Danes try to turn jihadists with a hug

SHAFAQNA – Denmark is trying a novel way of treating Islamic militants who return from Syria — they have decided to hug a jihadi rather than jail them. Faced with Europe’s second-highest rate of recruits to Isis, the Danes have adopted a programme of counselling, mentoring and education or vocational training that appears to be working.

The so-called Aarhus model, named after 30 youngsters who left Denmark’s second city to join Isis last year, is now being studied around the world.

This year there has been just one case of a young Islamist heading to Syria from the port city. Of 16 returnees, ten voluntarily joined the rehabilitation programme while the others opted to reintegrate into Danish society without the taxpayer-funded intervention. None have been locked up.

Jorgen Ilum, police commander for East Jutland police district, where Aarhus is located, said that the city wanted to send out a resounding message to returning jihadis: “We want you to return to our society.”

Mr Ilum insisted that his force would investigate any case where returnees were suspected of involvement in terrorism.

The Aarhus model also involved a new dialogue with a mosque regarded as a hot-bed of extremism after the authorities discovered that 22 of the young radicals who went to Syria also worshipped there.

City authorities resisted calls to close Grimhojvej mosque, arguing that they needed to build bridges with alienated members of the Muslim community. At the start of the year the mosque was given a choice to co-operate or fight for its future without official support. It chose to co-operate.

Controversially, the returnees are not expected to renounce their support for radical Islamic goals. Those behind the Aarhus model see this as equal treatment for Islamists under the national guarantee of free speech. The mosque continues to advocate a caliphate in the Middle East but has toned down its support for Isis.

Jacob Bundsgaard, the mayor of Aarhus, argued that his city wanted to offer hope to “young people who have turned to religion at a very difficult time in their lives”.

He added: “We cannot pass legislation that changes the way they think and feel. What we can do is show them we are sincere about integration, about dialogue.”

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