You probably don’t know him. But his is a story about how family rejection and genocide trauma can conspire to make an al-Shabaab terrorist. It is especially also about hope and redemption for Mahmood Mugisha, highlighting the role a soft approach by criminal justice actors can play to win over disillusioned extremists from terror groups. Though in the public domain, it is one of those easy to miss, especially couched in the dense NGO-like issue papers by researchers at the Eastern Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (EAPCCO). Mugisha was the last born in an unstable family of six children. His violent alcoholic father always quarrelled with Mugisha’s mother saying that he was an illegitimate child. He grew up with a deep sense of rejection in the family. But it turns out that his father was right, and it was the mother who told her last-born son the truth: that, Mugisha’s biological dad was actually his paternal uncle, his father’s brother. This knowledge gave Mugisha something to hold on to. He became attached to his biological father, who he now looked up to. Then the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi happened. The biological father was among the victims. The trauma of losing the one person he looked up to impacted him greatly. In 1998, when he was 16 years old, he fled to Uganda acting on rumours about the genocidaires mounting a comeback. Mugisha was taken in by a Muslim family and started attending madrassa. Thus his radicalisation began. It was inevitable that this should lead to his converting to Islam, upon which he joined the al-Shabaab terrorist group. Researchers at the EAPCCO Counter-Terrorism Centre of Excellence say that individuals who join violent extremist or terrorist organisations say that they do so for many reasons, and for Mugisha it was because it gave him a sense of belonging and “brotherhood”. The years that followed included training in Somalia, an escape to South Africa, and a journey back via Kigali to visit old friends. Then the tragic terrorist attack carried out by two suicide bombers in Kampala during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The tragedy remains one of Uganda’s worst. The first detonation was at an Ethiopian restaurant where fans were watching the final between Netherlands and Spain, and the second at Kyadondo Rugby Club. A total of 77 people lost their lives. An additional 57 were admitted to hospital with injuries. Analysis of an unexploded vest, including a mobile phone that would have been used to remotely detonate it, would lead to Mugisha. He had missed the action only because he had been intercepted earlier at the Kenya-Uganda border. Though not apparent then, this is where his journey to redemption begins. He became an informer to testify against his accomplices in the Ugandan court hearing the case. He provided critical information about his training in Somalia together with five of the main suspects. Mugisha also detailed his role in the planning, including in transporting the explosives from Nairobi to Kampala. He was arrested at the border between Kenya and Uganda, but the man he was travelling with managed to slip past and deliver the bombs to a contact in Kampala. For cooperating with Uganda authorities, he was sentenced to five years in prison in 2016. His accomplices got longer terms. It was during his time in prison that he began to rethink his involvement with al-Shabaab. This was after being approached by officers involved in the investigation and prosecution, who included representatives of the US Federal Directorate of Investigations (FBI). Mugisha would later say that he had found their compassion and kindness disarming, and the complete opposite of what he had expected. He would explain that among al-Shabaab’s tactics was the use of images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay to justify its violent campaign. It also served to warn its members of the type of inhumane treatment members should expect when interviewed by Americans. This helped radicalise recruits and ensure they kept in the group for fear of being caught. This was the opposite of the humane treatment Mugisha received from criminal justice actors, some of them quite senior in the justice system and two of whom Mugisha still refers to as his “mother” “father”. The symbolism of the two “parents” underscores the import of the Mugisha experience, which opens a new window in deradicalization processes. The researchers chronicling his reformation applied relationship conjectures such as Attachment Theory to not only shed light but inform his deradicalisation process. And, unlike in other deradicalization programmes which are usually structured, the Mugisha process is unstructured emphasising humane treatment of ex-terrorists by criminal justice actors. It is this that persuades the researchers to judge it an emulable success. Read a full account of the case study here. The views expressed in this article are of the writer.