Former ISIS militants recount their experiences at rehabilitation centre in northern Aleppo

A centre in the town of Marea in northern Syria, which opened in October this year, continues to provide rehabilitation to former ISIS militants.

The centre is located in territory held by groups belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and is managed by a mixture of FSA fighters and volunteers. The rehabilitation of former ISIS militants, some local and some foreign, represents a key step towards post-war reconstruction, and preventing these former fighters from slipping back into propagating extremist ideology.

In order to rehabilitate the former militants, the centre caters to three varying levels of danger: The first concerns militants that belonged to ISIS but did not committed crimes; the second are those who have committed crimes; and the third, often regarded as the most dangerous, are foreign fighters.

The rehabilitation is tailored to these three varying levels, with militants given training, time outside, and classes to help disentangle them from their extremist past. Furthermore, the teachers are well instructed in Islamic theology, psychology and law, and use both theoretical and practical methods.

Many of the detainees speak of their differing journeys and reasons for joining ISIS, with many regretting their mistake and vocal about the true nature of the group. “They kill Muslims and steal money, they say they impose God’s law but it was all talk,” said one fighter from Ukraine. “Their attitude was bad.”

Another local fight who initially joined the Free Syrian Army, then Nusra, before joining ISIS spoke of the complete disintegration of his relationship with his family once they found out he joined the group.

“After that, I joined ISIS and, of course, I was badly hurt,” said the former militant. “My family renounced me. My brothers totally renounced me, and those who used to support me renounced me as well.”

The issue of extremism remains, and will remain, an issue in Syria long after the war ends. Many people have experienced great trauma during the war and continue to carry the physical and mental scarring incurred therein.

It is hoped that centres such as the one in Marea can succeed and multiply, allowing those with extremist pasts to return to normal life and move beyond this devastating conflict.