‘Home-Grown’ Terrorists More Likely to Fight Abroad than in the West

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In a study that appears in the latest issue of American Political Science Review, published by Cambridge University Press, Thomas Hegghammer compiles and analyses data on Western radicalised Islamists on a level not attempted before.

In a study that appears in the latest issue of American Political Science Review, published by Cambridge University Press, Thomas Hegghammer compiles and analyses data on Western radicalised Islamists on a level not attempted before. His work speaks directly to recent events, including the Jihadist attack on the Amenas gas facility in Algeria and foreign terrorist activity in Mali and Somalia.

Hegghammer, a renowned expert on terrorism and the author of several books on the subject, including Jihad in Saudi Arabia published by Cambridge University Press, is currently Zukerman fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and a senior research fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment. In the study that appeared in the APSR, he found that the commonly held belief that most Western radicalised Islamists travel abroad for training in order to commit attacks in the West is unfounded.

Instead, Hegghammer’s analysis shows that Western radicalised Islamists are more likely to join a distant war zone than attack at home, with only a minority returning to attack the West.

The study looks at radicalised Islamists in North America, Western Europe, and Australia between 1990 and 2010, and the data is thought to represent the best estimate yet of the number of intended attacks in the West during this time.

Based on his analysis. Hegghammer urges policy-makers to re-think their assumptions that all Western radicalised Islamists go abroad to train for an attack in the West. He says it is damaging counter-terrorism efforts by focusing resources on the wrong areas and overlooking motivations of radicalised Islamists.

One of the reasons, according to Hegghammer, radicalised Islamists in the West prefer to fight in conflict zones abroad, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, rather than at home, is that it is seen as a more ‘legitimate’activity. This is because ‘jihad” is understood as two conventional armies – one Muslim, the other non-Muslim – fighting each, while political violence deliberately targeting civilians is seen as an illegitimate use of jihad. His research shows even the most radicalised Islamists realize this and seek to join insurgencies abroad.

Thus, Hegghammer urges policy makers to ““distinguish between outgoing and returning extremists and treat the latter as more of a threat. The view that radical Islamists are all the same has proved remarkably resilient. I hope that my research will help question that assumption and offer some more evidence-based suggestions for dealing with terrorism.”

Visit journals.cambridge.org/hegghammer and read the full article for free until February 19, 2013.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

For further information and to request interviews please contact Michael Marvin, senior marketing associate, Cambridge Journals, at (00) 1-646-460-3467 or by email at mmarvin(at)cambridge(dot)org.

About American Political Science Review
Published for the American Political Science Association, American Political Science Review is political science's premier scholarly research journal, providing peer-reviewed articles and review essays from subfields throughout the discipline. Areas covered include political theory, American politics, public policy, public administration, comparative politics, and international relations. APSR has published continuously since 1906.

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About the American Political Science Association (APSA)
APSA, founded in 1903, is the leading professional organization for the study of political science and serves more than 15,000 members in more than 80 countries. With a range of programs and services, APSA brings together political scientists from all fields of inquiry, regions, and occupational endeavors within and outside academe, with the aim of expanding awareness and understanding of politics.

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About Cambridge University Press
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