14:17 GMT18 May 2021
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    While Denmark is pondering what to do with returnees from Daesh's "caliphate", the Aarhus municipality claims to have integrated most terrorists via an exit programme. Despite praise from a local imam fronting a controversial local mosque that supported Daesh, experts are sceptical of its long-term benefits.

    Aarhus, Denmark's second-largest city, claims to have succeeded in re-integrating over a dozen jihadists who have returned from Syria, in collaboration with the East Jutland Police. Between 2013 and 2015, 20 jihadists returned and 17 of them accepted the so-called "Aarhus model", the newspaper Berlingke reported.

    According to the newspaper, the tailor-made programme, aimed at re-integrating the jihadis into Danish society, included education and jobs. Some of the former terrorists have even started families.

    "It has given us the opportunity to look them in the eye and evaluate their situation and what the person needs so we can ensure they will be able to regain some sort of foothold in Danish society again", Allan Aarslev, the police commissioner for East Jutland, told Berlingske.

    Aarslev said that the officials had kept in contact with the jihadists' parents and relatives while they were away. According to Aarslev, a total of 36 Aarhus residents left for Syria to join the militant extremists. Some 20 of them have returned, while ten were killed and the fate of the remaining six is unknown.

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    Allan Aarslev pointed out that the the programme's participants are no longer being monitored, but assured that none of them has returned to a life of crime.

    "There are examples that they have also started a family and got married since then", Aarslev pointed out.

    The Aarhus model has been praised by Imam Oussama el-Saadi, the leader of the controversial Grimhøj mosque, which earlier made headlines by declaring its support for Daesh and urging its flock to stone adultresses to death and kill apostates. El-Saadi called the model "a really good idea" and commended it as a "peaceful solution" that "creates confidence". According to el-Saadi, the former jihadis "must be given a chance in Denmark".

    El-Saadi suggested that the Aarhus model be used on the next generation of returning jihadists.

    "The model can be used in all sorts of connections. I believe it will work 90 percent of the time", el-Saadi argued.

    READ MORE: 'Rude Awakening': Swedish Prof Likens Daesh Returnees to Unpunished SS Soldiers

    However, some experts remain doubtful about the long-term benefits of the programme.

    "We should remember that those who have been part of the programme in Aarhus returned home rather early", Tore Refslund Hamming, a researcher of militant Islam at the European University and a fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said. "There is a big difference between them and those who've been there for a number of years", he stressed, suggesting that today's returnees belong to a more hardened and radicalised variety.

    According to Hamming, the "Aarhus model" will be also rather limited, as the new jihadists will be tried and prosecuted. "You cannot apply it to those who have left, even though the intention is to help", he said.

    Denmark's Justice Minister Søren Pape Poulsen admitted that it is not legally possible to bar the jihadists from entering the country.

    "The fact is that we cannot stop Danish citizens from coming back to Denmark, regardless of how undesirable they are, even 'foreign warriors'. Sooner or later, they will return", Poulsen said.

    In the past several years, Denmark has seen 150 jihadists enlist with Daesh and other terrorist groups in the Middle East. Nine of them have been sentenced to prison in absentia.

    * Daesh, also known as ISIS/IS/Islamic State, is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other countries.


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