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Role of Social Networks in the Evolution of Al Qaeda-Inspired Violent Extremism in the United States, 1990-2015

Thursday, January 26, 2017 14:48
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Author: Jytte Klausen
This study examines how and why foreign jihadist organizations recruit Americans to their cause and the role internet-based proselytizing and recruitment play in stimulating homegrown terrorism.
The study analyzed the networks and organizations that mobilize and direct Americans in committing jihadist action or that raise money in the United States for the Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist organizations. The report also examines the utility of social network analysis (SNA) in the study of terrorist organizations.
The report outlines three theories about the reasons for the growth of “homegrown” terrorism:
1.         Homegrown terrorism is a cost-efficient means to attack the United States and its allies and is part of a globalized central command.
2.         Homegrown terrorists are volunteers to a leaderless movement, acting and training one their own and at home.
3.         Western civil liberties provide opportunities to find safe harbor, mobilize, proselytize, and fund raise. Homegrown recruits can operate online in both jihadist countries and in the West.
A key finding of the study was that 2015 saw a record number of arrests in the U.S. related to jihadist-inspired terrorism, the highest count since the 9/11 attacks.
The study found that family members and spouses are often the first to know when a person is about to engage in a violent jihadist-inspired attack. American homegrown terrorists will rebel against perceived national U.S. policies and values, the beliefs of their parents, and against the American Muslim community that embraces the American way of life.
The study indicates that jihadist organizations changed radically with the shift to online recruitment and organization starting in and around 2008. The study identifies that SNA can throw light on the structures of terrorist recruitment and organization but is incomplete in identifying the boundaries of terrorist cells.
The findings show that opportunity, access, and persuasion contribute to the current process of jihadist recruitment, and all three may be found online. The results suggest that jihadists are extremely diverse and can integrate with the global Islamist extremist movement through modern communication technologies to push their belief system worldwide.
The research recommends that state and federal laws should make it a duty to report suspicions about imminent criminal activity related to terrorism. Also, it is recommended that a top-down suppression on social media of the recruiters of extreme political violence be incorporated, rather than a bottom-up elimination of militant social media activists.


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