A Test For Saudi Arabia's Terrorist-Rehab Program Despite some setbacks in its rehabilitation program, Saudi Arabia says it will continue re-educating terrorists in the nonviolent principles of Islam. Of the almost 300 men who have completed the program, 80 percent have gone on to normal lives. One of them, Mohammad al-Awfi, did not.
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A Test For Saudi Arabia's Terrorist-Rehab Program

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A Test For Saudi Arabia's Terrorist-Rehab Program

A Test For Saudi Arabia's Terrorist-Rehab Program

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

Kelly McEvers reports from the capital, Riyadh.

KELLY MCEVERS: To understand what works and what doesn't work about Saudi Arabia's rehabilitation program, consider the case of Mohammad al-Awfi. Just after 9/11, he traveled to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Authorities arrested him on suspicion of aiding terrorist groups. As he recently told the BBC, he later was sent to Guantanamo.

MOHAMMAD AL: (Through translator) They put you in shorts in an area with extremely cold air conditioning for months, until you're requested to see the interrogators and tell them things.

MCEVERS: Turki al-Otayan is the center's lead psychologist. He was one of the first to evaluate Awfi.

TURKI AL: He hates Americans so much about what they have done to him. He said, they destroyed me. They affect on me(ph). They killed my brothers. These kind of things.

MCEVERS: Awfi graduated the program in early 2008. Then, during the holy month of Ramadan, he decided he wanted revenge against the Americans. He fled to Yemen and joined al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. In 2009, he appeared in this video, alongside the group's leaders.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

AWFI: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: Back in Saudi Arabia, psychologist Otayan and other officials from the center paid a visit to Awfi's family.

OTAYAN: They thought the security force would come to the house to search the house, to arrest some of them.

MCEVERS: But instead, officials said...

OTAYAN: We can help you. He's our son. Yes, he has done a mistake. We do not hate him personally. We hate his behavior. They're shocked. After what he has done, you are saying this? And we said, yes. Then they ease up. They said, we will ask for your cooperation, if you - for his own protection, for your own protection. Try to help us.

MCEVERS: Christopher Boucek of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says it wasn't the classes that brought Awfi back into the fold, but the government's contacts with his family.

CHRISTOPHER BOUCEK: Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

MCEVERS: At the rehabilitation center, inmates play soccer with guards. Inmate Ahmed Zuhair spent more than six years at Guantanamo for suspected terrorist activity in Bosnia and Afghanistan.

AHMED ZUHAIR: (Foreign language spoken)

MCEVERS: When Zuhair is released from the center, he says the government has promised to set him up with a new house and seed money to start a business running a mini-market in the holy city of Mecca.

ZUHAIR: Okay, I change my life. I change my city, go another city, because forget everything. I now better my family. A new house. Good, this.

MCEVERS: In both cases, Saudi authorities at the rehab center say they're less concerned with the truth about the detainee's past than they are about his behavior in the future. Whether he's fully rehabilitated or not, officials say, at least they know where he lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

MCEVERS: For NPR News, I'm Kelly McEvers, Riyadh.

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