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Meet researcher Daan Weggemans

Scientists of the faculty of Governance and Global Affairs research completely different subject, among which terrorism, cybercrime and migration. In the upcoming weeks we will give the floor to several of our very best researchers. In this episode: jihadism researcher Daan Weggemans.

What is the topic of your research?

‘My research has focused mainly on the reintegration of terrorists and extremists. What happens after a prison sentence? Difficult to establish  – what we’re talking about is, after all, a very small group. Quite different from, for instance, the multitudes who commit property crimes.’

What did you find?

‘Mainly that we should be modest about our conclusions, as what governments do is in fact a form of pioneering. A  period in jail can make people, both terrorists and ordinary criminals, better but also angrier or more radical. Sometimes a sentence pushes them further back into their old (in this case terrorist) networks, sometimes it gives rise to clearheaded moments. In brief, the outcomes of reintegration are influenced by many factors. It may sound rather insipid, but reintegration of terrorists should, therefore, always be customized.’

Why is your research relevant?

‘Returning jihadi’s constitute a potential danger to society. But they exist, and we’ll have to deal with that. What’s the best form of imprisonment (in a separate wing or spread out over the prison population as a whole)? The best way to reintegrate? And of course, when do we consider the situation to be safe? If things go wrong it ‘ll have a huge impact. But that risk is inherent to the constitutional state.’

Surprises?

‘Talking to people is a large part of my work – to observe and register what’s been said. Quite time consuming. I have to win trust, make contact with other researchers, policymakers, friends and family. Fun if it works out, frustrating if someone lets you down for the umpteenth time. Or simply doesn’t speak the truth. Sometime ago I grabbed a coffee with this guy, a former extremist, who tells me: “I’m doing my best. But the government doesn’t give me a chance”. About a week and a half later someone sends me a photograph. The same boy, in Irak, posing proudly with his gun. Some serious cussing – that’s what I want to do most in such a case. What’s this information worth now?’

You have to be objective and impartial. Do you manage? 

‘Some people have been involved in gruesome things. Or brag about the horrible stuff they’ve done. The tendency to disengage myself  is profound. But that’s not my role. Also tricky: not everyone tells the (whole) truth. Sources, of course, also have their own interests. Fortunately  a lot of information was discovered or leaked in the past years, especially after the fall of IS. And it mainly supports our earlier findings.’

Meer lezen over dit onderzoek?

Lees gratis de Research-brochure van de faculteit Governance and Global Affairs. In deze publicatie vertellen twaalf wetenschappers over hun onderzoek.

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