They call it the Family House, and it feels like a boutique hotel, if you can overlook the lack of windows, the towering walls outside and the location – inside one of Saudi Arabia’s high-security prisons for “jihadists.”
That philosophy was clear during a recent tour of al-Ha’ir Prison south of Riyadh, one of Saudi Arabia’s five facilities holding its more than 5,000 inmates charged with terrorism-related offenses.
Saudi officials say recidivism is low, but Abu Nawaf could provide no statistics. And the International Committee of the Red Cross has no presence in Saudi Arabia, so it cannot monitor prison conditions.
One inmate, Abdullah Mohammed, 29, said he had been studying Shariah at a state university in Riyadh in 2014 when images of violence he saw in Syria persuaded him to travel there and join the al-Nusra Front, Syria’s affiliate of al-Qaeda.
So he fled to Turkey, where the Saudi Embassy helped him get home. The government was offering amnesty to foreign fighters at the time, so he did not go to prison right away. But he soon got mixed up in some other nefarious business that landed him behind bars.
He placed blame for his ordeal not on bad decisions or incorrect thinking but on the government and the news media – of the United States.
“I am a victim of the American government and the American media,” he said, despite being unable to understand rudimentary English…