Accueil arrow Foreign analyzes arrow Analyzing the counter radicalization and de-radicalization models







Dr Farhan Zahid

Counter-Terrorism and Security Analyst (Pakistan).





Extremism is precursor to terrorism, as all terrorists are extremists by virtue of their ideological beliefs ; but not all extremists choose the path of terrorism. Considering the premise the journey towards extremism begins with radicalization which is a process. De-radicalization on the other hand is a process. The process allows government to combat extremism in groups or individuals that have already committed violence. The raison d'être of deradicalization programs is to bring in behavioral changes in radicalized individuals and it attempts to convince them to abandon violence. Moreover it changes their ideological perspectives under which they consider legitimized use of violence.

Radicalization: A Process

Unlike terrorism, which is a systematic, deliberate and planned measure to inculcate fear by using tactics of terror to attain certain politico-religious objectives, radicalization is a process which occurs in due course of time with sustained efforts. While experiencing the certain ideological (religious, political, nationalist or social) injunctions, the subject individual adopts extreme views, rejects the status quo, idealizes to bring about change in the society. 

In other words the process of radicalization could be defined as when an individual starts adhering to a set of ideas (political or religious) and rejects all other contemporaries and endeavors to convince others. In case of religious radicalization, the individual develops a nihilistic, cosmic, justified approach considering divine entity as his audience and at times firmly believes in apocalyptic scenarios. The ultimate objective is to bring about revolutionary changes and to completely overturn the status quo. According to Assaf Moghadam, the radicalization phenomenon occurs in phases :

1.Psychological interpretation of material conditions,

2. Perceived options to fight unfair treatment ,

4. Moral engagement,

5. Solidification of categorical thinking and the perceived legitimacy of a terrorist organization,

6. The terrorist act and sidestepping of inhibitory mechanism.

Moghadam, a professor at Herziliya University, Israel, termed the process as staircase of radicalization. The model is intended to facilitate the viewer in understanding how individuals go through the different phase or stages (perhaps rightly called steps in the staircase) and become radicalized. The model also depicts the higher the steps, the number of individuals shrink.

According to European Commission's report on radicalization, firstly there has to be an enabling environment, characterized by a widely shared sense of injustice, whether real or perceived, among concerned segments of population. Secondly, concrete personal experiences, kinship and friendship, group dynamics and socialization. Thirdly, that the actual use of violence involves only a very limited number of individuals. It is always the action of a few within the larger group or community whose fate is claimed to be at stake and whose plight they invoke to try to justify their acts[1].

Radicalization, Extremism and De-Radicalization

There is a slight difference between extremism and radicalization. All radicalized individuals are extremists, but not all extremists are radicalized by virtue of a sustained and deliberate effort as many terrorist organizations do in order to indoctrinate their recruits and potential followers. Radicalization is in such manner formal whereas extremism is informal.

Radicalization is a process and so as the de-radicalization which usually takes more time, efforts and resources. Simply put, it is an attempt to disengage a militant from violence and extremist tendencies from his political or religious association with a cause[2]. Rehabilitation of the militants is an integral part of the de-radicalization process and without rehabilitation the process never completes. Terrorism is inexpensive and that is one reason considered as the weapon of the weak, whereas counter terrorism is expensive as it requires more human and material resources to thwart terrorist plans. On the other hand de-radicalization is very expensive as it is a long overarching process requiring much more resources.

Difference between De-Radicalization and Counter Radicalization

De-radicalization pertains to bring in a change in people's attitudes and beliefs entailed in justifying the radical and violent ideologies. The change does not require a complete ideological make over. However it is desired that the terrorists and their supporters to abandon their ideology in its entirety and disengage from violence. Disengagement from violence could be seen as an important part and parcel of the process of de-radicalization.

Counter radicalization is another means to prevent extremist tendencies growing in any society. If utilized carefully, counter radicalization is much more useful than de-radicalization, but in fact, few countries have attempted to do so as it requires even broader network and resources to ascertain the target audiences and then to approach them with substantial means to disavow the individuals. The primary objective of counter radicalization is to neutralize the surfacing security threats. Some counter radicalization programs have been launched in European countries with Muslim immigrant communities largely seek to improve intercommunity harmony and cohesion[3].

Counter Radicalization Programs

Many of these programs are regarded by many as having a narrow scope and context-specific attributes, have not yet achieved substantial successes and are in an experimental phase[4]. Some of these counter radicalization programs were initiated by United Kingdom, Denmark, US, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The United Kingdom

The Counter Terrorism Strategy (CONTEST) of Her Majesty's government encompasses the counter radicalization aspects. The CONTEST comprises of 4-Ps (pursue, prepare, protect, and prevent). The prevent part is related to counter radicalization. The strategy was conceived in 2007 after 7/7 terrorist attacks to respond to the threat of terrorism and extremism. As the CONTEST document says, "the strategy covers all forms of terrorism, including far-right extremism and some aspects of non-violent extremism[5]."

The strategy received mixed responses as many experts termed it too narrow, partially transparent, being used for monitoring the immigrant community, and which they believe is counter-productive. Muslim communities also have concerns about it. Transparency is another major issue, and it is believed that local authorities misuse funds particularly for corrupting the local communities and building human intelligence networks[6]

The United States

The US government also initiated some counter radicalization program which they termed counter violent extremism initiatives. The primary focus of these initiatives was to develop a rapport with the communities by developing partnership networks which may allow division of labor between communities and law enforcement. Hitherto three pilot projects have been launched in Los Angles, California, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Boston, Mass. The programs focused on parents and teachers and how they could collaborate with the law enforcement.


Denmark also initiated a three-layered program, which the Danish government called the Prevention Pyramid.  The first layer is capacity building of youth in order to prevent them from falling into the hands of extremists. The second layer undertakes prevention through intervention by targeting vulnerable individuals and groups. The third layer is mostly related to de-radicalization of individuals, fallen prey to radical elements. Like other countries' programs the focus remains on immigrant Muslim communities and programs have been initiated in collaboration with parents and teachers. The programs have attempted to steer the communities to think reasonably and evaluate political and ideological risks.


France is still struggling to design and implement a prevent strategy but nonetheless the French government has been able to initiate efforts for integrating Muslim immigrants into the French society. Recent terrorist incidents (Charlie Hebdo, Paris attacks) and growing anti-Semitism amongst Muslim community of France is a source of great concern for French authorities. Another growing concern is French government's policy of participating in military campaigns in Libya and Northern Mali triggered extremist tendencies and diversified the perspective. The French counter radicalization programs are still in a nascent stage but various strategies have been adopted by French government at commune levels to focus on potential extremist youth, critical individuals and rehabilitation of radicalized ones.

The French are not emphasizing on traditional counter-narratives schemes and traditional counseling techniques, rather the French strategy engages individuals in trust building process. The strategy has three level of engagement: identifying the vulnerable individuals and initiating trust building process; second, understanding individuals' grievances, and religious and political views; and third, engaging them in the care process and deconstruct their views[7]. There is optimism but still the strategy is in a nascent stage and is far from yielding constructive results.

Belgium and the Netherlands

Belgium with its 0.9 million Muslim immigrant population and Netherlands with more than million Muslims immigrants are no less worried than the UK, US, France and Denmark. Brussels was the place where the Paris attacks were planned in the largely Muslim dominated neighborhood of Mollenbeek in downtown Brussels. The Belgian and Dutch programs are inspired by the UK programs.

Studying the De-Radicalization Models

The Saudi Model

Saudi Arabian regime came under intense pressure after 15 of the 19 hijackers involved in the 9/11 attacks were turned out to be Saudi nationals. Saudi Interior Ministry started their de-radicalization program in 2004 only after a series of domestic incidents of terrorism in the country. The critical part of that program was reorientation and rehabilitation of imprisoned Islamist radicals with a focus on religious reeducation and psychological counseling. The primary focus remained on three aspect and Saudi government hired religious scholars to elucidate over the key issues:

1. Islam is against violence,

2. The detainees' interpretation of Islam is erroneous,

3. Only state-approved Muslim leaders have the necessary knowledge and qualifications to interpret the Quran.

Hundreds of graduates of Saudi de-radicalization program appeared to have reintegrated into the society. The dropout remains difficult to measure as how many of the rehabilitated individuals joined back their brother-in-arms. According to Saudi authorities the figure stands between 10-20%[8].

The Yemeni De-Radicalization Program

Yemeni government of Ali Salah attempted to de-radicalize thousands of Yemeni Islamist youth involved with a plethora of Islamist terrorist organizations operating in Yemen. The Yemeni de-radicalization program was launched on the basis of Committee of Dialogue, an instrument of negotiation with the Yemeni Islamist groups i.e. Al-Qaeda's franchise Ansar ul Sharia. Yemeni Muslim scholars engaged the suspected members of Al-Qaeda in regular religious dialogues in order to re-conceptualize their basic concepts and ideas. Imprisoned Al-Qaeda members were mostly part of the program[9]. The Yemeni program received mixed response and apart from that the whole country plunged into a civil war and results and findings could not be ascertained.

The Indonesian Initiative

Another initiative in this regard was Indonesian de-radicalization program which managed to receive quite a big success. The Indonesian program focused on changing the ideological aspects of radical Islamist ideology. The government hired religious scholars to focus on:

1. Acts of violence are unacceptable because they compromise the image of Islam,

2. The Q'uran views the killing civilians as unacceptable and unjustifiable,

3. The Indonesian authorities are not anti-Islam (i.e. the presumed culprit assumed responsible for the grievance isn't really culpable)[10].

The primary areas of the said program were neutralizing the ideological foundations of violent Islamist individuals. The government believed that the Islamist radicals belonging to Al-Qaeda, Afghan veterans, and Jamaa Islamiya would only listen to former jihadist rather than moderate Muslim clerics therefore the moderate scholars would have to engage the Islamist radicals at a later stage[11].


The Egyptian Program

The Egyptian program targeted the imprisoned inmates of Gamaa Islamiya (Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Islamic Group). The program aimed at behavioral changes followed by abandonment of violent behavior and ideological shifts to de-legitimize the use of violence[12].

Egypt's is the oldest program as it started in 1990s. The government planned to take steps in order to cut down the number of recruits for Islamist jihadi groups operating in Egypt. The regime provided religious books and other texts to inmates so that they could have alternate means of understanding Islam. The program worked well as most of the radical Islamists neither had no understanding of religion nor they were trained theologians. Apart from that, the government employed clerics to help the inmates understand the religion. The initiative allowed Islamist radicals to disengage from violence[13].


Table 1
The derivation of the required program type

(based on targeted behavior, social conditions, and desired end state)


Type of behavior targeted

Dominant societal conditions under which behavior is exhibited

Desired end state

Type of program required



High intensity conflict

Low intensity conflict

Cessation of violence


Transition to terrorism

Violent extremism


Non-violent ‘normality' predominates

Prevention of violence or further violence


Vulnerability risk of radicalization and violent extremism

Non-violent ‘normality' predominates

Prevention of violence

Minimizing risk from further radicalization


 (Source: Dr Lindsay Clutterbuck, "Deradicalization programs and Counterterrorism: A Perspective on the Challenges and Benefits", Middle East Institute, Jun 10, 2015)



Table 2
Summary of key characteristics relevant to deradicalization,

counter radicalization and anti-radicalization program


Type of program required

Type of behavior targeted

Main aims of program

Main objectives of program

Conditions under which program implemented





Cessation of violence


Post surrender

Post detention

Post conviction

Counter radicalization

Transition to Terrorism

Violent extremism








Active radicalization

Anti radicalization

Vulnerability to risk from radicalization and violent extremism





Early radicalization



Table 3
De-radicalization Approaches











Reducing security threats



Vulnerable communities




Developing moderate tendencies




Highlighting religion's emphasis on peace

Developing counter arguments/ narratives



Society at large

Winning hearts and minds

Neutralizing security threats

 (Source: Amir Rana, "The concept and practices of CVE", Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, p.2)






Countering violent extremism has remained a crucial challenge for terrorism-ridden countries. A variety of program has been initiated in some countries for countering radicalization and de-radicalization. Developing world countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, Bangladesh and others have not been able to devise a comprehensive strategy for combating extremism. The problem is more related to lack and will and finances. Terrorism is considered as the weapon of the weak and in most of the cases requires few resources; on the other hand counter terrorism is a pretty expensive activity. Running counter radicalization and de-radicalization programs are indeed an expensive initiative which requires resources both human and material. On the other hand there is no solution apart from that as a plethora of Islamist terrorist organizations are working in terrorism-hit countries like Pakistan and there is an absolute need for halting the recruitment and to conduct de-radicalization program for rehabilitating the radicalized persons, part and parcel of these Islamist violent non-state actors. The terrorism ravaged countries are left with no options but to salvage resources for organizing such programs keeping in view of the best practices.


Centre Français de Recherche sur le Renseignement
21 boulevard Haussmann, 75009 Paris - France
Tél. : 33 1 53 43 92 44 | Fax : 33 1 53 43 92 92 | Contact