For Saudi ex-jihadis: a stipend, a wife, and a new life
A Saudi 'rehabilitation' program originally established to help ex-Guantánamo detainees is being expanded to include five centers around the country.
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RELATED: Are terrorists beyond redemption?The government helps the men secure a job, get married, and make a new start. It's a solution Saudi Arabia appears eager to promote for a problem it helped to create, first by providing a haven for exiled Arab Islamists in the 1960s and '70s, and then by giving its ultraconservative religious establishment wide latitude in the decades that followed.Skip to next paragraph
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Jhari was a student living away from home when he became interested in jihad. He saw footage of the Bosnian war and felt impelled to help fellow Muslims. He headed first to Chechnya, then Afghanistan. "I was believing that if I die, I'll be a martyr."
But on his jihadi travels, he found himself trapped in a life he didn't deeply believe in. He felt he couldn't escape because of his past violations of Saudi law. When the US-led war in Afghanistan began, he was swept up in the search for militants and became prisoner No. 155 at Guantánamo, where the US identified him as Khalid Sulaymanjaydh al-Hubayshi. He spent three years there and one more in Saudi jail before entering the center.
He says he has now changed his view of jihad.
"Jihad is a good thing in Islam," he said, but it's often misinterpreted. "If someone fought in my country and [takes] my house, I'm going to fight. This is what we call jihad. But if I go to some area to help one group against another group," that wouldn't be Islamic.
Some of the beneficiaries who graduated from the center say they were never involved in extremism, but are nonetheless grateful for their time there.
Juma al-Dossari spent 2001-07 in Guantánamo after Saudi embassy officials in Pakistan turned him over to the Americans. He says he had merely been helping with a humanitarian project in Kabul, Afghanistan, but lacked the proper documentation and fled to neighboring Pakistan; the US government says he fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya and was present at Tora Bora.
Whatever his background, when Mr. Dossari arrived at the Saudi rehabilitation center, he was in dire need physically and mentally, he says. “After I came here, I was broke,” says Dossari, who received mental health treatment and today works in construction in the eastern city of Dammam, where he lives with his new wife and three young children, with a fourth on the way. “I think this center is very much like mercy from God to us…. I found here a cure to my wound.”
•Christa Case Bryant traveled to Saudi Arabia on an IRP Gatekeeper Editors trip organized by the International Reporting Project.