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'I was in al-Qaeda, then spied for MI6 – I know deradicalisation doesn't work'

'I was in al-Qaeda, then spied for MI6 – I know deradicalisation doesn't work'

Saudi Arabia
United Kingdom (UK)
News Date: 

An American journalist blew Dean’s cover in 2006. But after initial anger, he was relieved; MI6 smuggled him to a safe house, and as time wore on, he could start to live a normal life. When an outgoing MI6 boss offered him a job in counter-terrorism and money laundering at a global bank, he jokes, “I exchanged one form of terrorism for another: al-Qaeda to banking.” Now, he advises governments, as well as banks, on terrorism, in addition to his podcasting duties.

With this background, it is perhaps strange that Dean believes there “is no such thing as a rehabilitated jihadist” – he sees himself as different because he left of his own volition. “The only way can demonstrate that they’ve renounced violent extremism is if they have sung like a canary and provided damaging intelligence on the networks that recruited them.”

The other test is for them to show they put loyalty to their country above religion. “I don’t believe in deradicalisation,” says Dean. “The efforts are riddled with naivety and a lack of understanding.”

Dean’s fears weren’t unfounded – it was the second such attack in as many months, following Usman Khan’s fatal stabbing of two people at an offender rehabilitation conference near London Bridge. In the wake of the attacks, the Government has announced plans to increase prison sentences for people convicted of terrorism offences, and has said it will introduce emergency legislation to prevent their early release. But new data shows demand for prison spaces will outstrip supply by 2022.

“The dangerous message Amman and Khan have sent is that if you’re a convicted terrorist, you either go out in a blaze of glory or you’re watched for your whole life,” says Dean. The release of more such convicts in coming months and years means, he warns, that “the appeal of this kind of atrocity will intensify” – here and across France, Germany, the US, Canada and Australia, where prosecutions for terrorism-related offences are highest.