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article imageSaudi Arabia opens rehabilitation center for Al-Qaeda extremists

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By Anne Sewell     Apr 21, 2013 in World
Riyadh - Seems it isn't so bad to be an imprisoned Al-Qaeda militant in Saudi Arabia. The country has set up a new and luxurious spa and rehabilitation facility in Riyadh to hopefully make them drop all ideas of jihad.
A new deradicalization program is being set up in Saudi Arabia, with rehabilitation centers offering exercise, spa treatments and counseling to former radicals. Inmates will be able to relax in the centers in between sessions with their counselor and talks about religion.
The newest rehab center is located in Riyadh and is designed to accommodate 228 prisoners: 19 inmates in each of the facility’s 12 buildings. In size, the center is equivalent to around 10 football pitches (over 10 hectares). On offer is an Olympic-size swimming pool, a gym, sauna and television lounge.
Prisoners will also have access to special suites where they can enjoy family visits. If they are especially well-behaved, they can even get a two-day break with their wives.
Interior MInistry spokesperson General Mansur al-Turki, told the media, “Just under 3,000 [prisoners] will have to go through one of these centers before they can be released.”
This new rehabilitation center is the brainchild of the Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Center for Counseling and Care, which was established seven years ago for the rehabilitation of extremists during a Saudi crackdown on local Al-Qaeda militants. Reportedly Prince Mohammed bin Nayef himself survived a suicide bomb attack in 2009, claimed by Al-Qaeda.
There is already a similar facility in the western port city of Jeddah and three more are planned for different areas of the kingdom. However, the Riyadh center is the first to offer the lap of luxury to jailed Al-Qaeda members (or the "deviant group" as the country's authorities refer to them).
The director of the rehabilitation centers, Said al-Bishi said, “In order to fight terrorism, we must give them an intellectual and psychological balance... through dialogue and persuasion.”
According to Bishi, some 2,336 Al-Qaeda prisoners have passed through the new rehabilitation schemes and no more than 10% have rejoined extremists groups. Bishi noted that that this was "encouraging."
Despite what can be seen as a success in the system, the program does have its opponents, with liberals particularly unhappy with the religious content of the program. According to them, this draws on an ultra-conservative version of Islam, which is not so different from Al-Qaeda’s own views.
Also, apparently, there have been some high-profile returns to the jihad ranks. An example being a former Gitmo prisoner, Said Ali al-Shihri, who attended a rehabilitation program in Saudi Arabia and on his release went to Yemen and became deputy leader of Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula. An interesting note on the Wikipedia page for this person is that it states on his rehabilitation that "This program was partially sponsored by the United States."
A photo tour of the rehabilitation center is available on the India Times website.
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