Understanding the origins of violent radicalisation requires understanding that terrorist groups consist of different types of disaffected individuals who undergo different paths of radicalisation. This report, published by the European Commission, analyses empirical facts on violent radicalisation, recent academic literature and the link between external conflicts and violent radicalisation. More research on individuals who join terrorist groups, terrorist recruitment, indoctrination and training, and types and development of current radicalisation processes, would inform future state response strategies.
Terrorism is usually an instrument through which its perpetrators, lacking mass support, attempt to realise a political or religious objective. It generally involves a series of punctuated acts of demonstrative public violence, followed by threats of continuation in order to impress, intimidate and/or coerce target audiences. While radicalism poses a threat, extremism, particularly terrorism, is the main concern, since it involves active subversion of democratic values and rule of law.
This report is one of the products of an Expert Group constituted by the European Commission to provide policy advice on fighting violent radicalisation. It reports specifically on the current state of violent radicalisation academic research.
Radicalisation leading to acts of terrorism is context-specific. It thrives in an environment characterised by a shared sense of injustice, exclusion and real or perceived humiliation. In general, all forms of radicalisation exhibit the following characteristics:
- People who feel left behind in the progress of mankind and resent injustice are more prone to radicalisation. Kinship, friendship, group dynamics and socialisation all trigger an individual’s association with radicalisation.
- People involved in terrorism come from a variety of social backgrounds. The use of violence involves a limited number of individuals who undergo diverse paths of radicalisation.
- Profiling to identify possible terrorists is not productive, as no profiling measures fit all variables at work. It is possible to identify several positions which individuals may move towards or away from radicalisation or de-radicalisation.
- Preventive strategies require tailoring to specific terrorist activity drivers and specifics of the groups involved.
- The constant use of ideology helps consolidate violent ideas and attitudes, and reduces potential moral inhibitors in order to generate a sub-culture of violence.
- Propaganda is key, as it offers doctrinal arguments that legitimise extremist positions. Radical/terrorist propaganda is generally framed around ideological, utilitarian, emotional and identitarian considerations.
Future research on violent radicalisation should include the following studies of:
- Types and developments of radicalisation processes leading to terrorism in different European countries.
- Origins and socio-demographic characteristics of individuals involved in terrorist groups; how radical groups turn to violence and terrorism.
- Strategies of terrorist indoctrination, mobilisation and training.
- Institutions and organisations where radicalisation leading to terrorism occurs, particularly schools, religious settings, prisons and armies.
- Past and current counter-radicalisation strategies and initiatives.
- De-radicalisation programmes, such as those targeted towards extremists in prisons, to help provide evidence on what works and does not work.