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Outlook: Do radicalized individuals released from prison pose a threat to European societies?

Date: 19/04/2024

Who’s involved: Convicted terrorists that have been or are going to be released from prisons across Europe; European security services.

What happened?

  • In March 2024, the Danish government-appointed Bjelke Gruppen published a report on commission from the Danish Justice Department on the consequences of the release from prison of people who have been convicted of terrorist activities in the past decade. The Bjelke Gruppen gives recommendations in the report on how to monitor those who are released and how to prevent them from recidivism.

  • According to the report, the coming years will see dozens of individuals who have been jailed for terrorist activities being released from several European prisons. There is a concern amongst politicians, security services and the general public that these people will return to a life of terrorism. 

  • Research groups across Europe and the United States have shown in the past years that there is little to no need for concern about recidivism by released terrorists. In 2020, the ICCT (International Centre for Counter Terrorism in the Hague) released a report similar to the Bjelke Gruppen warning politicians and security forces to not believe in the “hype” created around released terrorists. One example that has circulated in security circles and is muddying the waters is the Streatham attack in London in 2020, which was done by a released terrorist. Nevertheless, according to scientific research, the likelihood of re-engaging in terrorist activities after being released from prison is remarkably low compared to other criminals. Only between 2 and 5% of former terrorists return to their past life while most of them live quiet lives in Europe or in their country of origin. This differs radically from, for instance, sex-offenders who have a recidivism rate of 80% and higher or “ordinary” criminals who have a recidivism rate of around 40%.

  • Deradicalization and disengagement programs have been set up by several governments in different countries, and often are compulsory or strongly suggested for convicted terrorists. These programs are credited for deradicalizing and reintegrating former terrorists in society.  


  • Security agencies across Europe have put extra measures in place to monitor former terrorists through different electronic means and/or by deporting them to their home countries. However, beside the fact that such monitoring could be evaded, it can also upset the individual for being unjustly targeted by the government. Human rights groups also question these practices because they may infringe on the ex-convict’s rights.

  • Terrorism is a persistent risk in Europe, and several groups or individuals from different backgrounds have planned or executed attacks in the last two decades. Some of them had been imprisoned before for terrorist activities, but most of them did not. A lot of terrorists do have a criminal record, but those crimes are mainly connected to petty crime, theft or robberies. Especially “Lone Wolf” terrorists are often on some form of watchlist for their radical beliefs but have never acted on them, which makes it hard for security agencies to stop their attacks before they happen.


Due to recidivism concerns, security agencies are keen to monitor formerly-convicted and now-released terrorists. However, research proves that the chance of recidivism is low which means that security issues resulting from the release of these prisoners do not pose a threat. Monitoring could disway or further radicalize individuals so its effectiveness is questioned. When social workers, local police, and/or other authorities notice a person moving toward radical ideals, a de-radicalization plan will be more effective in countering future terrorist activities. De-radicalization programs, therefore, may be more effective in curbing the issue, both in prison and outside. 


20240419 Terrorism in Europe
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