This Reference Aid is based on I&A’s review of the radicalization to violence of 39 US homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) who either successfully carried out or were arrested before attempting to carry out attacks in the Homeland between 1 January 2015 and 31 December 2016. It is intended to inform federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial counterterrorism, law enforcement, and countering violent extremism (CVE) officials. For additional information about these HVEs, please see the classified I&A Intelligence Assessment “(U//FOUO) Commonalities in HVEs’ Radicalization to Violence Provide Prevention Opportunities,” published 10 February 2017.
(U//FOUO) NCTC Homegrown Violent Extremist Mobilization Indicators for Public Safety Personnel 2017 Edition
The indicators of violent extremist mobilization described herein are intended to provide federal, state, local, territorial and tribal law enforcement a roadmap of observable behaviors that could inform whether individuals or groups are preparing to engage in violent extremist activities including potential travel overseas to join a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The indicators are grouped by their assessed levels of diagnosticity—meaning how clearly we judge the behavior demonstrates an individual’s trajectory towards terrorist activity.
Today we are witnessing the largest global convergence of jihadists in history, as individuals from more than 100 countries have migrated to the conflict zone in Syria and Iraq since 2011. Some initially flew to the region to join opposition groups seeking to oust Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, but most are now joining the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), inspired to become a part of the group’s “caliphate” and to expand its repressive society. Over 25,000 foreign fighters have traveled to the battlefield to enlist with Islamist terrorist groups, including at least 4,500 Westerners. More than 250 individuals from the United States have also joined or attempted to fight with extremists in the conflict zone.
Despite efforts to counter violent extremism, the threat continues to evolve within our borders. Extremism and acts of targeted violence continue to impact our local communities and online violent propaganda has permeated social media. Countering these prevailing dynamics requires a fresh approach that focuses on education and enhancing public safety—protecting our citizens from becoming radicalized by identifying the catalysts driving extremism.
It has now been five years since the events of the “Arab Spring,” and initial optimism about lasting democratic reforms and an era of lessened tensions has been replaced by fear and skepticism. Many countries are now experiencing greater instability and violence than before. The vestiges of Al Qaeda in Iraq have morphed into the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (or the Levant)—ISIS or ISIL, sweeping through Iraq and Syria and leaving behind much death and destruction. The growth of violent extremism initiated by Al Qaeda and its radical interpretation of the Islamic ideology is continuing. ISIL’s deft manipulation of social media to compel and mobilize individuals to act out violently is both remarkable and frightening.
Joint Chiefs of Staff White Paper on Social and Cognitive Neuroscience Underpinnings of ISIL Behavior
This White Paper makes a significant contribution to the study of terrorist behavior in general and ISIL behavior in particular. Unique in this work is the melding of neuroscientific considerations about the basic structures and functions of the brain with social and cultural influences in order to provide a holistic insight into the motivations for terrorist behaviors. Importantly, this paper also explores the relationship between the narratives that support terrorist behavior and the neuro-cognitive processes that contribute to those behaviors. That relationship is accurately portrayed as symbiotic in the sense that one can only truly understand seemingly aberrant behavior if one understands the continuous ebb and flow of chemical and cultural influences that are manifested in an individual’s actions.
The community-oriented policing (COP) paradigm provides an existing framework for collaborative grassroots engagement that has the potential for success in counterradicalization outreach efforts. COP leverages already established community-based social service programs to address individual, group, and community radicalization factors.
Joint Staff Strategic Assessment: Neurobiological Insights on Radicalization and Mobilization to Violence
This concise review presents theories, findings, and techniques from the neurobiology and cognitive sciences, as well as insights from the operational community, to provide a current and comprehensive description of why individuals and groups engage in violent political behavior. This report is based primarily on recent findings from the academic community. It has been compiled with the policy, planning, and operational community as the primary audience.
Netherlands National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism Global Jihadism and Radicalization Analysis
This report looks in greater depth at the phenomenon of global jihadism and how it manifests itself in the Netherlands. It addresses the question of what global jihadism actually involves and what factors have led to its current revival. We must try to understand jihadism and the form it takes in the Netherlands: an understanding of this phenomenon, and of its underlying processes and motives, is a vital prerequisite for devising an appropriate approach. This analysis therefore starts with the ideology behind jihadism. It will also reflect on the process of radicalisation that occurs before a person embraces extremist views. After all, in order to intervene effectively to halt radicalisation it is important to understand the potential appeal of extremist ideas and why some people are susceptible to them.
Upon request by the LIBE Committee, this study focuses on the question of how to best prevent youth radicalisation in the EU. It evaluates counter-radicalisation policies, both in terms of their efficiency and their broader social and political impact. Building on a conception of radicalisation as a process of escalation, it highlights the need to take into account the relation between individuals, groups and state responses. In this light, it forefronts some of the shortcomings of current policies, such as the difficulties of reporting individuals on the grounds of uncertain assessments of danger and the problem of attributing political grievances to ethnic and religious specificities. Finally, the study highlights the ambiguous nature of pro-active administrative practices and exceptional counter-terrorism legislation and their potentially damaging effects in terms of fundamental rights.
DoJ Community Oriented Policing Services Facebook, Twitter, YouTube Violent Extremism Awareness Briefs
Online radicalization to violence is the process by which an individual is introduced to an ideological message and belief system that encourages movement from mainstream beliefs toward extreme views, primarily through the use of online media, including social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. A result of radical interpretations of mainstream religious or political doctrines, these extreme views tend to justify, promote, incite, or support violence to achieve any number of social, religious, or political changes.
Radicalization is a critical subset of the terrorist threat. The RCMP defines radicalization as the process by which individuals — usually young people — are introduced to an overtly ideological message and belief system that encourages movement from moderate, mainstream beliefs towards extreme views. While radical thinking is by no means problematic in itself, it becomes a threat to national security when Canadian citizens or residents espouse or engage in violence or direct action as a means of promoting political, ideological or religious extremism.
The “innovative use of social media and messaging” by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) “has played a key role in motivating young Western males and females to travel to the Syrian conflict to join and support the self-declared Islamic State” according to a join intelligence bulletin released by the Department of Homeland Security and FBI last month. The 5-page bulletin titled “ISIL Social Media Messaging Resonating with Western Youth” was disseminated to law enforcement throughout the country at the end of February to report on the “continuing trend” of Western youth being inspired to travel to Syria and join ISIL forces. According to the bulletin, this trend is aided by the fact that “Western youth are willing to connect over social media with like-minded persons, and have proven adept at obfuscating such social media usage from their parents and guardians.”
Special Operations Command Central Multi-Method Assessment of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Early in 2014, as it became clear that the rise of the so-called “Islamic State” was becoming a significant menace to Regional Stability and US Interests, SOCCENT began a dialogue with Dr. Hriar Cabayan and his co-workers regarding a topic that has been at the core of the struggle against Violent Extremism. That question has been, and remains today, a perplexing one for those of us from Western cultures and societies: “What precisely are we contesting, and what is it that fuels the adversary’s power?” The contents of this paper reflect some of the work that Dr. Cabayan and his colleagues are doing to help us understand and comprehend this “intangible power” across a unique enterprise of academicians, scientists, policy intellectuals, current and former Foreign Service, military, and intelligence professionals. Most importantly, their efforts to improve our comprehension will enable us to adjust our efforts, our operations, our investments, and our risk-‐calculations to more effectively contest it and the organization that wields it. I am grateful for their tireless work in this regard, and I commend it to the reader.
In March 2014, the White House National Security Council (NSC) requested assistance from three regions with piloting the development of a comprehensive framework that promotes multidisciplinary solutions to countering violent extremism. The Greater Boston region was selected because of its existing collaborative efforts and nationally recognized success with developing robust comprehensive violence prevention and intervention strategies. With the support of the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center, a range of stakeholders in the Greater Boston region began to develop a locally-driven framework. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts has had a coordinating role in this process.
Radicalization is the process by which an individual, group, or mass of people undergo a transformation from participating in the political process via legal means to the use or support of violence for political purposes (radicalism). Radicalism includes specific forms, such as terrorism, which is violence against the innocent bystander, or insurgency, which is violence against the state. It does not include legal and/or nonviolent political protest, such as protest that is more properly called activism.
The majority of state and local participant feedback on training that DHS or DOJ provided or funded and that GAO identified as CVE-related was positive or neutral, but a minority of participants raised concerns about biased, inaccurate, or offensive material. DHS and DOJ collected feedback from 8,424 state and local participants in CVE-related training during fiscal years 2010 and 2011, and 77—less than 1 percent—provided comments that expressed such concerns. According to DHS and DOJ officials, agencies used the feedback to make changes where appropriate. DOJ’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other components generally solicit feedback for more formal, curriculum-based training, but the FBI does not require this for activities such as presentations by guest speakers because the FBI does not consider this to be training. Similarly, DOJ’s United States Attorneys’ Offices (USAO) do not require feedback on presentations and similar efforts. Nevertheless, FBI field offices and USAOs covered about 39 percent (approximately 9,900) of all participants in DOJ CVE-related training during fiscal years 2010 and 2011 through these less formal methods, yet only 4 of 21 FBI field offices and 15 of 39 USAOs chose to solicit feedback on such methods. GAO has previously reported that agencies need to develop systematic evaluation processes in order to obtain accurate information about the benefits of their training. Soliciting feedback for less formal efforts on a more consistent basis could help these agencies ensure their quality.
Throughout history, violent extremists—individuals who support or commit ideologically-motivated violence to further political goals—have promoted messages of divisiveness and justified the killing of innocents. The United States Constitution recognizes freedom of expression, even for individuals who espouse unpopular or even hateful views. But when individuals or groups choose to further their grievances or ideologies through violence, by engaging in violence themselves or by recruiting and encouraging others to do so, it becomes the collective responsibility of the U.S. Government and the American people to take a stand. In recent history, our country has faced plots by neo-Nazis and other anti-Semitic hate groups, racial supremacists, and international and domestic terrorist groups; and since the September 11 attacks, we have faced an expanded range of plots and attacks in the United States inspired or directed by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents as well as other violent extremists. Supporters of these groups and their associated ideologies come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnic and religious communities, and areas of the country, making it difficult to predict where violent extremist narratives will resonate. And as history has shown, the prevalence of particular violent extremist ideologies changes over time, and new threats will undoubtedly arise in the future.
The leadership of Al Qa’ida is now weaker than at any time since 9/11. It has played no role in recent political change in North Africa and the Middle East. Its ideology has been widely discredited and it has failed in all its objectives. Continued international pressure can further reduce its capability. But Al Qa’ida continues to pose a threat to our own security; and groups affiliated to Al Qa’ida – notably in Yemen and Somalia – have emerged over the past two years to be a substantial threat in their own right.
Al-Qaeda and allied groups continue to pose a threat to the United States. Although it is less severe than the catastrophic proportions of a 9/11-like attack, the threat today is more complex and more diverse than at any time over the past nine years. Al-Qaeda or its allies continue to have the capacity to kill dozens, or even hundreds, of Americans in a single attack. A key shift in the past couple of years is the increasingly prominent role in planning and operations that U.S. citizens and residents have played in the leadership of al-Qaeda and aligned groups, and the higher numbers of Americans attaching themselves to these groups. Another development is the increasing diversification of the types of U.S.-based jihadist militants, and the groups with which those militants have affiliated. Indeed, these jihadists do not fit any particular ethnic, economic, educational, or social profile.
(U//LES) DoJ “Paths to Radicalization” Briefing, June 2010.
NYPD Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat from August 13, 2007.