Thursday 5 December 2019

Declan Power: 'Lisa Smith's return highlights our need to set up a de-radicalisation programme'

Lisa Smith. Photo: Tom Conachy
Lisa Smith. Photo: Tom Conachy

Declan Power

As the nation waits for Lisa Smith to arrive back to these shores along with her infant daughter Rakeya, attention will be turning as to what will happen when they step onto Irish soil.

Mention has already been made of a security audit and an arrest. As there has been an investigation carried out by the Garda, it is likely Ms Smith will be initially arrested and questioned.

Based on this process, she may be allowed out on bail pending a prosecution or kept on remand in a suitable place of detention. It remains to be seen as to what arrangements will be made regarding Rakeya, but it is likely that she will be allowed remain with her mother.

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Investigations and security audits are grist to the mill of both the Garda Security and Intelligence Section and indeed the Defence Force's Directorate of Intelligence (J2), who will be keenly interested in Ms Smith's return.

Both organisations will have been in touch with partner organisations in Europe, the US and the Middle East in order to build up a pattern of her habits, routines and associations during her time away.

They will already have done a deep dive into her network of associations in Ireland. While this may garner much useful intelligence, it remains to be seen if it provides much in the way of evidence that can be used in a prosecution.

However, if Ms Smith is successfully prosecuted and convicted of an offence, or even if she just faces a lengthy period on remand and eventually walks free, the bigger and more interesting question is what will the State do while she is in its care?

In most other jurisdictions someone like Ms Smith would be entered onto a 'D-Rad' (deradicalisation) programme.

There have been calls for this already from some quarters in Ireland, particularly from Ireland's myriad of Islamic communities, who, like many other Irish people, have been acutely embarrassed by Ms Smith's actions and utterances over the last year.

However, there is no such programme of D-Rad in existence in Ireland. So what does such a thing look like and should we consider developing something like this?

As a means of shedding some light upon this, I can share some of my own experience while working on EU technical assistance missions in countering violent extremism in Africa. My encounters were with mostly young men who had been fighting for Boko Haram and Al Shabaab, Islamic extremist organisations found in both West and East Africa and closely aligned to the thinking of Isil.

In the case of Nigeria in particular, where a nasty war was raging in the north-east against Boko Haram, D-Rad formed part of a triumvirate approach to combating extremism, including elements such as countering extremism in the community and strategic communication.

All of these elements had been developed as part of the National Counter Terrorism Strategy being developed by the Office of the National Security Adviser, so this was very much a part of national security strategy.

However, the implementation was what was most interesting as in the prisons it took the form of an integrated case management approach with development of what were called 'Treatment Centres' for the terrorist prisoners.

It was recognised that many of these people tended not to be hard-core ideologists but a mix of damaged and abused individuals who had been looking for some sort of guidance and certainty in their lives and had latched onto Boko Haram to find it.

Initial audits were carried out to build a prisoner profile. The profile gave us a series of linkages between their personal drives and motivations and how these connected into the political ideologies they had learned from Boko Haram.

One significant lesson was learned that I suspect is quite relevant to Lisa Smith's case. Extremist ideologies rely on making their recruits see 'the personal as political and the political as personal'.

That is, merging aspects of things peculiar to the recruit's personal life circumstances with the terrorist group's aims. In Boko Haram's case, many of their young recruits had little interest in extremist ideology, but yearned for financial security, status and a future. This was largely denied them and so taking up arms seemed like a sensible approach.

In Ms Smith's case, her personal psychological state and motivations will largely explain why she veered from simply living a blameless life as a convert to Islam to pursuing its most extreme and aberrant off-shoot.

The interesting thing about the D-Rad process was that while it was conceived as a national security need, it was implemented by a diverse team of teachers, imams, prison officers, counsellors, art therapists and sports coaches.

Following prisoner profiling, those selected were separated from the general prison population and followed a programme largely along the lines of the following:

:: Engagement: This involved the Treatment Team getting to know the prisoners, establishing a dialogue with them and building patterns of trust and eventually getting the prisoners to see them in credible light. Crucial to this was the prisoners engaging positive physical outlets like exercise and art expression;

:: Risk: When appropriate levels of engagement were established, it was then possible to undertake a thorough risk assessment of each prisoner. Their reactions were crucial to seeing consistency in their thoughts and behaviour;

:: Needs: Having established the motivations that attracted the prisoners to extremism, this allowed for development of suitable activities to reduce or counter the risk of them further engaging in or advocating for extremist activities;

:: Response: The final phase was about bedding in the interventions that had been established that the prisoners would respond to.

Crucial to all of this was a recognition that many that are lured into extremism had an eclectic mix of motivations that often had little to do with the ideology of the terror groups they had signed up for.

If, as a society, we are serious about preventing future Lisa Smiths, then we must recognise that developing suitable mechanisms for countering extremism and de-radicalisation are as important as having the necessary law enforcement techniques or legislative apparatus.

Declan Power is a defence analyst, former career soldier, and author of 'Siege at Jadotville'

Irish Independent

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