Counter- and de-radicalisation with returning foreign fighters


Identify examples of counter or de-radicalisation work with returning foreign fighters in conflict-affected and nearby states. Include examples of programmes where returnees are involved in counter or de-radicalisation programmes. Present the lessons learned emerging from these projects and evaluations of them.


Key Findings: The documentation on counter- and de-radicalisation programmes for returning foreign fighters in conflict-affected and nearby states is limited. There is evidence of programmes that aim to de-radicalise, disengage and rehabilitate detained extremists in prisons, which in some cases target foreign fighters. A number of these programmes in the Middle East and Southeast Asia are well documented, and information is included in this report on those for which evidence of foreign fighter involvement exists.

These programmes are based on approaches to criminal rehabilitation, and involve a mix of vocational training and counselling, with a religious component designed to challenge extremist narratives and ideologies. Rigorous external and comparative evaluations of these programmes do not exist.

Key points include:

  • Context and cultural awareness: Programmes are more effective when they are consistent with, and derive from, a country’s culture, rules and regulations, and take account of what is acceptable in their societies.
  • National consensus and leadership: A lack of popular and political support can hamper de-radicalisation efforts, whilst a committed national leadership can provide programmes with impetus.
  • Comprehensive and long-term approaches: The most effective programmes have been comprehensive efforts that challenge extremist beliefs, provide emotional support and offer post-release vocational or monetary support as incentives.
  • Credible interlocutors: Theologians and former militants have legitimacy. They can discourage those with extremist views from joining terrorist groups and offer a credible counter-narrative.
  • Monitoring and evaluation: Evidence suggests that recidivism rates are not reliable metrics for measuring impact.