Saudis Offer Pioneering Therapy for Ex-Jihadists

March 9, 2008

Author: Jason Burke

Source: The Guardian/The Observer

Tomorrow a young man in traditional white robe and headdress will walk out through the iron gates of an anonymous low-rise compound down a gravel lane behind a Lebanese restaurant, 30 minutes' drive from the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh.

Ali Saeed al-Ghatani, 17, will head home to the resort town of Abha - four months after he was arrested making an attempt to join Iraqi militants fighting American forces. His incarceration may have been brief, but it will have been long enough for him to realise he had 'taken the wrong path'. 'I was angry and I was seeking adventure,' he said. 'Now all I want is to study and get married.'

In a few weeks or so it should be the turn of Hizam al-Ghatani to walk through the gates. Hizam, who has spent three years in prison and three months in the compound, went much further than Saeed, spending months fighting American forces near the Iraqi town of Falluja. Yet he too now insists he is reformed. 'I am a very emotional man and I did not have a good understanding of Islam,' he said. 'Now I realise the wrong I did to my country and my family.'

The compound is the latest weapon of the Saudi Arabian government in the 'war on terror', a rehabilitation centre where young men spend months being 'deradicalised'. The two al-Ghatanis will leave behind another 12 or so inmates - or 'students' as the psychologists, sociologists and clerics working with them prefer - who also travelled, or tried to travel, to Iraq. Under treatment are another dozen men who have recently been repatriated from Guantánamo Bay. No one will leave the centre until they are deemed no further threat to society.