Debunking myths about terrorism through scientific research

Debunking myths about terrorism through scientific research

SINGAPORE - In Minnesota, a disturbing 40-minute propaganda video recording urges young Somalian Americans residing in the state to join rebels fighting in Somalia.

Dahir Gure, an American Somalian now a rebel fighter in Somalia, said in the video with a toothy grin: "This is the real Disneyland. You need to join us." The recording by terrorist group Al-Shabaab was briefly shown on YouTube before it was removed for its violent content.

Subsequently, Al-Shabaab sent out a tweet saying it would document the journey of its Minnesota "martyrs".

In the past, terrorist groups used websites and chatrooms to reach their target groups. With the growth of space on social media, including Twitter, blogs and YouTube, such groups are now using these avenues to reach, radicalise and recruit new members.

Terrorist groups combine the online space with their existing offline recruitment methods to lure fighters to their violent causes.

At The Hague in the Netherlands, Moroccan and Turkish recruiters distribute on the streets an A4-sized paper with details on how to slip through Customs and immigration loopholes in Europe and join the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al- Assad. Among those who bought the idea were members of a Dutch football team who traded their football boots for war gear in Syria.

To better understand these evolving threats, research on terrorism needs to move away from stereotypical analysis of terrorists, said overseas and local security experts who spoke to The Straits Times last week at a security conference.

Research efforts also need to be evidence-based, have academic rigour and involve experts from other disciplines such as psychology, they said.

Researchers need to ask what makes people gravitate towards terrorism. New research is showing that not all radicals and extremists join a terrorist outfit solely for ideological reasons. Not all who become radicalised end up as terrorists or suicide bombers.

Meanwhile, a complex set of reasons are responsible for turning someone into a lone wolf or a suicide bomber, said the experts.

Their interviews with terrorists show that not all who become terrorists remain committed to the cause and, at some point, their extremist fervour may wane - an insight that allows for security agencies to potentially "turn them around".

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