An Assessment of Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters’ Commitment to Reintegrate: A Case Study of Kwale County, Kenya


  • Tina Mykkänen


Al Shabaab, Foreign Terrorist Fighter, Reintegration, Countering Violent Extremism, Returnee, Kenya


This study seeks to contribute to filling the prevailing research deficit in empirical data informed by Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) and their experiences of, and challenges in, reintegration, through qualitative interviews with returning FTFs in Kwale County, Kenya; a county producing a relative majority of Kenyan recruits to Al Shabaab, who are offered amnesty upon return to their county of origin. The Life Psychology framework, which assumes an inherent human strive to obtain a good life, i.e. life embeddedness, is adopted for the analysis. The study finds that returnees commit to reintegration in the absence of other alternatives, due to economic incentives and longing for acceptance. It confirms that the process requires the societal motivation in facilitation, but will fail without the sustained commitment of the returning FTF. The study further establishes that returning FTFs are not able to obtain a flow in life embeddedness, which would indicate inability to reintegrate. Yet, many of the interviewed returning FTFs express the contrary, which challenges the concept of life embeddedness as an indicator for reintegration. The study further challenges the general assumption that deradicalization is a precondition for reintegration, as it finds that radicalized individuals are able to reintegrate into communities of origin without deserting held radical beliefs, if those communities share radical sentiments.


Al Jazeera, 2020. A year after DusitD2 attack, grief and pain still linger. Al Jazeera Online [online] 15 January. Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

Altier, M.B., Thoroughgood, C.N., Horgan, J.G., 2014. Turning away from terrorism: Lessons from psychology, sociology, and criminology. Journal of Peace Research, 51(5), 647–661.

Barrelle, K., 2015. Pro-integration: disengagement from and life after extremism. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 7(2), 129-142.

Bertelsen, P., 2015. Danish Preventive Measures and De-radicalization Strategies: The Aarhus Model. From the Desert to World Cities: The New Terrorism. Panorama: Insights into Asian and European Affairs, 15(1), 241-253.

Bertelsen, P., 2016. Violent radicalization and extremism: A review of risk factors and a theoretical model of radicalization. Translated from Danish by P. Bertelsen, 2016: Voldelig radikalisering. i Tilværelsespsykologiens optik. Tværprofessionelt samarbejde om udsathed blandt børn og unge. Aarhus, Turbine.

BRICS, BRICS East Africa Project, 2016. Working with the National Government and Coastal Counties to counter violent extremism in the Coast Region of Kenya. Mombasa: TTU.

Bryman, A., 2016. Social Research Methods. 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cannon, B., Pkalya, D. R., 2017. Why al-Shabaab Attacks Kenya: Questioning the Narrative Paradigm. Terrorism and Political Violence, 1-17.

Capital News, 2017. 2 suspected Shabaab returnees killed in Kwale. Capital News Online. [online] 15 May. Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

Clubb, G., 2016. The Role of Former Combatants in Preventing Youth Involvement in Terrorism in Northern Ireland: A Framework for Assessing Former Islamic State Combatants. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 39(9), 842-861.

Creswell, J. W., 2013. Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approached. Sage.

Cronin-Furman, K., Lake, M., 2018. Ethics Abroad: Fieldwork in Fragile and Violent Contexts. PS: Political Science & Politics, 1-8.

Csíkszentmihályi, M., 2008. Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. 1st Harper Perennial Modern Classics ed. New York: Harper Perennial.

Danermark, B., Ekström, M., Jakobsen, L., Karlsson, J. C., 2002. Explaining society. Critical realism in the social sciences. London: Routledge.

Gill, P., Bouhana, N., Morrison, J., 2015. Individual Disengagement from Terrorist Groups. In: Kennedy-Pipe, C., Clubb, G., Mabon, S. Eds. Terrorism and Political Violence. London: Sage. Ch. 10.

Guardian, 2017. Nine Kenyans beheaded by Somali al-Shabaab terrorists. Guardian Online. [online] 8 July. Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

Gunaratna, R., 2011. Terrorist rehabilitation: a global imperative, Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, 6(1), 65-82.

Holmer, G., Shtuni, A., 2017. Returning Foreign Fighters and the Reintegration Imperative. Special Report 402. United States Institute of Peace.

Horgan, J., 2008. From Profiles to Pathways and Roots to Routes: Perspectives from Psychology on Radicalization into Terrorism. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 618(1), 80–94.

Horgan, J., 2009. Deradicalization or disengagement? A process in need of clarity and a counterterrorism initiative in need of evaluation. Revista de Psicología Social, 24(2), 291-298.

ICG, International Crisis Group, 2014. Kenya: Al-Shabaab – Closer to Home. Africa Briefing. Nairobi/Brussels: ICG. [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

IEP, Institute for Economics and Peace, 2017. Global Terrorism Index 2017. [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

IEP, Institute for Economics and Peace, 2019. Global Terrorism Index 2019. [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

Jawaid, A., 2017. From Foreign Fighters to Returnees: The Challenges of Rehabilitation and Reintegration Policies. Journal of Peacebuilding & Development, 12(2), 102-107.

Kenya Gazette, 2017. Vol.CXIX-No.41. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

Kenya Law, 2010. Constitution of Kenya. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

Kenya Law, 2015. Prevention of Terrorism Act No. 30 of 2012. Revised 2015. [online] 30 OF 2012 [Accessed 24 February 2020].

Khalil, J., Horgan, J., Zeuthen, M., 2019. The Attitudes-Behaviors Corrective (ABC) Model of Violent Extremism. Terrorism and Political Violence, 1-26.

Koehler, D., 2016. Understanding Deradicalization : Methods, Tools and Programs for Countering Violent Extremism. Taylor & Francis Group.

Kruglanski, A., Bélanger, J., Gunaratna, R., 2019. The Three Pillars of Radicalization: Needs, Narratives, and Networks. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marsden, S. V., 2017. Reintegrating Extremists: Deradicalisation and Desistance. Palgrave Macmillan. Lancaster: Palgrave Pivot.

Miall, H., Ramsbotham, O., and Woodhouse, T., 2016. Contemporary Conflict Resolution. 4th ed. Polity.

Mirahmadi, H., 2016. Building Resilience against Violent Extremism: A Community-Based Approach. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 668(1), 129-144.

Mwabege, F., 2016. Fear grips Kwale as three Nyumba Kumi officials are killed. Daily Nation. [online] 30 May. Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

NCTC, National Counter Terrorism Centre, 2016. National Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism. Nairobi: NCTC.

Noricks, D., 2009. Disengagement and Deradicalization: Processes and Programs. In: Davis, P. K., Cragin, K., ed. 2009. Social Science for Counterterrorism: Putting the Pieces Together. RAND Corporation. Ch. 8.

Noor, M., Halabi, S., 2018. Can we forgive a militant outgroup member? The role of perspective-taking. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 21(4), 246-255.

Ombati, C., 2015. Kenya announces amnesty and reintegration to youth who denounce Al-Shabaab. Standard Media. [online] 14 April. Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

Ozer, S., Bertelsen, P., 2019. Countering radicalization: An empirical examination from a life psychological perspective. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 25(3), 211–225.

RAN, Radicalization Awareness Network, 2016. Foreign Fighter Returnees and the Reintegration Challenge. [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

RAN, Radicalization Awareness Network, 2017. Responses to returnees: Foreign terrorist fighters and their families. [pdf] Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

Rapoport, D. 2011. Four Waves of Modern Terrorism. In: Horgan, J., Braddock, K., ed. 2011. Terrorism Studies: A Reader. 1st ed. New York: Routledge.

RoK, Republic of Kenya, 2017. Kwale County Plan for Countering Violent Extremism. Kwale: Republic of Kenya.

SBS, 2017. Can extremists be rehabilitated? In Denmark, a controversial new program is trying to change the minds of radicalised young people, by supporting rather than outcasting them – but does it work? [online] 8 August. Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

Tapley, M., Clubb, G., 2019. The Role of Formers in Countering Violent Extremism. International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) – The Hague. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

Thomas, A., Mohan, G., 2015. Research Skills for Policy Development. Los Angeles: Sage.

UNGA, United Nations General Assembly, 2015. A/70/674. Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

UNSC, United Nations Security Council, 2014. United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 February 2020].

Yeasmin, S., Rahman, K. F., 2012. ’Triangulation’ Research Methods as the Tool of Social Science Research. BUP JOURNAL, 1(1), 154-163.