State of the Union: A Synthesis of Recent Evidence for Multilevel Drivers of Involvement in Terrorism

Our empirical understanding of the drivers of terrorism involvement, particularly in relation to homegrown terrorism in the West, has improved significantly over the past decade. However, several of the key models and theoretical frameworks developed to explain this involvement predate current incarnations of the phenomenon; notably ISIS and the resurgence of right-wing inspired extremism (XRW).

Of concern to practitioners is that ill-adapted models may lead contemporary threat assessment astray. Whether ISIS and XRW are associated with new drivers of terrorist involvement and/or new indicators of risk is an empirical question. While anecdotal or even statistical observation that risk indicators vary between old and new actors would be a concern for risk assessment and management, it would be less so if it could be established that the underlying causal mechanisms remain the same.

To address the issue of the continued currency of models and explanations of terrorism involvement, this project will:

  1. synthesise the most recent thinking and evidence on terrorism involvement in the West – This will be achieved through a configurative synthesis of the evidence to identify key causal accounts and risk models of terrorism involvement. The synthesis will be organised by level of analysis to better identify any relationships between categories of drivers (individual, situational, etc). Informed by the systemic inference framework (S5) previously developed by the Principal Investigator, the synthesis will provide conceptual space to reflect on whether any change in indicators also signals a change in underlying causal processes in the current era.
  2. explore whether the key models of terrorism involvement remain applicable to the UK’s most recent homegrown cases – This will be achieved through the development of a database of open-source cases of UK homegrown Islamic and XRW radicalisation, which have resulted in the conviction or death of the perpetrator in the UK over the past decade. The case studies will be analysed for observational evidence (or the lack thereof) of support for the aforementioned models. As with the configurative synthesis, when interpreting results, particular attention will be given to causal interaction and on the differentiation between change in indicators and change in underlying causal mechanisms.

Principal Investigator

Noémie Bouhana

Institution

University College London

People

Dr Sandy Schumann