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Research Report

Jihadi terrorists in Europe: their characteristics and the circumstances in which they joined the jihad: an exploratory study

Teije Hidde Donker
Edwin Bakker
Copyright Date: Dec. 1, 2006
Published by: Clingendael Institute
Pages: 74

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. [i]-[ii])
  2. (pp. [iii]-[iv])
  3. (pp. 1-8)

    Terrorism is a highly complex and constantly changing phenomenon, which makes headlines on a daily basis and stands at the forefront of national and international agendas. It has many forms and is associated with a wide variety of groups. They range from nationalist-separatist organisations and right-wing and left-wing groups, to political religious networks and groups and individuals that commit terrorist acts based on other or mixed motivations or ideologies.

    Of all different kinds of political-religious terrorism, (transnational) jihadi terrorism is the most threatening one to western values, interests and societies. This form of terrorism is the product of a combination...

  4. (pp. 9-14)

    Marc Sageman, author of Understanding Terror Networks, is a former CIA case officer. From 1986 to 1989 he worked with Islamic fundamentalists on a daily basis during the Afghan-Soviet war. After leaving the Foreign Service in 1991, he returned to practice psychiatry, acquired a doctorate in political sociology and specialised in research into the origins of collective violence.

    In Understanding Terror Networks, Sageman challenges theoretical and popular notions on the role of, among others, poverty, broken families, lack of education, immaturity, brainwashing, mental illness, religious fanaticism and criminality with regard to terrorism. The basis for his analysis constitutes a set...

  5. (pp. 15-29)

    Since ‘9/11’, Europe has been confronted with many jihadi terrorist plots. Fortunately, many of them were thwarted at an early stage, others were foiled at the last minute or somehow failed, as was the case with the second London bombings in 2005 and a possible attempt to blow up trains in Germany in the summer of 2006. In a few cases jihadi terrorists managed to execute their deadly attacks, killing some 250 people and wounding hundreds. Moreover, they succeeded in disturbing the peace between and within communities in Europe. This was clearly demonstrated by the violent reactions following the killing...

  6. (pp. 30-34)

    Although jihadi terrorist plots and attacks have been given much attention in the media, we know relatively little about the networks behind them. Many have no names and we often have no idea about their characteristics. The main exceptions constitute the networks behind the ‘successful’ attacks in Madrid, Amsterdam and London. Moreover, few scholars, professionals or journalists have attempted to compare these jihadi networks. In fact, there is no detailed study we know of that has put side by side the specific characteristics of the Madrid, Amsterdam, London and other jihadi terrorist networks in Europe.

    In the following paragraphs we...

  7. (pp. 35-43)

    The number of persons accused or convicted of being involved in the 28 jihadi terrorist networks amounts to over 200 persons. This includes eleven persons who committed suicide as part of the attack (London) or in order to prevent arrest (Madrid). In the previous chapters we briefly described their plots and attacks and investigated various features and aspects of their networks. But who are the individual jihadi terrorists, and what are their characteristics?

    In order to answer this question, we have investigated almost twenty variables regarding their social and psychological background, and the circumstances in which they joined the jihad....

  8. (pp. 44-51)

    After the publishing of ‘Understanding terror networks’, new questions have risen following the jihadi terrorist attacks in Madrid, Amsterdam and London and the many thwarted plots in Europe. Many of these terrorists proved to be ‘home-grown’ and appeared to have joined the violent jihad through different processes than those of the sample of Sageman. The characteristics of the European networks and individuals behind these terrorist activities may therefore differ from Sageman’s global mujahedin.

    In this chapter, we compare the data of our sample with those of Sageman, by looking at the variables that make up the biographies of the jihadi...

  9. (pp. 52-54)

    In this exploratory study, we identified 242 jihadi terrorists in Europe, examined their ‘biographies’, and compared them with those of 172 members of global Salafi networks. By doing so, we have presented many little pieces of the puzzle of jihadi terrorism in Europe. Given all the obstacles and limitations for this kind of research, the overall picture of this puzzle is still not complete. Nonetheless, we will attempt to combine some of the pieces and give an impression of what that overall picture may look like.

    With regard to the characteristics of the 28 networks that have been involved in...