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The Role of Social Networks in the Evolution of Al Qaeda-inspired Violent Extremism in the United States, 1993-2013.

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2012, $459,969)

The proposed research will study the evolution of American jihadist organizations over the past twenty years and will seek to identify the mechanisms that motivate Americans to volunteer for Islamist extremist violence and terrorist actions. The research addresses four specific issues. First, is domestic recruitment to violent Islamist extremism socially random or segmented. Second, how integrated are the domestic networks with the global Islamist extremist movement and with the core leadership of Al Qaeda and other organizations abroad. Third, is Internet-based recruitment and proselytizing driven by hubs run by jihadist organizations or produced by self-radicalized "self-starter" cells or single individuals? Last, is there a predictable individual trajectory toward violent radicalization. The broad objective is to test, refine, and improve upon existing social scientific models that have attempted to address these issues. The methodology is a variant of "cliometrics," statistical analysis of data mined from archival sources. The project will complete a database of American citizens and residents who are associated with jihadist terrorism at home or abroad, complementing a study begun six years ago of Western nationals associated with terrorist plots related to Al Qaeda. This "living" databank, subject to continuous updating, now contains coded information on about 2,850 individuals from twenty different Western countries, among them 321 Americans who have been publicly designated by Western authorities as connected to Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism. A control group will be constructed of Americans apprehended and convicted in connection with offenses related to Hamas and Hezbollah, one a Sunni and the other a Shi'a extremist Islamist organization. A pro bono agreement with a Palo Alto-based software developer, Palantir Technologies, allows the team to code and analyze relationships. The American dataset to be completed as part of the proposed research will eventually comprise about 500 individuals, including all American citizens and residents who have been identified by law enforcement and government officials as inspired by Al Qaeda, and also by Hamas or Hezbollah. Preliminary research has identified and coded some 16,000 communicative acts in the general dataset of Western jihadists, including approximately 600 acts between US-based extremists inspired by Al Qaeda. The research will assist the prevention of domestic radicalization by facilitating targeted approaches based upon profiles of violent jihadist extremism using sociological modeling of segmented demographic recruitment processes and diagnostic tools utilizing network analysis focusing on the role of social media networking and organization in building logistical support for violent extremism.ca/ncf
Date Created: August 22, 2012