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Canadian Intelligence Identifies Key Trends in Terrorist Mobilization to Violence

For many “radicalized” and “violent” are the same, but for those studying terrorists and their process of radicalization there is a distinct final step that mobilizes a “radical believer” into performing an act of violence. To further this understanding, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) released a number of key findings on this phenomenon in Canada.

CSIS developed the study, Mobilization to Violence Terrorist Research, to understand how a person mobilizes to terrorism and found factors related to both an individual mobilizing as a “lone wolf” and mobilizing in a group.

“Radicalization is a highly individualized process through which a person becomes convinced that violence is a legitimate (and eventually individually obligated) means to advance their ideological cause or beliefs,” says the study. “It is influenced by factors such as personal history, peer pressure, grievances, charismatic ideologues and international events.”

There is no single characteristic or even group of characteristics like age, gender or socioeconomic background. Rather, analysts looked for threat-related activities to determine intent in addition to capability, preparation, and planning.

STEPS & INDICATORS TO MOBILIZATION
The steps to mobilization – the move to actually planning and executing an attack — are marked by a “notable shift” in the person’s behavior and may be characterized by:

  • Purchasing supplies
  • Reconnoitering a target
  • Recording a martyrdom video
  • Concealing their identity
  • Hiding activities like encrypting communications, inventing cover stories for why they are leaving the country or creating an alter ego on social media

The Canadian study reviewed 100 individuals who mobilized to violence in Canada; a majority of those studied traveled overseas for extremist purposes. On average, the time from mobilization to violence was 12 months – more spontaneous mobilization (five days or fewer) was rare.

Indicators of individual mobilization include:

  • Change in individual’s training routine
  • Financial activities necessary to mobilize (maxing out their credit cards, selling personal belongings to get money, etc.)
  • Getting personal affairs in order (will, paying back debts)
  • Activities vital to mobilization (buying a plane ticket)

WHO IS MOBILIZING?

While researchers found no “formula” for progression, they found several trends as to who is mobilizing.

  • Minors (under 21) radicalize more quickly than adults.
    Minors often have fewer obstacles than adults and need only “a passport, a plane ticket, and a cover story.” They do have more financial constraints and often cannot access a passport. Youth tend to mobilize in groups of two or more and friendships and romantic attachments proved very important to the mobilization process.
  • Female mobilizers are increasing.
    Western females made up 20 percent of mobilizers and that figure is growing; females almost never act alone — mobilizing in a group or with third-party facilitation.
  • Mobilizers Increasingly Linked to Criminal Behavior
    Analysts found the number of individuals linked to criminal behavior increasing to 27 percent with no correlation between the crime and the mobilization pathway. Contrary to mobilization data in Europe, the Canadian report found that there is a clear transition between criminal and extremist activities and that the average transition is four years. (In Europe, data suggests criminality and extremist activities are increasingly related.)

When faced with obstacles, these individuals look for alternative pathways — if the individual is unable to travel for some reason, they would look to commit a terrorist act where they are.  This may happen suddenly and has been termed “fluidity of pathway.”

Analysts also found that in Canada, individuals “leak” information about their radicalization to bystanders. Supporting academic findings, the study reinforced that bystanders knew about the mobilizers’ grievance or intent.

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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