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Research Explores How Social Ties Create and Sustain Terrorist Networks

Terrorist recruits are rarely formally recruited, instead gaining a connection to a group by an informal, dynamic route, according to new sociologist research. A study of one specific German network revealed how social ties were exploited to recruit group members before bringing them into formal meetings.

The study, by research fellow Stefan Malthaner at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, unravels how members of the “Sauerland Group” came together. The group was arrested in Germany in 2007 while they were preparing terrorist attacks on military and civilian targets there.

Initial contacts were, in some cases, chance encounters, after which groomed individuals were invited to group meetings including religious gatherings at a mosque. Others were invited to the homes of friends, where closer friendships were developed. In addition to Islamic instruction, the individuals were exposed to more radical jihadist ideas. The group also grew tighter when they traveled together on the hajj religious pilgrimage to Mecca.

Malthaner identified three elements that can be used to define the formation of networks, covering social ties, socio-spatial settings, and the role of individual agency. This can be used to better explain and understand how jihadist groups develop and mature, while still recognizing the very dynamic and fluid nature of groups.

Chris Bown is a regular contributor to Homeland Security Today covering the latest think tank, journal, and news related to terrorism and security. He originally trained as a journalist on real estate and architecture news publications, and for many years edited the publications of international real estate event MIPIM. He is a regular contributor to London financial daily newspaper City AM, and curates daily updates at investment newsletter Hotel Analyst.

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