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Momin Khawaja: Mechanisms of Radicalization


Momin Khawaja is a Canadian citizen serving a life sentence for material support of terrorism. He was arrested in 2004 in connection with a U.K. bomb plot, and the trial record includes hundreds of pages of his emails and blog posts that describe his childhood, high school, college, and work experiences. His own writing thus provides a detailed record of his radicalization to both extreme ideas and extreme action. This report focuses on his first commitment to violent action, when in 2002 he attempted to join the Taliban in fighting Western forces in Afghanistan. He was too late; the Taliban were defeated before he could join them. But his attempt to join the Taliban makes Momin Khawaja an early example of a currently salient problem: a Muslim who leaves the safety of a Western country to join in jihad against Western forces in a Muslim country. Analysis of this early example of a Western foreign fighter indicates that he was self-radicalized to go alone to join the Taliban, that he fits the caring-compelled profile suggested for lone-actor terrorists, and that his strong emotional reactions to the suffering of the Ummah distinguish him from the many Muslims who share his ideas but do not take action. Possible implications for counterterrorism are discussed.

This report is a case study of one individual’s radicalization to political violence. No quantitative analyses were used; the study’s conclusions are based on in-depth qualitative analysis of Khawaja’s writing, his actions, and the political background against which these were set.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

McCauley, Clark, and Thomas Quiggin, Sophia Moskalenko. “Momin Khawaja: Mechanisms of Radicalization,” Final Report to the Office of University Programs, Science and Technology Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. College Park, MD: START, 2016. https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/START_CSTAB_2.5_MominKhawajaMechanismsofRadicalization_Aug2016.pdf