Understanding Homegrown Terrorism

Publication Type:

Book Chapter


Armin Sick


The Dangerous Landscape, p.153-170 (2013)


In the several years since Al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States in 2001, there has been unprecedented growth in violent activity related to and inspired by radical Islamism perpetrated by individuals of Western descent. Ordinary citizens, with unremarkable lives, unremarkable jobs and an over-all appearance generally considered as “normal” are turning into radicals and actively involved in small extremist groups, planning and executing assaults in-side their respective home countries. While in the 9-11 attacks the perpetrators were of Arab national origin, us¬ing Western infrastructure for their activities, subsequent attacks have been committed by regular citizens or at least permanent residents, predominately in European countries. The cases of the Madrid bombings in 2004, the series of assaults in London in 2005, the foiled planning in Germany in 2007 or the recent events in the United States prove that the threat has changed in a significant way. The new suspects, such as the London bomber Mohammed Khan are well integrated and highly educated European citizens with unremarkable CVs and no clearly visi¬ble signs of extremist thinking, either in ideology or religion. A significant number of these individuals were even converts, originally fully committed to the Western set of norms and rules which they then rejected. This so called homegrown terrorism poses a serious threat to national intelligence and police agencies, and is even more difficult to control than the original imported form of Islamist terrorist plots. But with a growing number of incidents and case studies the need for adequate countermeasures is grow¬ing, and the nation states need to react. The essential precondition for determining the way to react to a problem is to know its origins and characteristics. Unfortunately the case of homegrown terrorism lacks clear rules and obvious signs. The unremarkable record, back-ground and appearance of the suspects makes it impossible for counterterrorist experts to predict imminent threat without putting whole groups of the population under general suspicion. Thus, law enforcement structures have to focus on the process of how these unsuspicious citizens turn into potential ter-rorist attackers or – to put it simply: How, where and when does this develop-ment take place? Who is involved? And, most important for the prevention of this development: Why do Western individuals get into this process of radicalization?