Countering Jihadist Ideology among Detainees: The Effects and Effectiveness of De-Radicalization Programs

Project Details


Through existing relationships with leaders of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), this research team had the opportunity to collect unique data from detainees who had been involved with Jemmah Islamiya, as well as from family members of these detainees. Data collection involved:

(1) structured  interviews with the clerics carrying out the program, 

(2) content analysis of their manuals and printed materials used in the de-radicalization work,

(3) structured interviews with imprisoned and released terrorists and insurgents,

(4) a battery of questionnaires designed to tap the subjects attitudes toward jihad, toward the US, and toward the rehabilitation program as such, and

(5) questionnaires assessing the detainees relevant personality variables and social roles in the J.I. organization.  In addition to collecting the self-report data mentioned above, the investigators conducted an implicit analysis of the language used by the clerics and the inmates, and observed changes over time.

Primary Findings:

This project investigated the psychological correlates of support for armed struggle among suspected terrorist detainees in the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Longitudinal research assessing the effectiveness of de-radicalization programs involving these populations is ongoing. Among members of Jemaah Islamiyah detained in the Philippines, we found that implicit beliefs predicted their explicit attitudes. Specifically, detainees who held an implicit association between Islam and violence reported greater support for terrorism and extremist ideologies, greater collectivism, and greater need for closure (a motivation to obtain firm and clear-cut answers to possible questions and to avoid ambiguity). Among members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil detained in Sri Lanka, the need for cognitive closure and organizational embeddedness (of the detainee in the LTTE) predicted adulation and defense of the in-group (i.e., collective narcissism), or LTTE, tendency to hold a grudge, and support for armed and violent struggle against Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority. Thus, the need for closure and organizational embeddedness appear to represent two paths to extremist views, which are, in turn, related to two fundamental motivations that underlie individuals' attraction to groups: (1) the quest for certainty and closure that the group's shared reality affords and (2) the quest for status, prestige, and self worth.


Three types of data collection strategies were employed: 1. In-depth interviews were conducted. 2. Self-report survey instruments were administered. 3. Computer-based reaction time tasks were administered in order to measure detainees' implicit attitudes. General linear model techniques (i.e., analysis of variance, linear regression, t-tests) and structural equation modeling were used to analyze the collected data.


Project Period: