How do you unmake a terrorist? It’s an urgent question, particularly for Britain. About 220 people are in prison for terror offenses in the country, the majority of whom are Islamists. Until recently, 20-year-old Sudesh Amman was one of them. He was released in January after serving half of a three-year sentence for possessing extremist material. Ten days later, he was shot dead by police after stabbing two people in South London.
It was the second such attack in just over two months. At the end of November, 28-year-old Usman Khan killed two people near London Bridge, also in a stabbing attack, and was also shot dead by police. He had completed two deradicalization programs as part of his 16-year sentence, of which he had also served half. His victims were fellow attendees at a conference on prisoner rehabilitation.
The political debate in Britain since the latest attack has focused heavily on why Amman was freed. He had qualified for automatic early release from prison, yet was considered enough of a threat to be given police surveillance. The government now wants to change the law so terror sympathizers serve longer sentences, and are subject to more stringent assessment before release. But that won’t entirely solve the problem. “If you’re not rehabilitating prisoners, whether you let them out in two or four years isn’t very important,” said Arthur Snell, the former head of the British government’s anti-extremist Prevent program at the Foreign Office, who now runs a business-intelligence firm.