Flanders turns to imams for prisoner deradicalisation

Flanders turns to imams for prisoner deradicalisation
Khalid Benhaddou

Flanders appoints imams to make inroads in deradicalising prisoners, who are eligible for early release, Knack indicates on its website on Tuesday evening. After the terrorist attack by Benjamin Herman in Liège, a question has grown in importance: how should we tackle radicalization in prison? In 2015, Minister of Justice Koen Geens (CD & V) chose a two-pronged policy: isolate the jihadists and hate preachers and monitor detainees who were at risk for radicalization.

After the appointment of two Flemish deradicalisation consultants, Flemish Minister of Welfare, Jo Vandeurzen (CD & V), initiated a project called Theological Approach to Islamic Radicalization. This project, with an allocation of 174,000 euro, is aimed at detainees on parole.

The project is coordinated by two well-known imams: Saïd Aberkan, head islam consultant for the Flemish prison system and Khalid Benhaddou, chairman of the Flemish Imams Platform (PVI). “All kinds of conditions are linked to early release,” Benhaddou explains to Knack. “What was missing was a theological guidance process, which prisoners with a radicalization problem need. We want to fill that gap,” says Benhaddou.

Benhaddou compares the approach to therapeutic sessions. “We discuss certain models, aimed at behavioural change.” Ultimately, the imam hopes this project could be start for a deradicalisation process during detention. "We are only a part of the story. This project is part of a broader story.”

“Flanders is taking the initiative to prevent #radicalisation”, Vandeurzen writes in a tweet. “Selected imams accompany ex-prisoners on their way back to society.”

The Investigation Committee 22/3 on terrorism recommended that prisons increase their deradicalisation programmes and training for Islamist detainees. "Religious and spiritual support can also be improved," it added

The committee suggested that the status of Islam advisors be improved and that imams be involved in deradicalisation programs. It also asked for more imams who are trained here and speak one of the national languages.

At the beginning of May, of the 80 radicalized detainees, only 11 were getting individual deradicalisation support.

Arthur Rubinstein
The Brussels Times

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