MI5: Terrorists not frustrated religious loners
Research from the security service found it was impossible to draw up a typical profile of a “British Terrorist” contradicting the perception that all are traditional religious fanatics or Islamic fundamentalists.
The classified report on radicalisation concluded there was no single pathway to violent extremism and no easy way to identify those who would become involved in terrorism in Britain.
Researchers concluded terrorists “are a diverse collection of individuals, fitting no single demographic profile, nor do they all follow a typical pathway to violent extremism”.
The Home Office has refused to comment about the document.
The analysis was based on hundreds of case studies and found that unlike the common stereotype, most terrorists are unremarkable and live normal lives within their communities.
They are mostly British nationals, not illegal immigrants, and most are religious novices. Those over 30 are just as likely to have a wife and children as to be loners with no ties, the research shows.
They were no more likely to have mental illness and come from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
While most are male, women are often aware of their husband’s and sons activities but do nothing to stop them.
Most over-30s have steady relationships and children, challenging the idea that terrorists are young men driven by sexual frustration and lured to “martyrdom” by the promise of beautiful virgins waiting for them in paradise.
The study, carried out by MI5’s behavioural science unit, also played down the role of radical extremist clerics such as Abu Hamza.
Radical clerics are also playing less of a role now in radicalising future terrorists, according to the ‘restricted’ briefing note, published in the Guardian today.
The research was carried out by the security service’s behavioural science unit and involved analysis of several hundred people linked to violent extremism through activities ranging from fundraising to planning suicide bombings in Britain.
Overall they are ‘a diverse collection of individuals, fitting no single demographic profile, nor do they all follow a typical pathway to violent extremism’, the study says.
MI5 praises mainstream Islam, stating there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.
The researchers conclude that the results of their work “challenge many of the stereotypes that are held about who becomes a terrorist and why”.
Crucially, the research has revealed that those who become terrorists “are a diverse collection of individuals, fitting no single demographic profile, nor do they all follow a typical pathway to violent extremism”.
The security service believes the terrorist groups operating in Britain today are different in many important respects both from Islamist extremist activity in other parts of the world and from historical terrorist movements such as the IRA or the Red Army Faction.
The “UK restricted” MI5 “operational briefing note”, circulated within the security services in June, warns that, unless they understand the varied backgrounds of those drawn to terrorism in Britain, the security services will fail to counter their activities in the short term and fail to prevent violent radicalisation continuing in the long term.
It also concludes that the research results have important lessons for the government’s programme to tackle the spread of violent extremism, underlining the need for “attractive alternatives” to terrorist involvement but also warning that traditional law enforcement tactics could backfire if handled badly or used against people who are not seen as legitimate targets.
The MI5 authors stress that the most pressing current threat is from Islamist extremist groups who justify the use of violence “in defence of Islam”, but that there are also violent extremists involved in non-Islamist movements.
They say that they are concerned with those who use violence or actively support the use of violence and not those who simply hold politically extreme views.