An article written for the journal CTC Sentinel by Thomas Renard, working for the Egmont Institute in Belgium

Two recent attacks in London, in November 2019 and February 2020, by two convicted terrorists released from prison resulted in a surge of concern about terrorist recidivism. However, statistics and the academic literature suggest that, on the contrary, terrorists are unlikely to relapse into violent extremism. A review of the judiciary files of 557 jihadi terrorist convicts in Belgium, spanning the three decades from 1990, confirms that less than five percent reengaged in terrorist activities. These findings bear significant implications for counterterrorism policies broadly and for sentencing and post-penitentiary measures more specifically.

Fear of terrorist recidivism

The fear that terrorist offenders could go back to their ‘old ways’ after their release from prison is widely shared among security services and the public. Two recent attacks have just added to this fear. On November 29, 2019, Usman Khan stabbed two people to death near London Bridge, around a year after his release from prison. He had been sentenced in 2012 for planning terrorist activities. On February 2, 2020, Sudesh Amman was shot dead by police shortly after he started stabbing passersby in Streatham, South London, only 10 days after his release from prison. He had been convicted in November 2018 to 40 months in jail for possession and dissemination of terrorist material, in connection with the Islamic State.

Security concerns

For more than two years, European security services have been raising concerns about the planned release of hundreds of jihadis from prison. This is a “worrying threat that we are taking very seriously,” a European official told Agence France-Presse in early 2018. In its annual report published in 2018, the Belgian intelligence service, VSSE, warned of a potential new wave of terrorism resulting from a “recidivism surge” among released extremists. The report observed that “many” terrorists convicted in Belgium between 2001-2011 had reoffended, while highlighting a “current and persistent trend of recidivism” among terrorist offenders. Meanwhile, European prison and probation officers have discussed this issue on several occasions, in the context of the E.U.-wide Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN).

Read the complete article here.


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