April 28, 2010 | Press Release

New Study Examining Homegrown Terrorism and Radicalization

Released today by FDD's Center for Terrorism Research

Washington, D.C. (April 28, 2009) — The Foundation for Defense of Democracies' Center for Terrorism Research released its latest study, Homegrown Terrorists in the U.S. and U.K.: An Empirical Study of the Radicalization Process, by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Laura Grossman. The study is a product of over a year and half of groundbreaking research on the phenomenon of homegrown terrorists — Westerners who have chosen to take up arms against the society in which they were born or raised.

Incidents like London's 7/7 bombings and the recent disappearances of Somali-Americans have raised concerns of homegrown terrorism for law enforcement and practitioners. Homegrown Terrorists in the U.S. and U.K. provides context to these concerns by examining the concrete steps that 117 homegrown terrorists in the U.S. and U.K. went through as they radicalized. The study is the first of its kind, examining the religious radicalization process in great depth using empirical methods.

“In this new era of more limited resources, it is essential for the security of the U.S. and other Western nations to attain the best possible understanding of how homegrown terrorists radicalize,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Director of FDD's Center for Terrorism Research. “We decided to undertake an empirical study of the radicalization process to fill the gap in the current literature, and to substantially strengthen the public understanding of this issue.”

Homegrown Terrorists in the U.S. and U.K. suggests that six different steps are particularly significant as homegrown terrorists radicalize: the adoption of a legalistic interpretation of Islam; coming to trust only a select and ideologically rigid group of religious authorities; viewing the West and Islam and irreconcilably opposed; manifesting a low tolerance for perceived religious deviance; attempting to impose religious beliefs on others; and, the expression of radical political views. Though they differ in prevalence, each of these signs occurred frequently enough in the sample to be significant.

The empirical examination of these behaviors yielded multiple insights into the radicalization process — including the role that religious ideology plays in the radicalization process, the demographical differences that exist between homegrown terrorists in the U.S. and U.K. and the broader jihadist movement, and the importance of international connections for terrorist plots. The study also suggests that prisons have been relatively insignificant to the terrorist movement in these two countries, and that community engagement can play an important role in counter-radicalization strategy.

Homegrown Terrorists in the U.S. and U.K. has already generated attention in policy and law enforcement communities. The study and its findings were discussed at length yesterday at an FDD “Leading Thinkers” event attended by high-level officials from the U.S. Government and foreign governments and members of the intelligence, law enforcement, and policy communities.

This study is the predecessor to the Center for Terrorism Research's Annual Report on Terrorism in the West, which will go further into the issue of homegrown terrorism, offering policy recommendations for the way forward. The Annual Report will be released in late spring. The study can be downloaded here, and for more information on FDD's Center for Terrorism Research, visit www.defenddemocracy.org/ctr.