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A case study of radicalization offers implications for CVE

START team details mechanisms of radicalization of Momin Khawaja

Research from START offers new insight into the psychological motives and mechanisms that radicalize a person to commit violence. The new study takes a detailed look at Momin Khawaja, a convicted terrorist who was arrested in 2004 in connection to a U.K. bomb plot, and offers some possible implications for countering violent extremism (CVE).

The researchers – Clark McCauley, Thomas Quiggin and Sophia Moskalenko – argue that in addition to fitting a “caring-compelled” profile of lone actor terrorists, Khawaja is an early example of a Western foreign fighter: although Khawaja was convicted for offenses related to the 2004 bomb plot, he was self-radicalized to go alone in 2002 to join the Taliban in fighting Western forces in Afghanistan.

The research team analyzed hundreds of pages of Khawaja’s emails and blog posts about his childhood, high school, college, and work experiences that, when taken together, describe his political awakening, opinion radicalization, and radicalization to action.

This detailed case studies offers three key implications for counterterrorism policy:

  • Distinguish extreme ideas from extreme actions, and focus CVE interventions on those exhibiting extreme actions;
  • Conduct further research on what makes a jihadist video popular to identify potentially damaging videos before they can become viral; and
  • Understand the caring-compelled personality profile, individuals who are unusual only in their capacity for sympathy and empathy that compel them to do something to help and protect the victims they feel for.

The full report, “Momin Khawaja: Mechanisms of Radicalization,” can be viewed on START’s website here.

The research was supported by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s Office of University Programs. The views and conclusions of the research are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.