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Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat

NCJ Number
Mitchell D. Silber; Arvin Bhatt
Date Published
92 pages
This report instructs policymakers and law enforcement officials, both in Washington and throughout the Nation, regarding the threat of and countermeasures for U.S. residents/citizens becoming radical jihadists intent on committing violent attacks in the United States.
In order to test whether the same framework for understanding the radicalization of individuals into jihadists abroad applies within the United States, the authors of this paper analyzed three post-9/11 U.S. "homegrown" terrorism cases and two cases based in New York City. The study found that although Al-Qaeda and its jihadist radicalism have provided the inspiration and ideology for some terrorist activity of U.S. residents, the direct command and control of these "homegrown" terrorists by al-Qaeda has been the exception. Regardless of where and with whom radicalization occurs, this study identified four stages of the radicalization process, each with its distinct set of indicators. The four stages are pre-radicalization, self-identification, indoctrination, and "jihadization." In the pre-radicalization stage, the majority of the individuals who become radicalized have lived ordinary lives without any criminal history. Self-identification is the phase in which individuals, influenced by both internal and external factors, begin to explore Salafi Islam, which gradually draws them away from their old identity as they bond with like-minded individuals. This reinforces their new identity as a follower of Salafi Islam. Indoctrination is the phase in which an individual progressively intensifies his/her beliefs. "Jihadization" is the phase in which members of a cell commit to their primary duty to be "holy warriors" against all viewed as enemies of Salafi Islam. Considering the sequencing of these behaviors and the need to identify those entering this process at the earliest possible stage, this makes intelligence the critical tool in thwarting an attack or preventing the planning of attacks. 143 notes and a glossary of terms