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Good Question: What Draws Someone To Terrorism?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – In 2008, Abdurizak Bihi’s 17-year-old nephew left his home in Minneapolis for terrorist group Al-Shabaab in Somalia. In 2009, the teenager was killed.

“It’s about the conditions that they live in and who mentors them,” Bihi said. “When you have young people that don’t have programming in their communities, you will have tons of young people that are vulnerable to whoever reaches out to them.”

Bihi blames poverty and the lack of resources for people in his community. In his nephew’s case, he said the lack of father was also part of the problem.

“These young people are looking for a sense of belonging,” he said.

John Horgan, a professor of forensic psychology at the University of Massachusetts, has interviewed 150 former terrorists.

“There is no profile of a terrorist that would allow us to preemptively identify which person is more likely to become a terrorist over others,” he said.

But he does identify some risk factors. For example, converts to Islam are seven times more likely to become foreign fighters.

“They’re in search of something, they’re in search of an identity,” he said. “They’re trying to find something meaningful to do with their lives.”

Some also see terrorism as a way to right a perceived wrong.

“These foreign fighters have become radicalized, not through some sort of obscure terrorist propaganda,” Horgan said. “They simply turn on CNN or CBS and see pictures of children, men and women being gassed by Bashar al-Assad. These images have a very, very powerful radicalizing and mobilizing effect.”

ISIS is known for being adept at portraying adventure, excitement and camaraderie that can attract people without any preconceived ideology. Horgan says there is an element of thrill-seeking for some at first.

Bihi put it more plainly: “And, then somewhere along the way, they’ll trick them and brainwash them into something crazy.”

And, finally, the internet plays a big role.

Horgan says high-quality videos have sped up the process of radicalization to turn a passive believer into an active supporter.

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