A picture shows the swimming pool of the Mohammed bin Nayef Center for Counseling and Advice, a rehab centre for jihadists, on October 4, 2017, in the Saudi capital Riyadh. / AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE
With its indoor swimming pool, sun-splashed patios and liveried staff, the Saudi complex has the trappings of a five-star resort, but it is actually a rehab centre -- for violent jihadists.
Riyadh's Mohammed bin Nayef Counselling and Care Centre, a cushy halfway house between prison and freedom, spotlights a controversial Saudi strategy for tackling homegrown extremists. While the global fight against terrorism is often associated with drone strikes and torture, the philosophy that underpins the centre's approach is that extremism requires not coercion but an ideological cure.
Overseen by clerics and psychologists, it works to prevent convicts who have served their sentences from returning to jihad, through what it calls religious counselling and ideological detoxification. "Our focus is on correcting their thoughts, their misconceptions, their deviation from Islam," Yahya Abu Maghayed, a director at the centre, said at the sprawling, palm tree-lined complex.
The convicts are housed in a series of low-slung buildings, outfitted with large-screen televisions and king-size beds, all framed by manicured lawns.
Many linked to groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Taliban walk around freely in flowing white robes, and have access to a spacious gym, a banquet hall and furnished apartments reserved for visits from spouses.
"We make the 'beneficiaries' feel they are normal people and still have a chance -- a chance to return to society," Abu Maghayed said, insisting the centre refrained from calling them prisoners or inmates.
The rehab facility, founded in 2004, is one of the centrepieces of Saudi Arabia's strategy to expunge violent extremism at home.
It claims to have treated more than 3,300 men convicted of terrorism-related crimes, including repatriated Guantanamo Bay detainees.
The centre boasts of a "success rate of 86%", Abu Maghayed said, measured by those men who did not return to jihad for at least a decade after graduating from the centre.