The Need for Effective Intervention Programs to Prevent Islamic Extremists and Terrorist Recruitment in Western Countries with Special Emphasis on Canada

By July 2, 2015 No Comments

Increasingly over the last decade the world has witnessed more frequent acts of terrorism, reaching a crescendo since Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL; also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS], or the Islamic State [IS]) appeared on the scene. ISIL engages in “direct marketing techniques” with social media videos soliciting participants among local citizenry. Many non-Western countries, such as Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and Israel have been most dramatically affected. However, terrorist attacks targeting Western nations are now also being commissioned by the ISIL. It has been reported that there were approximately 10,000 fatalities from 2,800 attacks in 2013 alone (Pipes, 2015). Refugees are now counted in the millions. It would be reasonable to suggest that the 2014 tally will be much higher. These attacks have a far reaching impact extending well beyond the victims of the attacks and their families. Many people from all around the world could be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) just from watching the news footage of these attacks. Indeed, a French pharmacist reported that the consumption of anxiety medication rose by 20% nationwide (Gurfinkiel, 2015) since France’s 9/11 (the terrorists who murdered journalists, police, and civilians in France in January 2015).

Australia, Canada, and other European countries have been targeted for terrorists’ attacks during the last few of months. On 20 October 2014 in Quebec, Canada, Martin Couture-Rouleau drove his car into two military men, killing a Warrant Officer and wounding his colleague. Police stated that the terrorist, who perpetrated this act, was radicalized after converting to Islam (Waugh & Douglas, 2014). A few of days later, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, another convert to Islam, shot an unarmed soldier at the National War Memorial and stormed the parliament buildings.  This act could have resulted in the killing of government officials and several parliamentarians, but was averted by the heroic actions of brave staff. In between these two incidents, two Canadians were convicted for terrorist’s related crimes.

Also around this period, more disturbing is the news that intelligence officials estimate around 130 Canadians have traveled abroad to fight with groups like ISIL; of this group, 80 individuals have returned home (Valdmanis, 2014). One of these young men, who was a convert to Islam, had threatened Canadians and invited other young Canadians to convert to Islam and join ISIL in its fight. Similarly, many young converts from western countries have joined ISIL.

In addition to these disturbing facts, previous research indicated that the extreme Middle Eastern religious ideologies are prevalent and growing among the Muslim communities in Europe (Bawer, 2006; Wicker, 2007; Yaseen, 2007) and other western countries. Other examples of the prevalence of the extreme ideologies among first or second generation Middle Eastern emigrants are drawn from several sources. For example, Leuprecht, Hataley, Moskalenko, and McCauley (2009) reported a 2005 UK poll of Muslims show that 5% agreed that further attacks by British suicide bombers in the UK are justified. This report also indicated that there were about 80 people actually involved in violent jihad. Other surveys showed that the British Muslims reported their primary identity as being Muslims (rather than reporting their dominant identity as British); they held more positive views toward jihad and martyrdom than their fellow citizens (Ansari et al., 2006); 13% of British Muslims believed that the persons who bombed the London subway system in July 2005 were Martyrs for Islam; and 49% believed that the U.S. military actions in Iraq were an attack against Islam (Wicker, 2007). Consistent with these research findings, Canadian research indicates the prevalence of Middle Eastern extremist ideologies among samples from western and non-western countries (Ahmed, Audu, Loza, & Maximenco, 2013; Loza, 2010a; Loza, 2010b; Loza, El-Fatah, Prinsloo, Hesslink, & Seidler, 2011). More recently, results of a Canadian study conducted by Loza, Bhawanie, Nussbaum, & Maximenco (2013) indicated significant differences between new Muslim immigrants to Canada from Pakistan and their Christian countrymen on all subscales that measure extremist ideologies, political, religious beliefs. Particularly unsettling was the finding that the highest difference occurred on the subscale reflecting the condoning of jihad. Consistent with these figures, Fatah (2014a) reported that the problem of radicalization is widely entrenched and embedded among Somali, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani Canadians. Unfortunately, the prevalence of these ideologies may have contributed to the home grown terrorism that we have seen of late.

Research also indicates the prevalence of extreme Middle Eastern ideologies among incarcerated offenders (Loza, 2010b) and support the concerns expressed by several Western prison administrators regarding the trend of radicalizing offenders while they are serving sentences in Western prisons. The results of this study are reinforced by the recent terrorist’s attacks in Paris. Said Kouachi, Cherif Kouachi, and Amedy Coulibaly, the radicalized Islamic terrorists who murdered journalists, police, and civilians in Paris spent time in jails. Similarly, other terrorists such as Mohammed Merah (Toulouse, France Massacre 2012) Alton Nolen (the Oklahoma beheading), Michael Zehaf Bibeau (attack on Canadian Parliament) and Carlos Bledsoe (Arkansas Army Recruiting Station) were released from prison before committing their ideologically-motivated and heinous acts. Indeed, the entire ISIL command and control structure was formulated by its leaders, including its emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, while incarcerated in Camp Bucca prison in Iraq. All were subsequently released when the prison was turned over to Iraqi officials (Dunleavy, 2015).

The above information demonstrates that Canada, and other Western countries, are in need of a comprehensive plan, which includes two components: one for preventing extremism/terrorism and the other for intervening/rehabilitating convicted terrorists. However, a review of the available information indicates that Canada lacks effective plans and strategies for designing and implementing meaningful prevention and rehabilitative intervention for potential extremists/terrorists and convicted terrorists.


There are two known programs in existence in Canada today.[1]One program was designed by Muhammed Robert Heft, a convert to Islam, as a 3-step de-radicalization program for radical Muslim Canadians. Through this program Heft has, “helped many youth who have turned towards radicalization and brought them away from that destructive state.” Commentators have also noted that, “The R.C.M.P. and other Canadian policing agencies acknowledge and recognize his work in de-radicalization and counter terrorism.” Heft is also responsible for starting, “the development of CAN-Bridge, whose goal is to facilitate a more formal and successful relationship between Western governments and Muslim communities,” and, “Amongst many of its services, CAN-Bridge will help with outreach; develop de-radicalization programs, training, workshops and seminars for both Muslim communities and government agencies alike.” It is also reported that he developed the, “‘12-Step Extremist Detox Program’ that is being offered at a Toronto mosques for young Islamic radicals who are sympathetic to the terrorist group al Qaeda [sic].”

The second program was developed by Sayyid Ahmed Amiruddin as a 12-step radicalization prevention program.[2] Further to this, Amiruddin has appeared before the special senate committee on anti‐terrorism (Parliament of Canada, Ottawa, October 4, 2010) on a method of psycho-spiritual rehabilitation therapy that he developed based on the Sufi approach, and applied his methodology to create a twelve-step radicalization prevention program. He reported that over 50 mosques and Islamic organizations throughout Canada have since privately endorsed his de‐radicalization program to their congregations. Amiruddin claimed that a number of his clients underwent a radicalization process and were successfully recruited for the “jihad against Canada.” He reported that his program utilizes the services of psychologists and psychiatrists, and that his program deals with: “hyper-religiousity, which is a diagnosed system of bi-polar disorder treated with prescription drugs”; decreasing in anti-Semitism (which they found to be a main driver in radicalization); and in reducing anti‐Western attitude and “increase participation in our democratic process.” Amiruddin also reported that his program works, and that they are confident it will save lives and is of benefit to all Canadians.

Amiruddin further stated that one of the:

“primary signatures of those individuals who are receptive to extremist manipulation, is their rejection, for example, of Sufism as a discipline within Islam altogether. Those groups within, generally, the Sunni group that may have literature available to their congregations, which may actually be conducive to radicalization, they of course would reject our arguments [sic].”

He also stated that, “by the time an individual completes the 12 steps of our program, the traces and vestiges of extremism are wholly uprooted from them.”

Amiruddin believes one way of measuring the success of his program, “would be definitely the media and occurrences of terrorist or home‐grown terrorist cases [sic].” He stated that another would be, “by working closely with partners and the police, any reports or complaints they want to share with us as a community‐based organization. Another way is through surveys and different privately obtained data that we would carry out within the community.” During the senate hearing, one of the senators hailed this program as “an excellent program” and that, “the program is a logical solution to preventing radicalization.”

From the available information there are many questions to be asked about the above mentioned Canadian programs prior to judging them as “excellent” or as presenting, “a logical solution to preventing radicalization.” For example, it is not clear how the candidates are identified, or what the referral and selection process is. Additional questions include: what is the program content?; What is being delivered?; What are the methods of delivery?; What are the qualifications of the program designer(s) and delivery staff beside being a convert to Islam or an Imam?; How is the program designed?; What are the program components?; and, Is every participant diagnosed as suffering from bi-polar disorder and treated with prescription drugs? In the absence of an independent content evaluation and objective outcome data, it is hard to evaluate the efficacy of these programs as all of these questions and more are left unanswered. It is also concerning that the staff administering these programs are not from the Middle East, and have no firsthand information about the Middle Eastern culture, values, and political systems. In addition, the second program is administered by an Imam who is — according to him — a Sunni Sufi Muslim authority in the Naqshbandi Sufi Order (personal communication). This explains the Imam’s testimony that the radicalized Sunni’s, “of course would reject our arguments.”


Recently it was reported that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is planning to implement a program called “Prevent” that is currently used in England (a brief description of this program is sited below). Beside the shaky history and numerous serious criticisms of this program, it is entirely premature to predict how effective this program would be in Canada, given the different profile for extremists between the two countries and the different socioeconomic backgrounds (Valdmanis, 2014).


From personal experience and from available information, it is evident that the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC; the Canadian federal penitentiary system) does not have a program specifically designed to rehabilitate incarcerated terrorists. It is worth noting that Ali Mohamed Dirie—one of the Toronto 18 who served a total of seven years for his part in the plot to blow up Parliament and attack politicians—managed to leave Canada while on conditional release, joined ISIL, and was reportedly killed there.


The Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security (CCRS)[3] consists of 15 citizens appointed by the Ministers of Public Safety and Justice to advise the Government of Canada on matters relating to national security. The members of the CCRS are community leaders who have extensive experience in social and cultural matters, but are members of the CCRS as individuals. Members of this committee have outstanding credentials and expertise; however, it seems that the majority of them are not originally from the Middle East and that their hands-on knowledge of Middle Eastern politics, culture, values, language, and history is minimal. None of them could be considered a religious authority in Sunni Islam or expert on extremism/terrorism.



The “Prevent” program is one of the four “P’s” that make up the government’s post 9/11 counter-terrorism strategy: Prepare for attacks, Protect the public, Pursue the attackers and Prevent their radicalization in the first place.[4] The “Prevent” program has been widely criticized as ineffective, and despite millions of pounds spent, the strategy remains deeply controversial and the program is virtually impossible to fully assess and incapable of achieving its goals. Recent reports indicate that this program has failed to stop the flow of British fighters joining Islamic State. The program was overhauled in 2011 after it found some of its projects unwittingly funded by groups that supported extremist ideologies. The efforts have failed to stop the flow of British fighters joining the Islamic State (Valdmanis, 2014).


Since 1928 Egypt has witnessed many terror attacks committed by Muslim extremist Jema’a Islamia, and Jihad’s group. Egypt is probably the first in the world to develop methods of dealing with terrorism. In the 1990s the government adopted two strategies for dealing with these groups. The first was harsh and included military courts, hanging, lengthy detention of members of Muslim extremists’ groups. The second was a soft approach, which included religious leaders, where some leaders of the ex-members visited detainees and inmates to convince them to abandon violence and build peace. In 1997, Egypt’s two fiercest Islamic terrorist groups renounced the use of violence (Rashwan, 2009, Blaydes and Rubin, 2008; Zena, 2002). The Egypt program died with the passing of time. However, the events of July 2013 followed the Brotherhood being ousted from power. Unprecedented violence followed subsequently at the hands of Muslim Brotherhood, with thousands killed and maimed, with government and other properties destroyed, and 60-80 churches burned. All of this indicate that Egypt’s strategies for combating extreme Islamic terrorism were not effective.

Saudi Arabia:

Riyadh’s Care Rehabilitation Center is an institution that integrates convicted terrorists into Saudi society through religious re-education, psychological counseling, and assistance in finding a job, vocational training, art therapy, sports, and religious re-education. The program aims to address underlying factors that led the individual to choose terrorism. Beneficiaries—those participating in the program—live in dorm-style housing. There is a pool, soccer field, volleyball court, PlayStation, television, and an art therapy facility. Participants’ families are also recruited as a source for their recovery. The guiding philosophy, the leaders of the program explain, is that jihadist are victims, not villains, and they need tailored assistance (El-Saeed, 2010; Gunaratna 2011; Stern, 2009(. It is reported that a former Guantanamo detainee who was enrolled in the program took off for Yemen and became the deputy leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen. Furthermore, the Saudi government reported that eleven of the Riyadh’s “graduates” returned to terror, and are now on the Saudi list of most-wanted terrorists. (Gunaratna, 2011, Stern, 2009). Fatah (2014a) reported that everyone released from Guantanamo under Saudi Arabia guarantee is now fighting with ISIS.


Singapore’s program offer their detainees a combination of psychological, vocational, counselling and rehabilitation programs. “The most powerful is religious rehabilitation. Religious rehabilitation has the power to unlock the mind of a detainee or an inmate. It has the power to make a beneficiary of rehabilitation repent, become remorseful and re-enter the mainstream”.

The wives also receive counselling and the whole family is provided with social and community assistance (Gunaratna, 2011).


The Indonesians utilize ex-terrorists as central part of their disengagement process. They utilize former leaders to prevent radicalization of Indonesian youth. One of the former leaders explains to captured terrorists how they have ‘‘misunderstood’’ the Islamic struggle and ‘‘the meaning of Jihad.” Also, he challenges detainees’ Islamic justifications for armed action against civilians. The lack of transparency surrounding official statistics about program success call their statistics into question (Horgan & Braddock, 2010)


Yemen’s program is administered by the Religious Dialogue Committee (RDC). To achieve attitude change, the RDC debates with those captured and imprisoned. The RDC challenge militants on their understanding of the verses of the Quran. Discussion includes: the place of jihad in Islam and its justifications; the relations of the Muslims and others; and the concept of the State, government, and ruler rights within Islam. The head of the RDC claims that after weeks of debate, if the prisoners renounce violence and, if applicable, the terror groups they were part of, they are released and offered vocational training and help finding employment. Most claims of success—if not all—come directly from the RDC.

Most skepticism of the RDC’s success rates is surrounding their highly subjective views about what constitutes terrorism as opposed to ‘‘legitimate resistance,” which can skew program results. Recent years have seen the RDC’s achievements called into question. An attack on the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a with two or three of the attackers allegedly graduates of RDC’s program is not a good indication of this program’s reported success (Hogan & Braddock, 2010).


Although all programs claim success, the main focus among all of these programs is commonly on religion. They are not adhering to the principles of effective correctional programming, not designed and deliver by experts in human behaviour, and have no proper or systematic evaluation.

After 9/11 Canadian professionals (mostly non-clinicians) ventured into the complex field of Middle Eastern extremism despite their most important credential only being an Imam, a Sheekh, or a convert to Islam. Having a superficial knowledge of this topic has hindered progress towards designing and delivering effective programs. For the last decade, they have presented themselves as experts and even developed intervention programs. Unfortunately, very few of these so-called experts possess the necessary background to undertake these tasks. The majority have acquired their knowledge through news media and books. The involvement of these pseudo-experts has been causing—and will continue to cause—more harm than good. Many salient issues related to Middle Eastern extremism are alien to western culture and, consequently, not easily grasped by westerners through theoretical means. Most of these experts are at the disadvantage of not having in-depth, first hand understanding or knowledge of the history, culture, ideologies, values, language, religion, history, ethnicity, regions, customs, and political and social backgrounds of the dominant or minority Middle East populations (Loza, 2012). Political correctness and over sensitivity regarding addressing religious issues are factors that hamper serious contribution from concerned and credible researchers (Loza, 2007).

To build a global regime to rehabilitate terrorists, governments with the expertise and resources need to pave the way and create a path for other nations to follow. Every successful program requires a long-term investment of intellectual and other resources. The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) is a world leader in the development and implementation of correctional programming. All CSC programs are designed using the principles of risk, need, and responsivity, and have demonstrated effectiveness. Therefore, it is opined that the CSC have the knowledge, resources, and commitment needed to develop programming to combat terrorism that is not heavily loaded with religious components. It should be noted that the content of terrorism programming is different from other current CSC programs; indeed, our expertise and resources make the CSC qualified to take on this ambitious endeavor.


Prior to implementation, the programs must be subject to rigorous studies and must be peer reviewed to ensure their efficacy. These programs must include strong periodic and end-of-program evaluation components for each participant to measure progress against program targets. In addition, there must be follow-up components so progress of participants can be tracked over time. Programs must be sensitive to the Canadian culture, values, beliefs, and community characteristics.

Prior to commencing any form of programming, each individual must complete an assessment process. This assessment will include information gathering regarding psychosocial history and an estimated level of risk for recidivism should the individual not receive treatment. This assessment is vital to the success of any program as it will allow the clinicians to tailor the program to each individual terrorist/extremist as each of their circumstances will differ. The makeup of terrorists’/extremists’ personalities, backgrounds, and circumstances differ and, as such, no specific program will fit for all. Therefore, it is vital that programs used with this population have two components: a group component (that will benefit all participants) and an individual counselling component (that is designed to cover the terrorist’s specific needs).

In order to fully address the growing issue of terrorism in Canada and the west, two programs are needed: one to prevent new recruitments into terrorist organizations, and a second to rehabilitate convicted terrorists.


The internet has been playing an important role in the recruitment of new terrorists. Counter-recruitment/prevention programs need to be proactive. There may be a need to initiate internet sites to expose and challenge the extreme ideologies, and to help with early identification of possible terrorists to engage with them or intervene. To my knowledge, no country has yet to implement a counter-attack policy using the same methods as terrorist organizations use to entice youth to join their cause. The conjoined interactivity of electronic and visual media seems to be the most compelling combination of conversion tools utilized by terrorist organizations. For example, Jack Roche of Australia made a conversion decision to follow jihad after viewing a video of alleged atrocities suffered by Muslims, similar to what occurred in Indonesia (Hairgrove & Mcleod, 2008). Identical methods are used in Canada and other parts of the world, including websites, chat boards, games, hip-hop bands, and blogs. These could be extremely effective components of a prevention program by helping expose and challenge extreme ideologies, provide early identification of possible terrorists, and intervene with them.

In addition, program designers must pay attention to the importance of developing group cohesion. This has been utilized by terrorist recruiters through small groups, as they provide mutual emotional and social support, development of common identity, and encourage members to adopt new faith positions (Hairgrove and McLeod, 2008; Sageman, 2004).Government and nongovernment agencies could support the development of small groups’ teaching materials by using credible teachers and multiple languages made available through Muslim book distributors, or free for online download (a similar recommendation was offered by Rabasa, Benard, Schwartz, and Sickle (2007)). It is important that such materials be made simple enough to produce small-sized files, which can be efficiently transmitted over limited-capacity internet channels

Those who are at risk for adopting a new faith usually do so because they are looking to try new things, are looking for change, are bored, want a way out of their routine life, are looking for acceptance, want to be different, looking for fulfillment or status, camaraderie, and self-actualization. Something about the new religion resonated within them. The precipitating “need state” is often preceded by some disturbing or troubling event such as loss of a job, loss of a relationship, or other personal problems (Loza, 2007). Some of these individuals could be prevented from joining violent terrorist organizations if these needs were fulfilled through prevention programs that include counselling. Additionally, Horgan and Braddock (2010) suggested encouraging youth-at-risk for joining violent groups to join a non-violent Islamic network could allow them to achieve the benefits they were seeking from group membership without the requirements to engage in jihad.


The most successful offender rehabilitation models focus on the individual offender, with intervention based on an assessment of what caused the offender to commit the crime. The ideal model includes prison-based rehabilitation programs, followed in turn by transitional services, and community after-care services (Stern, 2009). Rehabilitation programs must deal with the motivation, risk, needs, and responsivity of each individual convicted terrorist (Andrews, 2001). Loza (2007) warned that extremism and terrorism are increasing and there is an urgent need for a multifaceted research and rehabilitation programs that utilize several disciplines to help with possible solutions to the problem. As well, offering correctional staff training on Middle Eastern extremist ideologies could help with the rehabilitations efforts. De-radicalization efforts are complicated endeavors. There must be appropriate intervention for offenders who have been convicted for Islamist extremism/terrorism one that focuses on targeting extremist beliefs and ideologies, attitudes, attributions, behavior, thinking with follow up/maintenance programs.

Regarding staffing, there is a need for a team of professionals including a Muslim cleric (Imam/Sheik) who is qualified to offer religious counselling and is well-versed in the issues related to Middle Eastern extremism/terrorism (M.E.T). As well, the team should include a psychologist with expertise in the culture, language, ideologies, religious back ground of the offenders, and someone who has a good understanding of issues related to M.E.T. Not every Imam or psychologist will be able to provide the required counselling. Since the majority of religious programing did not produce the desired results, new programs are needed with good portion of these programs focusing on psychological intervention.

Program Content:

Programs must address extremists’ Middle Eastern ideologies that promote Jihad, establishing Kalifat political system, superiority, the general negative feelings, thinking, beliefs, motivations, and cognitions about the groups of people whom terrorists/extremists are against, as well individualized counselling that covers the specific needs of each terrorist/extremist.

Program Staff:

It is imperative that appropriate staff be selected to deliver the two programs. Appropriate staff include those who understand the Middle Eastern culture and values. Imams may not be the best option for taking a leading role in rehabilitation programs as they may not be good option to deal with those who have already become radicalized (Fatah, 2014a); indeed, sometimes those who are radicalized reject anti-jihadi Imams as heretics. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood rejected counselling from religious leaders and Imams. They accused them of being much too close to the authority. However, interventions operated by former members of the group may have a greater chance of successful engagement with members as former members have credibility with current members, and have detailed knowledge of the motivations and aims of the group. All program staff should be thoroughly trained, and clinical supervision should be provided. According to Andrews (2001), the most important element in a successful program is the qualification and training of the people delivering the programs.

It is suggested that staff designing and delivering programs be thoroughly knowledgeable about ideological contexts, the history, culture, ideology, values, language, religions, ethnicity, region customs, and political and social backgrounds of the population in question prior to undertaking assessments or designing interventions for extremists/terrorists. This would involve physically spending years of living in different countries of the Middle East. Not every Muslim or converted Muslim is expert in assessing and providing interventions for terrorists. Besides acquiring the necessary knowledge about terrorism, it takes years of studies and learning about program designs and counselling to become a qualified expert. Many programs look good on paper because they utilize an Imam or converted Imam with little or no training in psychology or program design and implementation; however, they yield questionable results as they do not utilize the expertise of qualified staff.

Program components should include countering extreme ideologies with other ideologies that are not religiously based. These may make terrorists interests and views more balanced and promote more loyalty to their current countries and their democratic political system. Perhaps most fundamentally, we need to educating western populations and politicians about the ideologies of extremists and their dangerous consequences, counter the extremist strategy of isolation, and the notion of “them” vs. “us” by increasing and strengthening integration and assimilation policies. In practice, this will involve avoiding the notion of cultural uniqueness as a means to isolate groups through separate and exclusive school systems, cultural neighbourhoods, and the monitoring of teachings in religious institutions. Politically unpopular, it will be necessary to rethink immigration and refugee policies with the goal of balancing the ratio of immigrants according to religion, mandating total loyalty to their newly adopted countries, countering the