Denmark Aims to Rehabilitate, Not Punish, Returning Jihadists

By Joseph Perticone | October 21, 2014 | 4:10 PM EDT

A 21-year-old Dane poses on a Soviet-made anti-aircraft gun in May 2013 at a terrorist training camp inside Syria. (AP photo)

) -  Instead of arresting jihadists returning from fighting for the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, Danish authorities are offering them free psychological treatment, job placement, and education.

Although Denmark has joined the U.S.-led coalition and sent seven F-16 fighter jets to run airstrikes against IS, more of its young people leave to fight in Syria per capita than nearly any other Western nation besides Belgium.

Last month, a 25-year-old Dane from the suburbs of Copenhagen posted photos on a now-deleted Facebook account showing him posing with several severed heads in Syria, according to a Danish radio station that obtained copies of nine of the photos.

But Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark, is taking a much different approach to the returning jihadists compared to other European Union (EU) nations.

Unlike countries like Great Britain that are confiscating passports or revoking citizenship from returning jihadists, or Belgium, which recently put 46 suspected jihadists on trial, Denmark is using “deradicalisation” and “targeted intervention” as its model for rehabilitation over punishment.

This approach, which is being called the “Aarhus Model.” is based on the Danish government’s belief that discrimination and “exclusion” is driving young Muslim Danes to jihad.

Washington Post Berlin bureau chief Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet, a fellow at Harvard, Johns Hopkins and the Geneva Centre for Security policy, suggest that the rehabilitation policies stem from the idea that “discrimination at home is as criminal as Islamic State recruiting.”

The Grimhojvej mosque in Aarhus, whose spokesman publicly supports IS, has seen 23 members of its congregation radicalized and become Danish jihadist fighters. It is estimated that nearly 3,000 EU citizens are currently fighting for IS in Syria.

Preben Bertelsen, a psychology professor at the University of Aarhus and one of the leading designers of the deradicalization program, said that returning “jihadists often have a life story of exclusion,” and that “[Aarhus’] main principle is inclusion.”

But not everyone in Denmark is happy with the policy. Marie Krarup, a member of Parliament from the Danish People’s Party, said: “They are being much too soft [in Aarhus], and they fail to see the problem.”

“The problem is Islam,” she said. "Islam itself is radical. You cannot integrate a great number of Muslims into a Christian country.”

Morten Storm, who told the Associated Press that he was a former member of a Danish al-Qaeda cell before becoming an agent for the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET), was even more dismissive of the Aarhus Model.

The program is “completely ridiculous,” he said.  It disregards “the life and dignity of the people the jihadists have been terrorising ­simply because the jihadists happen to be Danish. And deradicalising the jihadists doesn’t work, because they’re religiously motivated.”

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