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Professors share terrorism research

Steven Barnum, News editor

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Western Illinois University professor showcased his latest research in a recent terrorism- focused seminar.

Dean Alexander is the Director of the Homeland Security Research Program and a professor in the School of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration (LEJA) at Western. He helps lead a program that is one of the largest minors Western offers, with more than 190 students involved. Before his time as an educator, Alexander held consulting and legal positions for Global Homeland Security and investment companies.

His worldly perspective gave him enough material to write and publish six books. His experience in international business was the inspiration behind several of them, but terrorism has been his focused topic as of late. With his latest research regarding terrorism, Alexander has found enough information to write his newest book: “Family Terror Networks.”

To provide a foundation for the theme of his book, Alexander studied examples from 118 different terrorist incidents. These case studies allowed him to find similarities within recruitment strategies. Specifically, his research looks at the frequency of terrorism recruitment success with family members compared to the success of different methods.

When it comes to attacks like on Sept. 11, 2001 and the Charlie Hebdo incident in 2015, Alexander found that family played a key role. Brothers were prominent in orchestrating the attacks in both of these examples, adding to the evidence that shows that brothers make up 26 percent of radicalized terrorists. Fathers and sons are another common partnership in terrorism recruitment, but husbands and wives are the most often family connection at a rate of 31 percent.

“Without a doubt, you can see there’s some propensity in these particular cases,” Alexander said.

Alexander explained that radicalization may also occur through ideologies in politics, economics, social life or religion. This is especially true with the popularity of the Internet, which brought together the couple who committed the San Bernardino, Calif. shooting in 2015; however, radicalization is significantly more successful within families according to Alexander.

“It’s much easier to recruit someone that’s in your home,” he said. “You can block a caller on your phone and refuse to acknowledge someone who knocks on your door, but it’s way harder to say no to someone in your family.”

Dr. Niyazi Ekici also shared his research during Friday’s seminar. Ekici is an assistant professor in the School of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration at Western and he shares the passion that Alexander has for studying terrorism behavior and recruitment. Ekici found several different obstacles that prevent both the quantity and quality of terrorism research.

One, researchers haven’t yet come to one conclusion on the definition of terrorism. With about 10 different proposed definitions for the subject, it creates an initial level of confusion and disagreement on what exactly to research.

Two, terrorism is tough to conduct research on because it is a dangerous and secret act that researchers don’t consider it worth it to explore so closely. Because of these dangers, as much as 80 percent of all research found on terrorism is not based on observation. Instead, Ekici said that most research is based on the psychology behind terrorism and most research on the responses and prevention in terrorism is absent.

Ekici also found the connections between terrorism recruitment and family members. He explained that you are six times more likely to join a terrorist group through friends or relatives than through other people or methods. Friends and family members are also five times more likely to convince you to join an organization that uses extreme terror. Through these discoveries, he is able to explain 50 percent of terrorism recruitment strategies. “When you see a terrorist, you have to look at their friends and relatives as potential members as well,” Ekici said.

While comparing two different large terrorist organizations, Ekici found stark demographic differences. About 30 percent of the members in the leftist group are women, compared to only one percent in the rightist group. This is directly related to a difference in ideology and the opinion on diversity.

With age, the leftist group typically recruits members who are between 22 and 28, while the rightist group tends to recruit those closer to 30 years old. Ekici said that the leftist group prefers to recruit college students, which explains why their members are younger. This also shows a preference for more education. Ekici discovered that the leftist groups chooses the most highly-educated members to lead the organization. Although religion seems to affect terrorism at times, Ekici doesn’t believe that we should view the two ideas as a correlation.

“I always say that people become terrorists, not religions,” he said. “This is why I don’t say ‘Islamic terrorists or Christian terrorists’.”

Overall, both Alexander and Ekici agree that education and job status are two of the most important indicators in determining the likelihood of radicalization.

For those interested in Alexander’s book, it will be released next month. Alexander will also organize another seminar on Saturday, March 9 in room 121 of Stipes Hall. The event will include a discussion from Junaid Afeef, J.D., the Director of Targeted Violence Program at the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority

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Professors share terrorism research