Wednesday 27 October 2010

Rejection of violent jihad by Dutch terrorist not unique

Imprisoned Dutch terrorism suspect Jason Walters' decision to renounce violence is not unique. A number of radical leaders in Islamic countries have done the same. Once in jail, they repented and called on their followers to renounce radical Islam.

Jason Walters, who is 25, is the first extremist Muslim convict in the Netherlands to renounce his radical ideology. From his cell in Vught prison he wrote a letter explaining his change of heart which was published by Dutch daily de Volkskrant on Saturday. Jason, allegedly a member of the so-called Hofstad Group, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for throwing a hand grenade at a police team which was trying to arrest him in 2004. Four policemen were injured.

Mea culpa
Sceptics say Jason Walters only wrote his letter hoping for a reduced sentence. It was published only days before his appeal hearing before the Amsterdam court. Judges will decide on Wednesday whether the Hofstad Group was a terrorist organisation.

According to RNW's Mohamed Amezian, Jason's renunciation of violence should be taken at face value. He says it is in line with a trend among radical Muslims.

RNW's Mohamed Amezian says that Jason's repentance is nothing new. Many radical Muslims realise in prison that violence is not a means to further their ideals, he said, explaining that "violent jihad's following has dwindled. Its leaders are voices crying in the wilderness. And they have become more pragmatic. There is less and less support for violent attacks, so why continue preaching that message?"

Mohamed Amezian has conducted research into de-radicalisation. He thinks Jason Walters may have known about similar cases in the recent past, seeing there is an international network of Islamic activists.

"I think Jason was aware of these development among jihadists. They maintain a close-knit network using internet and other modern means of communication. It's not surprising, now that he has had the opportunity to reflect in prison, that he should reverse his previous decision to become an active jihadist."

Possibly the governors of Vught prison where Mr Walters is held played a part in this, following the example of Saudi Arabia, Lybia and Egypt where authorities actively promote de-radicalisation of imprisoned jihadists. Vught prison is declining to comment.

Abandoning violent jihad: some recent cases

• Moroccan-French Muslim Robert Richard Antoine Pierre, also known as Lhaj, publicly renounced radical Islam in Morocco a couple of years ago. He declared that Muhammad was not a prophet, but the founder of a state and a civilisation. During his period in detention, Mr Pierre became an apostate, turning away from Islam.

• Another major Islamic jihad leader in Morocco, Mohamed al Fizazi wrote a letter of renunciation from his prison cell in 2009, addressing Muslims in Europe. Mr Fizazi's earlier ideas could be described as extreme. During Ramadan in 2000 he spoke in a mosque in Hamburg, Germany, inciting his audience to embark on violent Jihad. Among the people listening were some of the September 11, 2001 Twin Towers attackers. The same Mr Fizazi wrote last year, "We followed the wrong path then and we overshot the mark."

• Algerian detainee Hassan Hattab called on his followers in January 2009 to renounce violence and to open a dialogue with the authorities. Mr Hattab was one of the founders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahreb (Morocco, Algeria, Lybia, Mauritania and Tunisia). In 2007 he turned himself in.


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