Muslim-majority provinces bordering Malaysia have launched bomb attacks and shootings since 2004, targeting mostly troops or police but also civilians.

“The overcrowding in correctional facilities has a major impact on the available space and limited resources to provide them with the proper treatment programs and activities,” said Thailand’s Institute of Justice (TIJ) Deputy Executive Director Nathee Chitsawang.

Although more than 50 percent of prisoners in Thailand are drugs-related offenders, “the situation seems to be getting worse when the number of terrorists in prison has continued growing,” he said.

Nathee said most prisons were not designed to hold terror suspects, adding that “the correctional settings have to be specially designed and planned for terrorist inmates.”

Nathee also called for harmonization in the deradicalization programs inside and outside Thai prisons.

He said the majority of prisoners in southern Thai provinces are held together with terror suspects.

“The segregation of treatment can help to prevent them from recruiting more members among the prisoners,” he said.

Mohamed Ali, the vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group in Singapore, said it was important for governments and Muslim communities to recognize that defeating terrorist and extreme groups require an "ideological weapon."

"It is not a war against Islam, but a war against any misinterpretation and misunderstanding of Islam," he said. "It is not a clash of civilization but a clash of ideas that has divided the world into peace and war."


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