Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 February 2019

‘Undercover Jihadi’ shares insights at Abu Dhabi seminar

A seminar in the capital has been given a personal look into the mind of a radicalised young man.

ABU DHABI // A seminar in the capital has been given a personal look into the mind of a radicalised young man.

Mubin Shaikh, who became radicalised after meeting the Pakistani Taliban but later worked as a counter-terror operative for the Canadian security agency, gave insights into what attracts youths to extremist ideologies.

Mr Shaikh and Dr Anne Speckhard, an expert on the psychosocial, cultural and organisational aspects of terrorism who also addressed the seminar, have written a book called Undercover Jihadi about his experiences, “my sad story of my sad life”.

“My intention to write the book was I wanted other young people going through this to think, ‘wow, his life is very similar to my life’, or ‘wow, this guy is really screwed up. Maybe I shouldn’t become like him’.”

“Inside the Mind of a Jihadist” was organised by Trends, an independent Emirati think tank.

Mr Shaikh told of being radicalised, meeting the Taliban and celebrating the September 11 attacks on New York.

Eventually, he moved to Syria to study Arabic and Islamic Studies, and became convinced to leave his extremist views behind.

He returned to his country to become one of the Canadian Security Intelligence Services’ most well-known counter-terrorism operatives and now an expert on radicalisation and terrorism.

Mr Shaikh is pursuing a PhD focusing on the psychology of radicalisation.

“It’s good for Muslim countries to take the lead,” he said. “I believe it is the duty of Muslims to refute the message of ISIL. This is the only way we can do something against this group and those people.”

Dr Speckhard, who teaches at Georgetown University in Washington DC, has interviewed more than 400 terrorists, their families and supporters in different parts of the world.

“Basically, my theory is that terrorists are made, not born,” she said. “I’m a psychologist so I wanted to know if I got to you before the terrorists group did, could I prevent you from joining? Or, if you are already on the terrorists’ trajectory, can I take you off it – and I’ve had that opportunity.

“If you’re in a non-conflict zone it has a lot more to do with identity, discrimination, adventure, impressing women – and it may also have to do with trauma.”

Dr Speckhard said terrorism was a male-dominated field, yet women played an important role within many extremist organisations.

She gave the example of two female Chechen suicide bombers who drove into a military barricade before setting off their explosives in 2000 – the first recorded Chechen suicide attacks.

Chechen women, Dr Speckhard said, made up half of more than 100 suicide bombers operating with the group. Female terrorists also generate media attention.

Dr Ahmed Al Hamli, chairman and founder of Trends, told the seminar: “Trends offers enlightened ideas to issues of concern to the public and the country, at the same time.

“Unfortunately, what is prevalent right now is the radicalisation in thought in something so dear to us, which is our religion.

“Certain radicals infiltrated ideologies and associated Islam with blood and violence. We hope to shed light on how certain groups are using Islam for their personal agendas and political gains.

“We’ll be hosting a series of talks with global experts in the field to combat those severe extremist ideologies.”


Updated: May 4, 2015 04:00 AM