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Article: Joining the Islamic State from France between 2014 and 2016

Among terrorists, two profiles were highlighted: first, individualswho commit violent actions within a radical group and second, individuals–so-called‘lone wolves’–who act in a more isolated manner and radicalize more quickly (Corner and Gill, 2015).

A new model of radicalization has appeared in Western countries since the 2010s. However, few empirical data are available to interpret the profiles of European young people who have embraced radical Islamism. Mixing qualitative/quantitative approaches, the present study is the first to explore their motives for radicalization, as well as how characteristics at baseline predicted their status at follow-up (FU).

In 2014-2015, 150 individuals (mean age: 19.82 years; 101 (67.3%) females; 100 (67%) Muslim converts) were followed-up prospectively by the Centre de Prévention contre les Dérives Sectaires liées à l’Islam (CPDSI) until September 2016. Using a multiple correspondence analysis, we found that eight motivational dimensions (interest in violence; feelings of depression, responsibility, uncertainty or loneliness; experience of abuse; issues with sexuality; and poor insight) combining in eight statistical factors drove individuals towards radicalization.

At FU, 95 (63%) were no longer radicalized, 21 (14%) were disengaged, 19 (13%) were still radicalized, and 15 (10%) had reached the Islamic State. Univariate and multivariate analyses found some protective factors defining individuals with developmental vulnerabilities that can be encountered in many psychopathologies. In addition, multivariate models showed that worse status at FU was predicted by being married, having married parents, having attempted to radicalize other relatives, and having a close friend or relative imprisoned before radicalization.

We conclude that multidimensional efforts to de-radicalize young people are efficient, although a worse prognosis is associated with neighborhood/proximal phenomena. Prevention should target these local/proximal contexts to further prevent radicalization.

The terrorism threat level in Europe is critical (Reardon, 2015). The terrorist movements of the 1990s (i.e., Al-Qaida, Chechen terrorism) aimed to target a foreign country or were fighting for national liberation (Sageman, 2004). Among terrorists, two profiles were highlighted: (1) individuals who commit violent actions within a radical group and (2) individuals – so-called ‘lone wolves’ – who act in a more isolated manner and radicalize more quickly (Corner and Gill, 2015). This bi-profile model has been questioned by several authors who have shown that leftist extremists and Jihadists are less likely to act as ‘lone wolves’ compared to other extremists (Chermak et al. 2010). In addition, the most violent ‘lone wolves’ attacks were conducted by far-right extremists (Bates, 2012; Michael, 2012). Also, because of the decentralized organization of modern jihadist groups, terrorist attacks may sometimes seem committed by isolated actors while they are in fact always linked with a third person, whether this link is physical or virtual (Khosrokhavar, 2014, Kepel, 2016). Therefore, the concept itself of ‘lones wolves’ does not seem appropriate for radicalized population. Several theoretical models rather describe radicalization as a step-by-step process that may finally lead to a violent form of action directly linked to an extremist ideology (Doosje et al. 2016; Kruglanski et al. 2013, 2014; Moghaddam, 2005; Wiktorowicz, 2005). These models point out the complexity and entanglement of several risk factors (individuals, organizational, environmental and societal) that interact during the radicalization process (Campelo et al. 2018). Individual risk factors of bullying or discrimination such as perceived injustice or feeling of injustice often act as a starting point.

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