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Behavioral Study of the Radicalization Trajectories of American "Homegrown" Al Qaeda-Inspired Terrorist Offenders

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 2016
62 pages
This research report states that it "provides compelling evidence that individuals who are in the process of becoming dangerously radicalized will exhibit overt and detectable behaviors that are somewhat predictable."
The model used in this analysis differs from most assessment protocols currently used by tracking progressive radicalization through the use of behavioral indicators associated with the belief system that advocates violent, extremist behavior. The evidence presented was drawn from the biographies of convicted American "homegrown" terrorism offenders motivated by the Salafi-jihadist belief system, which fosters a predictable structure to the radicalization process. One key finding of this analysis is that becoming a jihadist terrorist is a life-style choice that is associated with overt behavioral changes. The American homegrown terrorists studied displayed patterns of overt behaviors that signified their religiously inspired extremist political beliefs and that pointed to progressive radicalization. Two sequential behaviors were particularly prominent as preludes to criminal action. One frequent pre-radicalization behavior consisted of strong interest in finding new religious authority for beliefs and behaviors, followed by involvement with a group of like-minded peers who were focused on actions prescribed by an extremist belief system. A second combination of behaviors predictive of Al Qaeda-inspired terrorist acts consists of life-style changes characteristic of a newly experienced extremist religious fervor, such as aggressive criticism of moderate Muslims, followed by associations with like-minded peers focused on acting out terrorist events recommended by terrorist leaders. An exception to this precursor model is noted for women terrorists, and issues in choices for types of extremist violence are discussed, along with suggestions for future research on the dynamics of attraction to and acting out of jihadist terrorism. 4 tables, 4 figures, and 63 notes

Date Published: August 1, 2016