As a former fighter for the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) who left his homeland Morocco to join what he felt was a holy fight in Syria, Mohsen says he saw all the horrors of war, in an experience he described as “terrifying.”
As a prisoner now, Mohsen, 38, claims he is no longer the fanatic he was at the time when he was under the influence of a murderous hatred of non-Muslims.
Mohsen was arrested in Turkey and extradited to Morocco, and he is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence on terrorism-related charges.
Now, the ex-ISIS fighter, along with 14 other inmates convicted of terrorist offenses, has graduated from Morocco’s anti-extremism program, which may make them more eligible for early release.
The Associated Press and other media were invited to attend their graduation ceremony, last Thursday, in a prison located in the city of Sale, near the Moroccan capital, Rabat, and to conduct interviews with some inmates amid tight surveillance.
Prison administration officials selected three men who they said would be willing to be interviewed.
Officials stipulated that the inmates’ full identities not be disclosed and their faces not be shown, citing privacy reasons.
The Associated Press said prison officials did not listen to the interviews and did not interfere with the work of media representatives when asking questions and receiving inmates’ answers.
The 15 prisoners, who were wearing elegant shirts and trousers, stood during the Moroccan national anthem and gave their statements.
Prison officials said the counter-extremism program included three-month prison classes on religion, law, and economics, and that inmates also received training on how to start a business.
These recent graduates were the ninth class since the program began in 2017.
In this context, the Director of Social and Cultural Action of the General Delegate for Prison Administration in Morocco, Moulay Idriss Kelma, said that the program is entirely voluntary and works with inmates “to change their behavior and improve the course of their lives.”
He added that the program enables prisoners to develop “awareness of the seriousness of their mistakes.”
According to the Associated Press, graduating from the program does not automatically make inmates eligible for early release, but it does increase their chances of receiving a royal pardon or a reduced sentence.
That was the case for just over half of the program’s graduates, 222 so far, the prison administration says.
Since 2019, training has also been provided to women convicted under Morocco’s anti-terror law.
10 women have graduated so far, all of them have since been released, including 8 women who have been pardoned.
The programme, called “reconciliation,” is offered to prisoners who have demonstrated a willingness to renounce extremism.
Mohsen left to fight in Syria in 2012, dropping out of school as a teenager, and saying he was “almost illiterate and couldn’t tell the good from the bad.”
He added that he was radicalized by people who showed him extremist videos “about the divine obligation to fight those who do not follow the principles of Islam and to kill non-Muslims”.
Mohsen added that when he was in Syria, “I saw massacres, rape and theft, and I concluded after a while that the fighting in the name of Islam has nothing to do with our religion.”
Mohsen fled to Turkey in 2018 and was held there for a year before being extradited to Morocco.
Now, Mohsen says, he has rejected extremism. “That period of my life has passed,” he says.
Many Moroccans have traveled to Syria, Iraq and other places to join extremist groups.
Morocco has subjected itself to multiple attacks, and five suicide attacks in Casablanca in 2003 killed 33 people.
And in 2011, an explosion destroyed a cafe in Marrakesh, killing 17 people, most of them foreign tourists.
In this regard, a clinical psychologist and member of the program’s scientific committee, Mustafa Razazi, said that of the 156 people who were released after attending the program, only one person was arrested while he was committing a crime again, adding that this person was convicted of a crime not related to terrorism.