This post is adapted from NYPD 'Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat'. Prepared by: Mitchell D. Silber and Aaron Bhatt, Senior Intelligence Analysts, NYPD Intelligence Division.
I'm taking the paper's salient points and paraphrasing, hopefully translating Silber and Bhatt in a way you will find helpful.
I want to say again that I have no axe to grind with Muslims who mean me and my co-religionists and countrymen no harm. But I will not submit to Islam regardless of who's pushing the envelope or swinging their sword. That's all I have to say about that.
Special thanks to my faithful companion and wingman, 'Short-round', for his tireless research and sense of humor. Since "The Project" he has been reliable and relentless in his digging for information that will, I'm sure, ultimately save the world as we know it. And it's kept him off the streets, too.
So, with apologies to Mitchell and Aaron and NYPD Intel...
The transformation of a Western-based individual to a terrorist is not triggered by oppression, suffering, revenge, or desperation. Rather, it is a phenomenon that occurs because the individual is angry and humiliated and therefore looking for a cause that will allow him to feel good about himself again… even if he has to kill innocent people in the process. And unfortunately, this cause is often found in Islam.
Salafist Islam ideology is spreading rapidly in Western democracies at an alarming rate. There have been dozens of terrorist attacks thwarted in the last several years. An investigation into the backgrounds of the would-be martyrs leads to the conclusion that the path they decided to follow to radicalization consisted of four distinct phases. This radicalization process is taking less time and the individuals choosing this path are continuing to get younger. And, with the higher risks associated with heading down this pathway, individuals will seek to conceal their actions earlier, making intelligence and law enforcement's job even more difficult.
Entering the process does not mean one will pass through all four stages and become a terrorist. However, it also does not mean that if one doesn't become a terrorist, he or she is no longer a threat. Individuals who have been radicalized but are not jihadists may serve as mentors and agents of influence to those who might become the terrorists of tomorrow.
In and of themselves, individual behaviors can be seen as innocuous; however, when seen as part of the continuum of the radicalization process, their significance becomes more important. If the sequence of these behaviors is understood and the need to identify those entering the process at the earliest possible stage is recognized, then one can only conclude that intelligence is the most critical tool in helping to thwart an attack or even prevent the planning of future plots.
Undaunted note: intelligence is information provided to law enforcement that supports a reasonable belief that a person or persons are engaged in a terrorist act. The best source of intel is what is called humint ~ human intelligence. That's the man and woman on the street; you and me.
Brian Jenkins, Counterterrorism Wizard at Rand writes: "... we have not dented their determination, prevented their communications or blunted their message. We have not diminished their capacity to incite, halted the process of radicalization, or impeded the recruitment that supports the jihadist enterprise. Indeed, recent intelligence estimates concede that activists identifying themselves as jihadists are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion." As a consequence, 'the operational threat from self-radicalized cells will grow in importance to US counterterrorism efforts, particularly abroad, but also in the Homeland. As the DHS Chief Intelligence Officer testified in March 2007, 'radicalization will continue to expand within the US over the long term.'"
STAGE 1: PRE-RADICALIZATION or Before I Decided to Become a Vicious Killer of Anyone Who Doesn't Agree With My Version of Religion or Insults the Thing I Call God or Someone Who Said He Spoke For the Thing I Call God. This describes an individual's world - his or her lifestyle, religion, social status, neighborhood, and education ~ just prior to the start of their journey down the path to radicalization. It is the point of origin for individuals before they begin this progression.
Undaunted note: I'm going to drop the words 'progression' and 'radicalization' and similar benign language from the text from here on. I'll call the process what it really is: degeneration.
So, 'pre-degeneration' is their life situation before they were exposed to and adopted jihadi-Salafi Islam as their own ideology. The majority of the individuals who may choose to become involved in terrorist plots a/o attacks against the West will seem unremarkable. How many times have you heard the neighbor of a murderer of any race or ethnicity say, "I can't believe it. He seemed like a regular guy to me... wouldn't hurt a fly." These 'unremarkables' have ordinary jobs, live ordinary lives and have little if any criminal history. They live in neighborhoods that are largely Muslim in population and practice, which often serve as 'ideological sanctuaries' for the seeds of degenerate islamist thought. Candidates for jihad are those who live, work, and pray in these Muslim enclaves in Western cities.
They're mostly from the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia. Muslim males age 15-35 who live in male-dominated communities, are particularly vulnerable. These individuals are at an age where they often are seeking to identify who they really are while trying to find the 'meaning of life'. This age group is usually very action-oriented. Middle class families and students appear to provide the most fertile ground for seeds of this type of degeneration. Several socioeconomic and psychological factors are associated with those who have chosen to go this way to include the bored a/o frustrated, successful college students, the unemployed, the second and third generation, new immigrants, petty criminals, and prison inmates.
Wow, could be pretty much anybody then, huh?
Invariably, these individuals seek other like-minded individuals and often form a loose-knit cell. Commonalities among these individual's age, residence, school, interests, personality, and ethnicity are critical in determining who becomes a member of a particular cell. They begin to meet at places where they find enabling and encouraging agents, which can lead them to choose to embrace and permit their own spiritual putrefaction through jihad. Generally these locations, which together comprise the degenerate subculture of a community, are full of extremist, anti-Western rhetoric ~ what can accurately be described as hate-speech. Though locations can be mosques, more likely incubators include cafes, cab driver hang-outs, flop-houses, prisons , student associations, non-governmental organizations , hookah bars, butcher shops and book stores. While it is difficult to predict who will degenerate, and not all will, these spots are likely places where like-minded losers will congregate as they move through the degenerative process.
Converts have played a prominent role in the majority of terrorist case studies and tend to be the most zealous members of cells. Their need to prove their religious convictions to their companions often makes them the most aggressive. Conversion also tends to drive a wedge between the convert and his family, making the cell his surrogate family.
STAGE 2: SELF-IDENTIFICATION or Settling For Self-Centeredness. This stage marks the point where the individual begins to explore Salafi Islam while slowly moving away from their former identity - an identity that now is re-defined by Salafi philosophy, ideology and values. The catalyst for this religious seeking is often a significant emotional event or crisis which challenges one's previously held beliefs, opening the individual's mind to a new perception or view of the world.
Individuals most vulnerable to making poor decisions during this phase are often those who are at a crossroad in life - those who are trying to establish an identity, or a direction, while seeking approval and validation for the path taken. Some of the crises that can trigger this phase are: economic (losing a job, blocked mobility), social (alienation, discrimination, racism - real or perceived), political (international conflicts involving Muslims), personal (death in the close family).
Hey, most people just get therapy or talk to a friend, but these guys get with others and try to kill people whose only offense is that they don't believe in the same god. Wow. Here's something for them to think about, maybe even learn the song and sing it as a therapeutic anthem of sorts.
These thugs don't get a pass on their savagery just because they have a bad day. Anger, whether justified or not, makes a person of any ethnicity or race feel powerful. So, outrage over the humiliation experienced by Muslims in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, Israel, Iraq, which usually resonates louder with Muslims who are already experiencing an identity crisis, gives them a sense of power and renewal that all too often degenerates into a perverse belief that they have the 'right' to play catch-up, to pay back, to overcompensate for actual or perceived losses suffered on far away battlefields a/o in the dark corners of their minds.
Two key indicators within this self-identification stage that suggests movement along the degeneration continuum are: embracing Salafi Islam, and regular attendance at a Salafi mosque. Wow, a chicken-egg question. As these individuals adopt Salafism typical signs are:
- Becoming alienated from one's former life, affiliating with like-minded individuals
- Joining or forming a group of like-minded individuals in a quest to strengthen one's dedication to Salafi Islam
- Giving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling, and urban hip-hop gangster clothes ...
- Wearing traditional Islamic clothing, growing a beard ...
- Becoming involved in social activation and community issues.
- At this stage they may begin to become active in youth groups or serving as a teaching assistant at an elementary school, reaching out to young people, taking them camping, playing basketball, desecrating a trust by using those connections and venue to push their degenerate message on the more susceptible youth.
STAGE 3: INDOCTRINATION, or Dedicating to Delusion. This is the stage in which an individual increasingly intensifies his beliefs, wholly adopts jihadi-Salafist ideological belief as the only correct interpretation and manifestation of 'the religion of peace' and concludes, without question, that the conditions and circumstances exist where action is required to support and further the Salafist cause. That action is militant jihad. While the initial self-identification process may be an individual act, association with like-minded people is an important factor as the process deepens. By the indoctrination phase, this self-selecting group becomes increasingly important as radical views are encouraged and reinforced. A spiritual sanctioner plays a leading role in this phase.
The key aspect of this stage is the acceptance of a religious-political worldview that in their mind justifies, legitimizes, encourages, or supports violence against anything kufr or un-islamic, including the West, its citizens, and its allies. This is where the applicants decide the only way to have peace in the world is by letting their version of Islam destroy and subsume any and all belief systems that are not Muslim, or sufficiently Muslim.
Two key indicators that an individual is deciding to move into this stage of putrefaction are: withdrawal from the mosque and politicization of new beliefs. Withdrawal from the mosque: this withdrawal is sometimes chosen because the individual's level of extremism exceeds that of the mosque. Many of these withdrawals are preceded by some type of quarrel between the individual and the mosque officials a/o other co-religionists who may be 'moderates'. Other times, the mosque is seen as a potential liability ~ an individual who begins to contemplate jihadi action now perceives the mosque as a threat to exposing his or her connections a/o intentions. Politicization of new beliefs: global events are now viewed through this extremist lens. Any conflict in which Muslims are involved world-wide is the fault of conspiracies by Jews and Crusaders, or so they believe... and act. What was once just an ideology turns into a personal cause, a chip on a shoulder begging to be knocked off. The world becomes divided into two camps: the enlightened and blessed believers (themselves) and the evil and cursed unbelievers (everyone else.) Unbelievers become their enemy.
Those choosing to undergo this self-imposed brainwashing devote their time in the cyber world to extremist sites and chat rooms - tapping into virtual networks of like-minded individuals around the world who will reinforce the individual's beliefs and commitment and further legitimize them. Joining an online group or becoming more deeply involved with like-minded extremists by way of private meetings helps facilitate the individual's continued slide from the secular world and all the 'evil' things it represents. The cell becomes the new family.
Worse is heading for worst.
A dramatic change in lifestyle and ensuing isolation creates a vacuum requiring even more guidance on how to build a new life that supports their newfound ideology. Individuals seen as being able to provide crucial guidance on how to live every detail of the religion have a critical role during this phase. Too, a critical element in pushing a group further along the path to kill as many innocents as they possibly can is the 'spiritual sanctioner'. These enablers predictably encourage them to continue their path to martyrdom and a glorious death; while they stay fat, dumb, and protected... and alive. These 'leaders' deliberately use young people to carry out their crimes while assuming none of the risk. The sanctioner is responsible for developing the 'Us-versus-them/War on Islam' worldview among the group that provides the moral justification for jihad.
STAGE 4: JIHADIZATION or Believing My Cowardly Imam and Deciding to Kill Innocents Because I am Afraid of Trying to Change my Reality by Peaceful Means. In this phase, members of the cell DECIDE it is their individual "duty" to participate in jihad and self-designate themselves as 'holy warriors'.
Soon the cell will begin operational planning for jihad or a terrorist attack. These acts 'in furtherance of' (part of the legal definition of 'conspiracy') will include planning, preparation and execution. 'Group think' now becomes a force multiplier for radicalization and invariably paves the way for action. While other phases of radicalization may take place gradually, over two or three years, this jihadization component can be a very rapid process, requiring of the soon-to-be killers only a few months or even weeks of 'thought' that leads to their decision-making. Then, if a cell decides that an attack will be their objective, the next step will be target selection/recon and operational planning. The ultimate objective of any attack is to punish the West, overthrow the democratic order, re-establish the Caliphate, and institute sharia law .
This list is a rough approximation of what you might see over time as a man or woman turns from what some call 'moderate Islam' to radical, deadly Islam. It's not exact, but is based on the work of the NYPD.
- Ordinary people
- Most have never been arrested or involved in any kind of legal trouble
- Middle class with ordinary jobs
- 15-35 year-old males
- Usually from Middle East, North Africa, South Asia
- Live in Muslim neighborhoods
- May go to mosque
- May have a Western name
- Dress and eat like Westerners
- May have friends who are non-Muslim
- May have no particular political beliefs
- Seeking self-identity/ 'meaning of life'
- May go through a significant emotional crisis
- Become less friendly
- Changes name from Western to Arab/Muslim name
- Suddenly pays off loans because Islam forbids paying interest on loans
- Finds excuses for not being with non-Muslim friends
- Stops going to Western entertainment venue, eating Western foods
- May begin to carry Noble Quran, an extremist translation from KSA
- May begin an affiliation with the Islamic Thinkers Society
- Begins to explore community involvement, volunteering at youth clubs in order to indoctrinate and recruit
- Begin to meet at places which incite and encourage radicalization ~ cafes, cab driver hang-outs, flop-houses, prisons, student associations, NGOs , hookah bars, butcher shops and book stores
- Converts may have recently left their families for Islam
- Stops going to mosque
- Spends more and more time with cell
- Begins to blame the West for all Islamic problems in the world
- Reinforces jihadi commitment by playing jihadist videos/DVDs/jihadi video games that were either purchased overseas or on the internet
- May grow beard or begin to wear Islamic male clothes, including prayer cap
- Spends more and more time online at jihadist web sites
- Increased time with sanctioner
- May go to camp/pilgrimage overseas
- If they haven't committed by this time, this travel often follows or contributes to a member's decision to commit jihad
- The travel is more often than not to a militant training camp in perhaps Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, or Somalia
- May talk about drafting a last will and testament a/o recording a martyr tape for showing after their attack a/o demise
- May be seen with recon/preparation/attack items
- If he sees you in public, presuming you knew him when he was 'pre-terrorist', he may try to avoid you
- At this stage, if he's alone, he may be conducting recon
- If you see him with others, it may be either a dry run or the actual attack for which they've been preparing
- If he had a beard when he was unremarkable, then grew one and now suddenly has shaved it clean, you may be looking at the attack right there and then
Attacks don't have to be huge and horrible like 9-11. Many of the thugs in Paris are in Stage Four. We in the United States will be looking at the same kind of madness here in the not too distant future.
Are you ready?
Update 4-23-13. And now we have the Boston Marathon bomber brothers as examples that it can happen here, it ain't just jibberish.