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February 4th, 2009
From Jihad to Rehab
And Back

Eleven former Guantanamo inmates who underwent Saudi Arabia’s rehabilitation program for jihadists now appear to have fled the country and joined terrorist organizations abroad. Their names appear on a list of 85 wanted terrorism suspects that was released by the Saudi government on Tuesday.

At least one these suspects, Said al-Shihri — now reportedly serving as deputy chief of Al Qaeda in Yemen — was at the Saudi rehabilitation center when journalist Nancy Durham visited in 2007 and produced From Jihad to Rehab, featured in WIDE ANGLE’s Focal Point series.

Durham reached Dr. Awad Alyami, the art therapist who appears in the video, by phone after hearing about al-Shihri’s return to militancy. Al-Shihri was “not the ideal student,” Alyami said, “not really interested in doing anything with any of us.” But Alyami does not take this example to mean that the Saudi program doesn’t work. “Many students have learned how to see things in a positive way and created balance in their lives through art,” he said.

Until now, the Saudi rehabilitation program has been widely viewed as a model, particularly for Yemen, home to nearly half of the remaining Guantanamo detainees. As Yemen prepares to receive these inmates upon the closing of Guantanamo announced by President Barack Obama, any doubts about the efficacy of the Saudi program could complicate the handover.

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