Saudi Arabia claims to be winning its "war on terror" with the help of a program of re-education and rehabilitation for hundreds of repentant al-Qaeda militants once led by Osama bin Laden.
Officials in Riyadh say they have seen an 80 percent to 90 percent success rate in a "counter-radicalization" campaign designed to wean extremists off the takfiri ideology that permits the killing of fellow Muslims and motivates Saudis involved in jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some 140 members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula have died in clashes with security forces since attacks began in May 2003.
Two thousand men have been through the program, with 700 released and a negligible rate of re-offending, said General Mansour al-Turki, the government security spokesman.
Abu Suleiman, 33, has seen the error of his ways.
"I got involved in jihad when I was 20," he explained in English which he picked up during four years spent in Guantanamo Bay after his capture at Tora Bora in late 2001.
"Bin Laden is a quiet guy, but he can work magic with people when he talks," the holy warrior-turned financial analyst said. "Being in jail gives you a lot of time to think. I had good intentions. I wanted to help Muslims round the world, but I felt I was being used for other purposes. This program is working for a lot of people."
Prisoners undergo social and psychological profiling, take part in 10-week courses and are helped to find jobs and even wives as part of intensive after-care support that includes cash handouts for their families. Some refuse to participate.
"But we don't force them," al-Turki said.
The more inveterate detainees will face trials, but no major cases have yet been launched and there seems to be no hurry to start, diplomats say, underlining the sensitivity of the issue in this deeply conservative country, home to 15 of the 19 Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers. The death penalty will probably be imposed in some cases, with public beheadings in central Riyadh.
The soft approach contrasts sharply with reports of the torture of security detainees as documented by Human Rights Watch. The official Saudi account of the program cannot be independently verified, but many details are confirmed by Western diplomats, with the US and Britain keen to point to its successes.
Another "graduate" of the scheme, Abu Khaled, 25, works in civil defense after recanting during a two-year jail term served on returning from Afghanistan.
"I recognized that I made a mistake," he says. "I feel guilt and remorse for what I did."
Abdul-Rahman al-Hadlaq, a ministerial adviser, argues that although al-Qaeda has been beaten in Saudi Arabia, "military action" cannot be the only means. The "war of ideas" is being fought on Web sites based in Europe that glorify jihad and violence against "unbelievers."
Programs are in place in Saudi schools and mosques to combat extremist ideas, but the challenge now is the export of extremists, Hadlaq says.
Young people, he says, "lie to their families and say they are going to Mecca or Beirut or Dubai and later they turn up in Iraq."
‘SACRIFICED’: Hu Weifeng became the sixth doctor to die from COVID-19 at Wuhan Central Hospital, where calls to raise the alarm over the virus were suppressed The death of a Chinese doctor at Wuhan’s “whistle-blower hospital” has prompted a wave of anger at hospital authorities for not protecting front-line health workers in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. Hu Weifeng (胡衛鋒), 42, a urologist at Wuhan Central Hospital where the whistle-blower ophthalmologist Li Wenliang (李文亮) worked, died of the virus on Tuesday after a four-month battle. Hu is the sixth doctor from his hospital killed by the virus. Another doctor who spoke out, Ai Fen (艾芬), said that authorities told hospital staff not to wear protective gear so as not to cause panic and reprimanded her for “harming
RALLYING A DEFENSE: Former envoys wrote an op-ed piece defending Anna Lindstedt, who was removed for attempting to free Swedish book publisher Gui Minhai in China Sweden’s former ambassador to Beijing goes on trial in Stockholm on Friday for allegedly overstepping her mandate by trying to negotiate the release of a Chinese-Swedish dissident held in China. Anna Lindstedt is accused of brokering an unauthorized meeting during her time as ambassador to free publisher Gui Minhai (桂民海). Lindstedt — a veteran envoy who had previously represented Sweden in both Vietnam and Mexico, and acted as Sweden’s chief negotiator at the 2015 climate summit in Paris — has denied the charges. Gui, a Chinese-born Swedish citizen known for publishing gossipy titles about Chinese political leaders out of a Hong Kong book
‘LEAST WE CAN DO’: The gesture was made famous by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was protesting police brutality that targeted minorities They are images that surprised and moved Americans: police officers taking a knee alongside protesters in the most widespread civil unrest to rock the US in decades — and in doing so embracing an anti-racism gesture denounced by US President Donald Trump. As Trump pushes for a crackdown on often-violent protests over the death of George Floyd, police officers from New York to Los Angeles to Houston, Texas, are making gestures of solidarity with demonstrators incensed at the latest case of an unarmed black man dying while in police custody. “I took off the helmet and laid the batons down. Where do
From boiled catfish soup to spicy fried frog, an eight-year-old in pyjamas and a chef’s hat is delighting Myanmar with her culinary prowess in a nation still being told to stay at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Moe Myint May Thu’s mother posted a video online at the end of April showing off her daughter’s skills as the youngster threw together some spicy fried prawns. With her wide, gap-toothed grin, the video has bounced across social media and brought stardom to the child along with an online moniker: “Little Chef.” She now sells dishes to order and is counting the dividends. “I just