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Community-Focused Interventions Against Terrorism

ICSVE Panel Discussion featuring:

Abdul Haqq, Director STREET UK

Anne Speckhard, Director ICSVE

The event was held at 11:00 AM EST on October 7th, 2020 

During Abdul Haqq’s 15 years of leadership in Brixton Mosque, he challenged violent extremist narratives, confronting and standing down extremist propagandists like Abdullah el Faisal, who has recently been extradited to the U.S. to face five terrorism charges. His award winning Initiatve, Strategy To Reach Empower & Educate Teenagers (STREET) embarked on a successful collaboration with the UK government to engage with vulnerable young people, delivering diversionary programs aimed at increasing their resilience to radicalization. Abdul Haqq’s focus remains at the hard end of intervention work where violent extremism continues to proliferate.

At ICSVE’s eighth Zoom panel, Abdul Haqq spoke about community-targeted vs community-focused collaborations with government and how the former effectively perpetuates a top-down securitized focus on communities. Existing tensions, such as racial inequality and racism are exacerbated by such approaches.

He provided firsthand case study examples illustrating the efficacy of the community-focused and therefore engaging approach where successful interventions are more achievable.

Dr. Abdul Haqq Baker is the founder and Managing Director of the 2009 award winning youth initiative, Strategy To Reach Empower & Educate Teenagers (STREET) UK, a former Lecturer in Terrorism Studies at the Centre of Studies in Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV) in the University of St Andrews and Research Fellow for the University of Exeter’s European Muslim Research Centre. He was also chairman of Brixton Mosque, London between 1994 and 2009 where he successfully countered external extremist threats to the local Muslim community and successfully challenged the destructive propaganda that accompanied it. His strategic focus involves intervention frameworks that enable strategic community based and statutory collaborations/partnerships to address the multifaceted challenges faced by violent extremism and environments at risk of developing them. His STREET program was subsequently cited by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and British think-tank DEMOS, among others, as a model case study. Its effective approach towards youth engagement and intervention led to it winning the Preventing Violent Extremism Innovation award (17th February 2009) for the most innovative youth program in 2008. Abdul Haqq’s insight, experiences and expertise in successfully challenging violent radicalization has led to him being widely acknowledged as an authority on violent extremism and counter radicalization in the UK as well as an expert in the field of youth intervention projects. He has acted in the capacity of adviser and on occasion, expert witness regarding international terrorism cases.

Dr. Anne Speckhard is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 700 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past five years years, she has interviewed 247 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners  as well as 16 al Shabaab cadres and their family members (n=25) as well as ideologues (n=2), studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS (and al Shabaab), as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews which includes over 200 short counter narrative videos of terrorists denouncing their groups as un-Islamic, corrupt and brutal which have been used in over 150 Facebook and Instagram campaigns globally. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals, both locally and internationally, on the psychology of terrorism, the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS.  Dr. Speckhard has given consultations and police trainings to U.S., German, UK, Dutch, Austrian, Swiss, Belgian, Danish, Iraqi, Jordanian and Thai national police and security officials, among others, as well as trainings to elite hostage negotiation teams. She also consults to foreign governments on issues of terrorist prevention and interventions and repatriation and rehabilitation of ISIS foreign fighters, wives and children. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, the EU Commission and EU Parliament, European and other foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA, and FBI and appeared on CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, CBC and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly writes a column for Homeland Security Today and speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to TerroristsBride of ISISUndercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: and on the ICSVE website

Follow @AnneSpeckhard

This is the eighth discussion in this series of panels discussing ISIS Foreign Fighters and terrorist rehabilitation. The first panel, “Issues of ISIS Prisoners & Repatriations in a Time of COVID,” can be reviewed here. The second panel, “Can an ISIS Terrorist be Rehabilitated and Reintegrated into Society?” featuring Redouan Safdi and Moussa Al-Hassan Diaw, can be reviewed here and the report that was inspired by this panel can be found here. The third panel, “Can We Repatriate the ISIS Children?” can be reviewed here and the report that was inspired by this panel can be found here. The fourth panel, “Terrorist Rehabilitation in the Dutch Prison System,” can be reviewed here. The fifth panel, “Into and Back Out of ISIS: An ISIS Defector Speaks Out,” can be reviewed here. The sixth panel, “Fighting ISIS Online: An Introduction to Breaking the ISIS Brand,” can be viewed here. The seventh panel, “Talking Terrorist Propaganda with a Pro,” can be viewed here.

Chat Log:

11:00:26 From Dete Aliah – SeRVE Indonesia : Hi Anna and everyone … good evening from Indonesia

Anne Speckhard (after the event):  Great to see you Dete!

11:01:18 From Abdihakim Hassan : Abdihakim from Kenya 

Anne Speckhard (after the event):  Great to see you also Abdihakim!

11:01:45 From Molly Ellenberg : Here is ICSVE’s Events page:

11:02:16 From JR : Congrats and Good Luck, Molly!

11:02:17 From Molly Ellenberg : Here is ICSVE’s YouTube channel:

11:05:48 From Molly Ellenberg : You can also view ICSVE’s counter narrative videos here:

11:09:24 From JR : That is heartbreaking, seeking prison in order to have basic needs met.

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Yes it is, and it’s something we really need to understand that even in non conflict zones individuals can face a battlezone in their neighborhood and in their homes and some people’s basic needs for security, respect, love are not being met. Terrorist groups are happy to meet their needs to take advantage of them and basically take over their lives by at first meeting initial needs.

11:10:17 From Molly Ellenberg : You can find Abdul Haqq Baker’s event, Believe and Belong, here:

11:12:49 From mahmoud soliman : ???

11:22:11 From Dr. Lisa McConnell : Was he extreme before or did an incident change his ideology and he became extreme?

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Great question Lisa about precipitating/trigger events

11:23:33 From Ricard Gadzekpo : Kharaji = The adjective of the Khawarij, the first Islamic extremists in Islamic History

Allah knows best

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Thanks Ricard for that clarification

12:04:38 From Dete Aliah – SeRVE Indonesia : Listening to the narration of people from different countries on their position to support ISIS, are the same.  Meaning, the narration the ISIS propagated and received by them are the same.  What Abdul have shared us are the same what I heard from ISIS supporters in Indonesia. How do we argue to their narrative, because what we believe that they are wrong in interpreting Islamic teaching, but they think they are correct and we are the one who wrong. They consider us as not a good moslem because we don’t follow the teaching they are follow. So, the way they think are different from what we think. For us they are wrong, but in their eyes, we are the one who wrong. So, how do we deal with this in deradicalizing them. What method do you use ? do you consider the approach is effective to deconstruct and deradicalized them ? 

Abdul Haqq Baker (after the event): Salaams Dete; I hope my response to this question helped. Please feel free to ask further questions around this or any other queries you may have. 

12:05:31 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : thank you Lisa and Dete we will call on each of you in a few minutes for your to voice your questions

12:05:53 From Dete Aliah – SeRVE Indonesia : ok Anna … thank you … 

12:12:13 From Justin Feltman : Thank yoU!

12:12:16 From JR : THank you!

12:12:45 From Farzana Islam : Thank you, that was very insightful

12:13:22 From Ricard Gadzekpo : What are your insights regarding the ‘PREVENT’ strategy and its integration with the education system in the UK?

Abdul Haqq Baker (after the event): Thanks again for this question. As I’d intimated, this is highly problematic as it has widened the targeted lens on Muslim communities – now including young children – as suspect communities.

12:13:27 From Assim Chaudhary : Thank you very insightful presentation!

Abdul Haqq Baker (after the event): you’re very welcome!

12:13:31 From Marina Soares : Thank you for this amazing communication!

Abdul Haqq Baker (after the event): you;’re very welcome also!

12:13:32 From karin stevenson : Wow – amazing presentation – thanks AHB

Abdul Haqq Baker (after the event): and you are also very welcome Karin!

12:13:59 From Swathi Nagesh : Thank you. Very insightful!

Abdul Haqq Baker (after the event): you’re welcome!

12:16:36 From suraj : Considering that moderate Salafis would be the right individuals to reach out to those practicing salafi jihadism, how do you establish that connection in countries where the Salafi Jihadi narratives are exported from outside?

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Whatever is exported if it’s not understood well or is promoting violence needs good practioners to point that out and explain, especially to new converts, that Islam as the way most Muslims in the world would agree that it is a nonviolent religion promoting peace and love between peoples.

12:16:40 From Dr. Lisa McConnell : Excellent insight and information! Clearly predators capitalize on misplaced/displaced loyalties/empathy. 

What are the elements of successful counter-narratives?

Abdul Haqq Baker (after the event): Successful counter narratives have some key components, among them being the party/parties delivering them. If the voices are not credible, irrespective of the content, the narrative will fail and be rejected by both violently radicalised extremists and their sympathisers. Additionally, the narratives should highlight and empathise with legitimate grievances before providing an alternative context to what has been presented by extremist protagonists. These are initial steps to challenge and highlight distorted / misrepresented extremist propaganda. Historical perspectives are also key where classical examples of how early mainstream Muslims, including the Prophet and his companions, addressed similar challenges and correctly utilised religious dictates to properly contextualise and deal with such challenges. Effective counter narratives also confront extremist narratives head on.

Anne Speckhard (after the event):  First of all you must create rapport before you can counter anything, which is why our Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project uses insiders who often had the same grievances, dreams and hopes that the people they are speaking to against groups like ISIS, al Shabaab etc. who are also trying to reach, to tell them don’t listen, I did, and it didn’t work out so well.

How do you understand/recognize deradicalization?

Anne Speckhard (after the event): A good practitioner will “feel” it and if they speak to them or even watch them, they will see that they are still reactive on the old issues, but they can fool you if you don’t know your field well.

Abdul Haqq Baker (after the event): Deradicalised individuals embark on a process of realisation/actualisation of what they have previously learned was misunderstood and/or misrepresented. They begin to ask questions and even seek counsel from those from among their communities or wider Muslim populaation who are known for countering radicalisation, to better understand and/or re-contextualise previous misunderstandings. They no longer reactively address previously held beliefs etc. due to constraints (imprisonment, capture etc) being placed on them (and in these cases, it is important to observe they may merely be disengaged) but become proactive in their quest to engage with the alternative – and correct – interpretations of their faith.

12:22:45 From Dr. Lisa McConnell : Outstanding point – why we should all become and encourage rising generations to remember!

12:22:50 From Shane Healey : this is why education is so very important to anyone working in this space is vital

Anne Speckhard (after the event): So true, and grateful to you for being part of that!

12:23:07 From Dete Aliah – SeRVE Indonesia : thank you AHQ for your explanation …. 

Abdul Haqq Baker (after the event): you’re welcome!

12:28:59 From Sabera : @Anne and @AHB how relevant is the fall of big Muslim empires like the Ottomans and islam finding it’s place in the 21st century world of globalisation and capitalism? Ie ultimately is this more about the fight for land, resource and power rather than faith and post WW1 and 2 there has been lots of power voids to fight for.   Also we are seeing an attack on “liberal” democracies. 

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Yesterday I was part of an event where an Israeli said that the Holocaust was constantly present in his daily life and consciousnees, like white noise.  For many living in Arab countries and other parts of the world things that happened along time ago still impact their daily lives and we need to understand that, the past is still present for them and needs to be addressed.

Abdul Haqq Baker (after the event): Thanks for this response Anne – I couldn’t have articulated this any better. I would also add that I agree with you @Sabera regarding the fall of Muslim empires and more specifically, the collapse of the Caliphate – which the Muslim world has been without for 100 years now. This continues to be a rallying point for many Muslims – not only violently radicalised – as it symbolises the removal of Muslim honour and dignity etc.

12:30:31 From karin stevenson : Yes  –  very frightening

12:31:13 From Zubair Matin : As someone who works on the PREVENT strategy, I am so grateful for your insight and perspectives. Inspiring

Abdul Haqq Baker (after the event): Thank you. If you are interested in discussing aspects of Prevent in its earlier form, please feel free to contact me. I’ve also recorded 2 podcasts illustrating aspects of that early phase in detail and with documentation, contracts, communication etc.

12:31:23 From Dr. Lisa McConnell : well done! Looking forward to it!

12:31:34 From JR : This was fantastic, much appreciated!

Anne Speckhard (after the event): Abdul Haqq Baker as I told you in the intro has been around the block, and then some :)  We can all learn a lot from him.  He can be reached at  

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