Developing a Typology of Terrorism Involvement: A Basis for Sentencing, Management, Risk Reduction, Release & Monitoring of Terrorist Offenders

Project Details


It is increasingly accepted that individuals engaged in terrorism are a heterogeneous and diverse group. However the nature of their involvement is often perceived as binary - people either “are” or “are not” involved in terrorism. There is a conspicuous absence of deeper appreciation for the nature of involvement in terrorism – This project seeks to redress this by asking such questions as: what kinds of roles and functions do its adherents play? How many roles constitute typical involvement for an individual? And how long, on average, is a typical ‘career’ in such a group? More ambitiously, achieving a more sophisticated understanding of involvement may represent a critical first step in understanding the empirical underpinnings of decisions about how we might distinguish one ‘kind’ of terrorist from another. There is notable absence of empirically derived knowledge serving decisions about judicial sentencing and likewise there is little if anything in this regard to inform strategies for management and treatment of terrorist prisoners.

Primary Findings:

To date the team has: constructed a 71-variable coding dictionary detailing behaviors that were enacted whilst engaged, identified 349 cases that meet the criteria for the inclusion in our data sample, coded 179 cases, and conducted the analysis of 75 cases of individuals convicted of Jihadist-related terrorism in the United States.

Predominantly male (95.9%), 34.6% of the sample were born in the United States whilst 54.6% were United States citizens. Of the 75 analyzed offenders, 13.3% swore an allegiance to Al-Qa’ida. 42.6% expressed the desire to kill other people and 66.7% expressed the desire to participate in violent extremism. With regards to activities undertaken only 9% of the sample was involved in the execution of a terrorist attack. Based on information contained in their criminal complaints 70.6% partook in training activities, 41% of the sample engaged in firearms training, whilst 26.7% undertook training activities abroad. 64% of the sample engaged in attack planning behaviors e.g. undertaking reconnaissance activities (such as taking photographs of the target, 12%) or provided logistical support through the provision of materials needed to undertake a terrorist attack (28%). 9.3% were charged with raising finances for a terrorist attack, 60% were charged with providing material support (funds, supplies or materials). 10.6% were charged with intelligence gathering.

Although these results are preliminary they highlight that even within a limited sample of Western Jihadi terrorists, the individuals involved are heterogeneous, with wide-ranging demographic and socio-demographic backgrounds. This finding is consistent with a range of prior research. Also, the varied engagement behavior undertaken by this limited sample highlights the complexity, nature, and range of involvement behaviors.


At present, there is almost no differentiation between different kinds of involvement in terrorism. A dataset pertaining to all Al Qaeda plots that resulted in convictions in the U.S. (approximately 440 convictions) and Europe (approximately 360) is being generated, leveraging open-source court documents including criminal complaints and indictments. Additionally ‘job analyses’ of records in these cases will be performed. Job analysis refers to a variety of methodologies and procedures used to analyze, document, and draw inferences about the requirements of a job such as work activities, worker attributes, and work context. This has not been performed in the context of terrorist activity before. These analyses will inform the development of a scale for measuring the centrality of an individual to violent activities and to the mission of the group. A descriptive typology of individuals involved in terrorism will also be generated, as well as a continuum of involvement based on behavioral qualities. This project offers a structure for making more systematic discriminations between terrorist offenders. This project will offer a framework on which judgments about sentencing, management, and possible release of terrorist offenders can be informed.


Project Period: