New Blood: The Recruitment of Terrorists

Publication Type:

Book Chapter


The Dangerous Landscape, p.1-18 (2013)


Any viable organization, regardless of its goals, requires recruits as a funda-mental prerequisite of survival. To remain competitive, commercial entities like General Electric, Siemens, Apple or Toyota need to attract new personnel to make good routine losses from retirement, career change, etc. Locating, at-tracting and bringing on board the appropriate recruits provide, in a real sense, life blood for these organizations. The same fact of organizational life holds true for al Qaeda (following the demise of Osama bin Laden), Jamiyah Islami¬yah, Hamas, the Taliban and other terrorist groups. Indeed, in the case of ter¬rorist organizations, which by their nature are engaged in a high-risk and deadly earnest pursuit, recruitment is especially essential because the mem¬bership suffers real losses in votaries who are killed, wounded or captured by government security services. The violent deaths of bin Laden, Imam al-Awlaki and other high-profile jihadists underline this point. Without continual re-cruitment to replenish the ranks, a terrorist organization degrades, atrophies, and eventually dies.
No organization with either set or vague goals, no matter what its mission, can long survive without replenishing losses of personnel and experience and identifying and attracting new members to matriculate over time into positions of increasing responsibility. No organization that seeks to expand its appeal and power—be it a political party or a business enterprise—can hope to do so without increasing and refreshing its ranks. Today and historically, most or-ganizations have employed both some form of advertisement and some type of active recruitment to ensure a sufficient pool of people appropriate to the goals of the organization – whether that be increasing the amount of sales, extending the electoral base of a political association in a democratic state or expanding the appeal of a religious system. To the extent that terrorist groups resemble other, more benign organizations with discernable goals, they will also have to advertise aims and values while recruiting the right people to staff the ranks and replace inevitable losses. In short, a terrorist group planning to engage in acts of physical terror and destruction needs people. A terrorist group with global aspirations or universalist conceits will want to attract and retain a cadre of devotees internationally. This calculus applies, undoubtedly, to Al-Qaeda and many similar-minded Islamist-Jihadist groups with an ideological agenda bases on expansion.