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Forensic Psychology Professionals Minimizing the Threat of Terrorist Recruitment Discussion

Forensic Psychology Professionals Minimizing the Threat of Terrorist Recruitment Discussion

Question Description

Techniques Terrorist Groups Are Using to Recruit

ISIS has revolutionized terrorist recruiting by making efficient use of social media platforms to push it’s propaganda to millions of people who would normally not be exposed to such matrial (Engel, 2015). ISIS social media recruitment efforts came to life when they uploaded videos of beheadings of Westerners and these videos reached mainstream social media audiences (Engel, 2015). Historically, radical Islamic terrorist recruiting efforts had been limited to a small population of “true believers”; but with the proliferation of social media outreach, this recruiting and propaganda material is now available to anyone with an internet-connected device (Engel, 2015).

Boko Haram, another radical Islamic terror group based in Nigeria, uses a more complicated method of recruitment (Babatunbe, 2018). Boko Haram leveraged the socioeconomic and political climate of Nigeria, where unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, and strict military rule were reality for many years (Babatunde, 2018). Boko Haram initially established schools where children could go to learn, and then began indoctrinating them with strict Islamic beliefs and encouraging hatred of all things Western (Babatunde, 2018). Boko Haram also leveraged financial benefits and charity operations, both of which were neglected by the Nigerian government (Babatunde, 2018). Much of the so-called charity was in the form of interest free loans to people in various occupations, but when the defaulted on the loans, they were conscripted into the service of Boko Haram (Babatunde, 2018). Boko Haram also used peer pressure by converted adherents to convince their family and friends to join; young women were especially vulnerable to Boko Haram and many became married at young ages (Babatunde, 2018). Boko Haram makes more use of female suicide bombers more than any other terror group (Babatunde, 2018).

How Recruitment Techniques Have Changed in the Lase 20 Years

Twenty years ago, before the proliferation of social media, much of the recruiting and indoctrination into radical Islam occurred at mosques where a radical Imam presided (personal communication with FBI counter-terrorism supervisor). As electronic communications became more common, potential jihadists communicated with radical imams through email and Internet chat services (Meloy & Genzman, 2016). Currently, with the proliferation and mainstream popularity of social media, some terror groups, such as ISIS, are utilizing mainstream social media platforms to send recruiting messages and other propaganda to millions of people who have an Internet-connected device (Engel, 2015). ISIS and al-Queda both utilize English-language on-line magazines (Rumyiah and Inspire respectively) where they publish articles on how to operate certain types of weapons, how to build certain weapons, as well as justifications on killing civilians and basic targeting advice (CVE Task Force, 2017).

What Types of People are Vulnerable for Recruitment

Brooks (2011) points out some characteristics common for individuals who become vulnerable to recruitment by Islamic terrorist organizations: Viewing extremist propaganda, interacting with radical extremists, adopting very conservative Islamic belief systems, and expressing political transformations of their religious beliefs. Meloy and Genzman (2016) also identify “distal characteristics” that someone is potentially becoming radicalized and possibly moving towards committing an act of terrorism and/or targeted violence: Personal grievance and associated moral outrage, framing of a radical ideology, connection with a virtual community of like-minded individuals, frustration with occupational goals, failure in romantic attachments, significant changes in thoughts and emotions, mental disorder, and a history of criminal violence.

Olsson (2013) points out that behavior patterns for those vulnerable for recruitment by a terrorist organization are quite similar to the characteristics making one vulnerable to joining a cult. Olsson (2013) explains that individuals who are lonely, new to an area, recently divorced or separated from a relationship, just lost a job, feeling overwhelmed by life in general, or have no direction on what do do next are particularly susceptible to being recruited by a terrorist group (or a cult). Also, individuals who are between high school and college with no real direction, or between college and a job or career with no real opportunities on the horizon are also susceptible to recruitment (Olsson, 2013). Olsson (2013) explains that many rebellious and disenfranchised youth are drawn to the idealistic pursuit of a Utopia and social justice ideals that are presented in much of the jihadist propaganda; furthermore, many youth are drawn to the excitement of rebellion, weapons, military tactics, and bomb-making advertised by the different terror groups. Prison inmates are especially vulnerable to recruitment due to their perceived harsh treatment at the hands of an “oppressor” and general dissatisfaction with their place in life and society; they can be manipulated into seeking a different type of social justice and lashing out at the society that marginalized them (Olsson, 2013).

How Forensic Psychology Professionals Can Contribute to Assessing and Minimizing the Threat of Terrorist Recruitment

Meloy and Genzman (2016) assert that clinicians are in a good position to notice signs of a person becoming radicalized. If a client appears to be on a pathway towards violence, a Tarasoff warning might be appropriate (Meloy & Genzman, 2016). If no imminent threat is apparent, active monitoring may be appropriate; presence of the distal characteristics noted above are indications that monitoring is likely in order. Additionally, speaking with collateral contacts can yield valuable information, but professionals should be aware that some of these collaterals may be in favor of the person’s radicalization, or even encouraging it (Meloy & Genzman, 2018). Monitoring of the person’s online accounts and postings may yield a tremendous amount of useful information; there is no expectation of privacy in public postings to social media (Meloy & Genzman, 2018). Meloy and Genzman (2018) also encourage the consultation of a mental health professional who shares the same racial, ethnic, or religious background of the client so that culturally based behaviors are not misinterpreted.

A structured professional judgment tool, called the TRAP-18 (Terrorist Radicalization Assessment Protocol), has been developed to assist in the assessment of individuals who appear to present a concern for radicalization and a potential to engage in lone-actor terrorism (Meloy & Genzman, 2016). Tools such as the TRAP-18 are valuable for forensic psychology professionals to help identify and understand potential warning signs that a person is becoming radicalized, or is on a pathway towards targeted violence (Meloy & Genzman, 2016).


Babatunde, O. A. (2018). The Recruitment Mode of the Boko Haram Terrorist Group in Nigeria. Peace Review, 30(3), 382–389. DOI: 10.1080/10402659.2018.1496998

Brooks, R. A. (2011). Muslim “homegrown” terrorism in the United States: How serious is the threat? International Security, 36(2), 7-47. https://web-a-ebscohost-com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=54363ffb-7106-47a1-8432-0db898f78b48%40sessionmgr4008

Countering Violent Extremism Task Force. (2017, September). Reference aid: ISIS and al-Qaida English-language online messaging. https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ISIS%20and%20AQ%20Messaging_CVE%20Task%20Force_Final.pdf

Engel, P. (2015, May 9). ISIS has mastered a crucial recruiting tactic no terrorist group has ever conquered. Business Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/isis-is-revolutionizing-international-terrorism-2015-5

Meloy, J. R., & Genzman, J. (2016). The clinical threat assessment of the lone-actor terrorist. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 39(4). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2016.07.004

Olsson, P. A. (2013). Homegrown Terrorists, Rebels in Search of a Cause. Middle East Quarterly, 20(3), 3–10. https://eds-a-ebscohost-com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/eds/detail/detail?vid=6&sid=1ff79f57-9ade-443d-9357-2ef1d97f3777%40sdc-v-

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