The number of terrorists, including returning fighters from the ISIS-held territories in Syria and Iraq, who are being made to undertake a compulsory deradicalisation course set up by the UK government has nearly tripled in the last year.
The Desistance and Disengagement Programme (DDP) has been running since October 2016 as part of UK’s wider counter-terrorism strategy named Contest and is aimed at all terrorism and terrorism-related offenders released from prison or those returning from war-zones.
According to the latest UK Home Office figures, from 30 individuals who undertook the programme during its first year of operation in 2016-17, the number rose to 86 in 2017-18.
“The threat posed by ISIS returnees is forcing the government to take drastic action to keep up desistance and disengagement is both the most restrictive and expensive branch of the government’s deradicalisation programme,” Alan Mendoza, executive director of counter-terrorism think tank Henry Jackson Society, told ‘The Times’.
He said that the number has undergone such a dramatic rise underscores the “unprecedented” nature of the new threat.
“Given that — unlike the Prevent programme — it is mandatory, it remains to be seen if any ‘deradicalisation’ its participants claim is more than them just telling the authorities what they want to hear,” Mendoza said.
The latest figures were released to the Henry Jackson Society as part of a Freedom of Information request.
There are very few details available on the DPP process but it is the first-ever compulsory element of the UK government’s anti-terror Prevent strategy aimed at tackling the danger posed by returning foreign fighters and released terrorists.
Fighters can be forced to go on the course, which includes mentoring and psychological support as well as theological and ideological advice, before they are allowed back to the UK.
It can also be made a condition of the monitoring of released terrorists and extremists, as was the case with radical Pakistani-origin preacher Anjem Choudary who was released on strict conditions from London’s high-security Belmarsh prison recently.
The updated Contest strategy from 2018 notes plans to expand the Desistance and Disengagement Programme “with an immediate aim over the next 12 months to more than double the number of individuals receiving rehabilitative interventions”.
“Keeping the public safe is our first priority and an important part of this is working with individuals who have been radicalised to reintegrate them safely back into society,” a Home Office spokesperson said.
“Our Desistance and Disengagement Programme is a critical part of our counter-terrorism strategy, Contest, providing a range of intensive, tailored interventions and practical support designed to rehabilitate and tackle the drivers of radicalisation,” the spokesperson said.