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Rescue Me: A Conversation with the Yamout Sisters re Prison Rehabilitation

ICSVE Panel Discussion featuring

Maya Yamout, Rescue Me

Nancy Yamout, Rescue Me

Anne Speckhard, Director ICSVE

11:00 AM EST

December 2nd, 2020

For ten years, Lebanese sisters Nancy and Maya Yamout have in-depth interviewed hundreds of male and female militant jihadi terrorists and victims of terrorism in Lebanon, studying the social factors that contribute to violent jihadist extremism. Driven by personal experiences and intellectual curiosity, the Yamout sisters gained access to Beirut’s Roumieh prison, where they built trust and rapport among convicted terrorists. Using their empathetic approach, the Yamout sisters founded Rescue Me, an NGO which provides rehabilitation to incarcerated offenders and support to newly released terrorist offenders and works to counter radicalization in neighborhoods the sisters have found to be especially vulnerable.

At ICSVE’s eleventh Zoom event, ICSVE director Dr. Anne Speckhard will facilitate a discussion between Nancy and Maya Yamout regarding their important prison rehabilitation work and how it can be applied to efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism, as well as to rehabilitate and reintegrate terrorism offenders, in Lebanon and perhaps internationally.

Nancy Yamout is the President and Maya Yamout is the Co-Founder and Vice President of Rescue Me, an NGO focused on crime and violence prevention plus trauma rehabilitation. Nancy Yamout and her sister Maya also conduct forensic social field research related to terrorists and victims of terrorism. Over the past 10 years, they have interviewed hundreds of cases of men and women inside and outside Roumieh prison in Beirut, Lebanon. Many of the cases relate to terrorism and violent crimes and involve efforts at rehabilitation and reintegration upon release. The NGO develops a behavioral analysis profile of these individuals and the information is then integrated into psycho-social programming with youth when funding becomes available.

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 257 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. Her publications are found here: https://georgetown.academia.edu/AnneSpeckhardWebsite: and on the ICSVE website http://www.icsve.org Follow @AnneSpeckhard

This is the eleventh 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. The eighth panel, “Terrorism Prevention, Intervention, and Rehabilitation with Juveniles,” can be viewed here. The ninth panel, “Community-Focused Interventions Against Terrorism,” can be viewed here. The tenth panel, “Are We Losing a Valuable Feminist Project in the Middle East?” can be viewed here.

Chat Log

08:00:23 From Anurag Sharma : Hello Everyone!

08:00:36 From Maha Ghazi : Hello from Morocco! 

08:01:28 From Harjit Sandhu : Greetings from Rome. Harjit Sandhu

08:02:50 From Ahmed Patel  https://tinyurl.com/y62a246a : Hello to all my connections on LinkedIn and others

08:02:52 From sally : greetings from Beirut.

08:02:58 From Marina Soares : Hi from Portugal 🙂

08:03:07 From Jolanda Luongo : Greetings from Poland!

08:03:35 From Emmanuel DIDIER : greetings from Ottawa!

08:03:37 From ICSVE – Molly Ellenberg : You can watch our previous events here: https://www.icsve.org/news/icsve-events/

08:04:10 From Harjit Sandhu : Good to see Maya and Nancy from Lebanon. It brings back Lebanon memories of my having worked there for three years (2009-12).

From Anne Speckhard after the event: Great to see you Harjit, someday you’ll have to share your memories with all of us!

08:04:18 From ICSVE – Molly Ellenberg : You can watch all of our counter narrative videos here: https://www.youtube.com/icsve

08:04:20 From Anna Corsaro : Hello greeting from an Italian in Tunisia.

08:09:16 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : So glad to see all of you here!

08:14:11 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : that only 5% are classified as psychopaths matches our data on 257 in depth interviews of ISIS in which we could not find psychopathic traits in many of them either.

08:15:11 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : You can see our data on our sample here.  We did not use similar categories but possible to compare also. https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1791&context=jss

08:15:48 From Maha Ghazi : I agree as well that the terrorist propaganda is based on political factors more than the religion

08:16:51 From Maha Ghazi : feeling that Muslim are oppressed all over the world is one of the main motivation to join terrorist organizations

08:17:46 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : We found the same, that religious indoctrination occurred but often it was political grievances that were the first motivators

08:18:03 From Ahmed Patel  https://tinyurl.com/y62a246a : internalised victimhood with personal issues

08:18:15 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : ISIS definitely did require men to go to shariah camp where they were heavily indoctrinated upon entering ISIS so ISIS felt religious ideology was important

08:18:25 From Harjit Sandhu : I have come across  several of religious, political and retributional categories, but rarely a psychopathic, so my observations match your statistics.

08:20:02 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : thank you Harjit.  There are psychopaths throughout society so of course they would be represented but it doesn’t seem that they are over represented.

08:21:02 From Dr. Lisa McConnell : Is the storytelling therapy how they tell the story? Often that drives trauma. Do you ask questions to help them change how they view their status – from victim to hero?

08:22:23 From Emmanuel DIDIER : From my experience as a refugee judge, the psychopaths are usually at the top: ex. Khaddafi, Saddam. They have a remarkable ability to judge instantaneously the weaknesses of the individuals before them, which empowers them against these individuals

08:23:12 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : yes that would be a trait of a psychopath – charming and carefully observing what he can use to manipulate others

08:24:32 From Harjit Sandhu : Absolutely correct, Anne. A few psychopaths will always be there in every sphere of life and society. 

08:25:17 From Rebecca Mignot-Mahdavi : I missed the first minutes. Is the Yamout sisters’ background in psychology?

08:25:58 From Emmanuel DIDIER : https://www.mubs.edu.lb/en/campus-life/succs/success_nmy.aspx

08:26:01 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : they studied social work

08:26:29 From Azad Deewanee, PhD : What you are doing is quite important to understand the psychological and social conditions of Jihadists as well as the rehabilitation of Jihadist detainees. Would you offer your support to the autonomous administration of North and East Syria? There are thousands of  ISIL families’ members including women and children in the camps of ISIL families and symmetrizers in North-East Syria. This in addition to ISIL detainees in the prisons and rehabilitation centres of N-E Syria.  

08:27:03 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : ICSVE has been working in NE Syria last two years, we are offering all the support we can

08:27:09 From Anurag Sharma : I believe that family anchoring does play a key role in counter-extremism and later rehabilitation of returnee FTFs. In case of India, many IS sympathisers were intercepted because of the reporting by the family members, spotting the change in behaviour of an individual. 

08:28:55 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : We found the same stalking behavior with ISIS in Iraq, a teen who escaped into Iraq was contacted in a refugee camp by his former emir who told him he would work for them again. He was of course terrified.

08:29:05 From Azad Deewanee, PhD : Thank you for your efforts Anne. These two ladies are doing a great job! This is quite important to both the campaign against ISIL and the rehabilitation of Jihadists and communities   

08:29:40 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : Mary we will email you after the event.  Or e mail us at [email protected]

08:31:24 From Dr. Lisa McConnell : Powerful letter. I’m highly interested in the storytelling aspects. I’m curious if Rescue Me delves into these questions to understand or change the way stories are told. Questions such as – could your solution be the problem? Might the problem be a solution? Could the focus on the problem be the problem? Or perhaps could the problem be the story told about the problem?

08:31:30 From Noor Almusahwi : love the music!

08:31:41 From Noor Almusahwi : very powerful storytelling.

08:31:44 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : This is exactly what we do in our Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative videos, asking former members to tell about why they were attracted in, what was good, what was horrible and how they would advise others, often asking them if they could talk to their younger self what would they say now

08:33:38 From Ali : I am interested in filtering the library, my question is how would you decide what are the negative aspects in religion, do you consult the original scripture -the Quran in our case- or would you read as much literature as possible and decide?

08:34:35 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : And how do you decide what is authentic and what has been manipulated in religion as preached by groups like ISIS?

08:34:47 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : And how does a youth know the difference?

08:34:59 From Maha Ghazi : I have many questions: First, how come that the Libanese government accepted to cooperate with civil society while most of Arab world focus on security aspects? What kind of challenges did you face while dealing with extremists? Did the males refuse to talk to you for example, because you are not wearing Hijab? 

08:35:24 From Rebecca Mignot-Mahdavi : Why should the library be filtered in the first place? Quite problematic a decision in my view in light of several fundamental rights and probably counterproductive as well.

08:37:51 From Ryan LoRee : I have a question. How do you ensure the prisoner that what they’re telling you won’t affect their release? I would hope that every prisoner would feel comfortable being open and honest but I feel they would hold back for fear of not being released. What keeps them from giving you the answers they think you want to hear?

08:38:02 From Ahmed Patel  https://tinyurl.com/y62a246a : Ringleader of 7/7 ,my brother in law,had major issues with his father

08:38:37 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : Prisons have been known to  have extremist teachings promoting violence available and definitely these things which incite violence should not be present, this based on laws.

08:38:58 From Rebecca Mignot-Mahdavi : How do you reconcile the objective of rehabilitation with the information gathering dimension of your work? Do you also report back the information you collect to the authorities/prison system? Is this the condition for your activities in prison?

08:39:32 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : thanks for all your questions we will call on you to ask them in a second.

08:42:10 From Maha Ghazi : excellent questions Ryan, this also led me to ask about the factors of success? What are they in Lebanon system, do they release extremist inmates when they show remorse and change? What are the rates of recidivism? 

08:42:34 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : Ryan will be joining us at the next event with Jesse Morton and Daryl Davis Dec 16 🙂

08:44:10 From Ahmed Patel  https://tinyurl.com/y62a246a : The u.k problem is mainly projected victimhood and grievance led,less political,more guilt and a sense of ummah

08:44:18 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : Yes we will post it in chat when we send it around and yes they are scientific and compassionate, great combination

08:44:27 From Anurag Sharma : Thank you, Maya and Nancy for the insights on the rehabilitation concepts for the returnees. My question is related to the attacks carried out in London (London Bridge and Streatham terror attack) where the perpetrators were prisoners on parole. Where does the rehabilitation programme failed? Also, the suicide bombers of Sri Lanka bombings in 2019 belonged to well-off family but still easily lured to the IS propaganda to give up their lives. What could be the way forward to stop such recruiting? Thank you.

08:44:48 From Noor Almusahwi : can you please share this doc with us?

08:44:54 From Noor Almusahwi : presentation?

08:45:29 From Rescue Me : of course

08:45:53 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : https://www.facebook.com/RescueMeNGO/

08:47:26 From Michael P. : How is rescue me funded? Who supports You?

08:47:45 From Ahmed Patel  https://tinyurl.com/y62a246a : The U.K AND Europe scene is very different.

08:48:36 From Hemeis : I am a counter- terrorist specialist. My head company is in Tunisia. The Tunisian joint the ISIS pour de same raisons: money, power, leadership or for clean their past religious mistakes 

08:48:58 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : True, in EU and UK there has been a huge spread of extremist ideas but not the violence right in the region and the sectarian stresses or hope at times in an Islamic State delivering opportunities and justice that government is failing to give

08:50:07 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : Welcome Hemeis, some of those we interviewed from Tunisia spoke about being persecuted when they started practicing conservative religion and wanted to be free in ISIS, which of course didn’t happen.

08:51:10 From Ryan LoRee : Thank you for presenting.

08:51:52 From Noor Almusahwi : if we ever are in Lebanon, can we help you? Can we have a chat with you?

08:52:28 From Syed Rashid Ali : Thank you for inviting me to the talk.

08:54:02 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : Welcome Syed!

08:54:15 From Harjit Sandhu : Excellent presentation and as usual very appropriate and relevant inputs by Anne.

08:54:30 From Dr. Lisa McConnell : Do the stories they tell – how are they typically framed? Victim? Survivor? Hero?

08:54:34 From Parallel Networks : Wonderful work!!!

08:54:51 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : It is so important to see the humanity in prisoners, they will feel it, and being willing to listen to what may be seen as “stupidities” or ideology you are not interested in to take them to a place where they trust and begin to open up

08:55:11 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : Thank you Harjit

08:57:34 From Ryan LoRee : Thank you Anne and ICSVE for setting up these webinars. Very important information. I look forward to participating in the future.

08:57:50 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : Thank you Ryan for coming and your question 

08:57:58 From Emmanuel DIDIER : I agree wholeheartedly with Anne: the key is humanizing and rehumanizing. Especially the worst: they will open up and tell you what you need to hear.

08:58:14 From Jolanda Luongo : When a prisoner is released, do you include the family too in the support? Have you noticed differences between ex-extremists who are supported by families and those who not? 

08:58:51 From Marina Soares : Very enlightening. Thank you!

09:00:08 From Ryan LoRee : Yes definitely you must humanize them. I did an interview with a Boston College class and they said they had preconceived notions about extremists. They said I was able to really show the human side of extremism. It’s very important for people to remember we’re all humans not monsters who have been conditioned.

From Anne Speckhard after the event: Ryan Lo’Ree is speaking about his time in a far right white supremacist group.

09:03:03 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : My experience has been only two out of 257 ISIS individuals would not speak to me, a Western woman not in hijab, one agreed but didn’t want to face me, another required my male colleague to ask my questions, Male prisoners are often very happy to talk to a woman and appreciate kindness

09:03:51 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : On top of that I have interviewed over 800 terrorists and never found it a problem rather an advantage to be a woman.

09:04:10 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard : A smile can open a world

09:10:16 From Roger Kluck Alternatives to Violence Project, International : The talk of father issues – this video from a U.S> prison demonstrates the powerful influence: https://www.facebook.com/AVPSeattle/posts/1952016694895147

09:13:56 From Ryan LoRee : Lifting economic barriers were a major part of my healing.

09:19:01 From Ryan LoRee : I have to leave now. I look forward to seeing some of you on the 16th. Thank you for presenting. Keep on doing the hard work.

09:19:55 From Sandra Moyer – Parallel Networks : Be well, Ryan.

09:22:08 From Azad Deewanee, PhD : What can you say about radicalization in the prisons?  This is although I like to use Jihadization instead of radicalization as I think radicalisation is more suitable to secular movements. During my work as lawyer and advocate of human rights in Iraqi Kurdistan, I was told stories of radicalisation inside the Iraqi prisons and detention centres during the years of 2004-2009. I would render this to 1). the long-term unprofessional mistreatment of  detainees and their families by Iraqi security forces and prisons’ guards. 2). Mixing Jihadists, sympathisers, and suspects in the same detention centres, and lack of qualified interrogators  3). Other factors related to sectarianism, …etc. Here it is relevant to refer to Al-Baghdadi and other Jihadists who were in Iraqi prisons before re-establishing their Jihadist gangs that grew to ISIL. Is this also the case in Lebanon prisons in term of prison radicalisation?  

09:23:16 From W. Noor, CTTC, Bangladesh Police : I have interviewed more than 350 violent extremists, from both ISIS and Al-Qayeda, in the last 4 years. Talking about the religion is the best way to open them up, but for that, one has to have very in-depth knowledge about religion, especially their version of religion. Otherwise, almost every time, this will be counter productive. If one doesn’t have that kind of religious knowledge, it is better not to bring up religion at all.

09:23:39 From Emmanuel DIDIER : WOW! Maya, one of the most powerful, and positive, comments I have ever heard! MANY THANKS!

09:24:18 From Marcella Calabi TRUST Network : I am so grateful to you for your work. Very sorry that I must leave. Thank you and all the very best for your continued and expanded success.

09:26:32 From Jolanda Luongo : Regarding youths, are there awareness campaigns in schools in Lebanon? If yes, are you engaged? 

09:26:39 From Maha Ghazi : Thank you for all your answers Maya and Nancy 

09:27:22 From Harjit Sandhu : I will follow Maya’s style and avoid religion. Bring more humanity in that.

09:28:54 From Syed Rashid Ali : We have interviewed people in the post conflict period. We asked them why people join extremists, they said we had no other alternative. No state or state institute was there.

09:29:27 From Gary Dunnagan : What an inspiring talk. I look forward to sharing this with my students. A big thank you to Anne and Molly for bringing Nancy and Maya to a wider audience. 

09:30:23 From Sandra Moyer – Parallel Networks : You are both inspiring and I appreciate your discussion.  Thank you.

09:30:35 From Alexandra Bain : My own research with active jihadists in Syria (2014-2015) has underscored a difficult or non-existence paternal relationship as key. My work with families detained in Syria has only served to reinforce this notion. None of the families I am working with approve of ISIS, nevertheless they love their kids and have worked with me for two years to get them home. Families are the key to helping people who want to disengage and rebuild their lives. Mental health assessments and therapies, education (especially critical thinking skills) and job training are key. You can’t (and shouldn’t) try to argue these people out of their beliefs. The tendency when harangued in this fashion, is that people dig in their heels. The support that the Yamout sisters are providing is experiential, by not provoking the people they work with through arguments they allow the positive experiences they provide to do the work for them. Well done!

09:30:37 From Harjit Sandhu : Thank you Anne for hosting this. Great discussions. Keep it up!

09:30:38 From Saad Shaheed : Thank you for the informative presentation Ms Maya and Ms Nancy. It was great to have your perspective. Kindly share links to the published work that you have. Thank you ICSVE for arranging the talk. 

09:30:38 From Patrick Segsworth : Thank you so much!

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