Denmark unveils de-radicalization program for jihadi fighters

In response to the growing number of European citizens leaving their homes to fight alongside the Islamic State terrorist group, government officials in Denmark are offering their citizens a way out of the conflict that does not involve jail time.

Denmark’s welfare services and police teamed up to create a rehabilitation program in its second largest city, Aarhus. The program takes a more lenient approach to de-radicalizing fighters, compared to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s plan to criminalize British fighters in Iraq and Syria and prevent them from returning to England.

Similarly, the mayor of London has said all British citizens returning from either Iraq or Syria are assumed guilty unless they can prove otherwise.

Steffen Nielsen, a crime prevention advisor in Aarhus, told Al-Jazeera that he disagrees with Cameron’s approach. “Unlike in England, where maybe you’re interned for a week while they figure out who you are, we say ‘Do you need any help?” Nielsen said.

He added that “a lot of guys who come home have experienced a loss of innocence and some sort of loss of moral belief. They thought they were going down there for a good cause. And what they found was thugs who are decapitating women and children and raping and killing people.”

The program supports returning fighters and their families by offering them a wide range of services that include treating psychological trauma and wounds sustained from shrapnel and gunshots. Families are put in touch with intelligence agencies and government officials tasked with bringing their loved ones home. De-radicalized fighters would also receive help to find jobs and continue with their education.

Officials in Aarhus are calling the program a success, saying that there’s been a sharp decrease in the number of Danish nationals feeling to the Middle East. In 2013, officials saw 22 people joined extremist groups abroad, however, only one person has been reported this year.

But Denmark isn’t the only country with terrorism rehabilitation programs; countries like Singapore and Saudi Arabia have been offering alternative programs to former jehadi fighters following the September 11 attacks in the U.S.