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Radicalisation in
the digital era
The use of the internet in 15 cases
of terrorism and extremism
Ines von Behr, Anaïs Reding, Charlie Edwards, Luke Gribbon
Radicalisation in the
digital era
The use of the internet in 15 cases of
terrorism and extremism
Ines Von Behr, Anaïs Reding, Charlie Edwards, Luke Gribbon
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We live in a digital era. In the UK alone 85 per cent of homes have internet access. As society increasingly
embraces the internet, so opportunities for those wishing to use it for terrorism have grown. The internet
offers terrorists and extremists the capability to communicate, collaborate and convince. In recent years,
European policymakers, practitioners and the academic community have begun to examine how the
internet influences the process of radicalisation: how a person comes to support terrorism and forms of
extremism associated with terrorism.
Many of the policy documents and academic literature in this area focus on online content and
messaging, rather than exploring how the internet is used by individuals in the process of their
radicalisation. The reason for this focus is relatively straightforward. Gaining access to terrorists (those
convicted under UK terrorism legislation) or extremists (identified by the police and multi-agency
partners based on an assessment of risk) is extremely difficult. Obtaining primary data relating to these
individuals’ cases held in court records or by the police is labour-intensive and a logistical challenge.
However, empirical research is needed in order to rigorously test assertions about radicalisation and
formulate evidence based approaches to addressing challenges associated with radicalisation.
In order to begin to address this gap and develop the evidence base in the field, this study is based on
primary data drawn from a variety of sources: evidence presented at trial, computer registries of convicted
terrorists, interviews with convicted terrorists and extremists, as well as police senior investigative officers
responsible for terrorist investigations. The sample size is small: a symptom of both the limited number of
individuals willing to speak with researchers in this field, and the challenge of collecting data on such a
sensitive topic where information in the public domain is limited.
RAND Europe is an independent not-for-profit policy research organisation that aims to improve policy
and decision-making in the public interest, through research and analysis. RAND Europe’s clients include
European governments, institutions, non-governmental organisations and firms with a need for rigorous,
independent, multidisciplinary analysis.
For more information about this project or RAND Europe please contact:
Ines von Behr (
RAND Europe RAND Europe
Rue de la Loi 82 Westbrook Centre, Milton Road
Brussels 1040 Cambridge CB4 1YG
Belgium United Kingdom
Tel. +32 2669 2400 Tel. +44 1223 353 329
Table of Contents
Preface …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..iii
Table of Contents …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… iv
Figures ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. vi
Tables ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. vii
Acknowledgements ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. viii
Abbreviations ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… ix
Executive Summary ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… xi
1. Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 1
1.1. Report structure …………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 1
1.2. Defining what we mean by the internet, terrorism, extremism and radicalisation ………………….. 2
1.3. The internet as a domain of activity for terrorist activities …………………………………………………. 3
1.4. Policy responses to online radicalisation …………………………………………………………………………. 3
1.5. Terrorism, the role of the internet and policy responses in Europe beyond the UK ……………….. 6
1.6. The academic focus: limited evidence on online radicalisation …………………………………………… 8
1.7. Re-balancing approaches to online radicalisation: insights from collected cases …………………….. 8
2. Methodology ………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 11
2.1. Overview of the approach ………………………………………………………………………………………….. 11
2.2. Literature review and stakeholder engagement ………………………………………………………………. 12
2.3. Primary data collection ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 12
2.4. Obstacles to data collection ………………………………………………………………………………………… 14
3. Literature review: current understanding of the role of the internet in radicalisation …………… 15
3.1. Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 15
3.2. Five themes emerging from the literature review ……………………………………………………………. 16
3.3. The internet creates more opportunities to become radicalised…………………………………………. 17
3.4. The internet acts as an ‘echo chamber’ …………………………………………………………………………. 18
3.5. The internet accelerates the process of radicalisation ………………………………………………………. 19
3.6. The internet allows radicalisation to occur without physical contact …………………………………. 19
3.7. The internet increases opportunities for self-radicalisation ………………………………………………. 20
3.8. Research on interactions between the online and offline worlds is rare ………………………………. 21
3.9. Conclusions …………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 21
4. How 15 individuals engaged with the internet in their radicalisation: case studies and
insights ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 22
4.1. Interview approach and objectives……………………………………………………………………………….. 22
4.2. Mapping our hypotheses against primary data findings …………………………………………………… 23
5. Recommendations and conclusions …………………………………………………………………………… 31
5.1. The importance of primary data for further research ………………………………………………………. 31
5.2. The internet as a mode, rather than a single method of radicalisation – mapping literature
hypotheses against real cases ……………………………………………………………………………………….. 32
5.3. Framing possible policy responses ……………………………………………………………………………….. 33
References ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 36
Selected bibliography …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 41
Annex A. Case Studies …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 47
A.1. Case Studies A1-A10 ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 47
A.2. Case Studies B1-B5 …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 58
Figure 1: Referrals (total numbers)/take-downs (total numbers and percentage) February 2010 –
September 2012 ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 5
Figure 2: Referrals (total numbers)/take-downs (total numbers and percentage) July 2012 – September
2012 …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 5
Figure 3: Stages of data collection …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 12
Figure 4: Internet access in households in EU-27 and the UK (%) ………………………………………………… 25
Figure 5: Internet use amongst individuals in EU-27 and the UK (%) ……………………………………………. 25
Figure 6: A4’s timeline leading to arrest …………………………………………………………………………………….. 28
Figure A1: A1’s computer registry of search-terms ………………………………………………………………………. 48
Figure A2: A2’s computer registry of search-terms ………………………………………………………………………. 49
Figure A3: Timeline of A1 and A2’s online and TomTom (satellite navigation system) activity ………….. 50
Figure A4: A4’s computer registry of search terms. ………………………………………………………………………. 52
Figure A5: Breakdown of A5’s online activity …………………………………………………………………………….. 53
Figure A6: A6’s use of keywords in online activity synthesised with offline timeline ………………………….. 55
Table 1: Google search for examples of critical keywords ……………………………………………………………….. 3
Table 2: Google search (July 2013) for keywords on internet radicalisation in English ………………………. 15
Table 3: Google search (July 2013) for keywords on internet radicalisation in German and French …….. 16
Table 4: Mapping our hypotheses against primary data findings ……………………………………………………. 24
Table A.1: Case study A1………………………………………………………………………………47
Table A.2: Case study A2………………………………………………………………………………49
Table A.3: Case study A3………………………………………………………………………………50
Table A.4: Case study A4………………………………………………………………………………51
Table A.5: Case study A5………………………………………………………………………………52
Table A.6: Case study A6………………………………………………………………………………54
Table A.7: Case study A7, A8 and A9………………………………………………………………….56
Table A.8: Case study A10……………………………………………………………………………..57
Table A.9: Case study B1-B5…………………………………………………………………………..58
We are enormously grateful to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Office for Security
and Counter Terrorism (OSCT) and Home Office for their support, guidance and help with this study.
In particular we would like to thank Assistant Chief Constable John Wright, National Coordinator of
Prevent and Siobhan Peters, Director of Prevent, OSCT.
We owe a particular debt of gratitude to the police Senior Investigative Officers (SIOs) across the UK
who agreed to spend hours with us going through individual cases. Their determination to learn from past
investigations as well as explore future challenges in policing terrorism online ensured the research team
met the right people and had access to the most relevant material.
At RAND Europe our thanks go to Éanna Kelly, Ben Baruch, Kate Robertson, Jennifer Rubin, Richard
Warnes and Rebecca Schindler for their support, editing and clarity of thinking.
ACPO Association of Chief Police Officers
AQ Al Qa’ida
The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism
Crown Prosecution Service
CSP Communication Service Provider
Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit
Counter Terrorism Unit
European Commission
European Network of Experts on Radicalisation
European Union
Information and communication technology
Internet Service Provider
Justice & Home Affairs Council, Council of the EU
Office for Security and Counter Terrorism
Radicalisation Awareness Network
Security and Intelligence Services
Senior Investigative Officer
UK Terrorist legislation
Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access
Worldwide web

Executive Summary
The internet has brought extensive change in peoples’ lives. It has revolutionised how we communicate
and simplified the way we create networks among like-minded individuals. We live in an era in which 84
per cent of the EU population use the internet daily, including 81 per cent of whom access it from home
(Eurostat, 2012).
This development has led to important changes in the organisation and functioning of society, and as
violent extremists and terrorists form part of this society, it is widely assumed that the internet plays a
particular role as a tool of radicalisation (Aly, 2010; Awan, 2007; Friedland, 2009; O’Rourke, 2007;
Tucker, 2010). There is, however, very limited evidence available to assess this assumption.
Testing hypotheses from the literature against primary data: the case of
15 terrorists and extremists
This paper presents the results from exploratory primary research into the role of the internet in the
radicalisation of 15 terrorists and extremists in the UK. The 15 cases were identified by the research team
together with the UK Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and UK Counter Terrorism Units
(CTU). The research team gathered primary data relating to five extremist cases (the individuals were part
of the Channel programme, a UK government intervention aimed at individuals identified by the police
as vulnerable to violent extremism), and ten terrorist cases (convicted in the UK), all of which were
anonymised. The team conducted interviews with the Senior Investigative Officers (SIOs) involved with
the terrorists and Channel participants, and investigated the individuals’ online behavior from data
recovered by the police directly from the individuals’ computers. The team then conducted a literature
review and developed a number of hypotheses or assertions found in the literature on the role of the
internet in the process of radicalisation. These hypotheses were tested using primary data from the above
mentioned 15 cases.
The following five hypotheses identified in the literature were:
1. The internet creates more opportunities to become radicalised.
2. The internet acts as an ‘echo chamber’: a place where individuals find their ideas supported and
echoed by other like-minded individuals
3. The internet accelerates the process of radicalisation.
4. The internet allows radicalisation to occur without physical contact.
5. The internet increases opportunities for self-radicalisation.
Evidence from the primary research conducted confirmed that the internet played a role in the
radicalisation process of the violent extremists and terrorists whose cases we studied. The evidence enabled
the research team to explore the extent to which the five main hypotheses that emerged from the literature
in relation to the alleged role of the internet in radicalisation held in these case examinations. The
summary findings are briefly presented here and discussed in greater detail in the full report that follows:
The internet creates more opportunities to become radicalised
Firstly, our research supports the suggestion that the internet may enhance opportunities to become
radicalised, as a result of being available to many people, and enabling connection with like-minded
individuals from across the world 24/7. For all 15 individuals that we researched, the internet had been a
key source of information, communication and of propaganda for their extremist beliefs.
The internet acts as an ‘echo chamber’
Secondly, our research supports the suggestion that the internet may act as an ‘echo chamber’ for
extremist beliefs; in other words, the internet may provide a greater opportunity than offline interactions
to confirm existing beliefs.
The internet accelerates the process of radicalisation
This evidence does not necessarily support the suggestion that the internet accelerates radicalisation.
Instead, the internet appears to facilitate this process, which, in turn, may or may not accelerate it.
The internet allows radicalisation to occur without physical contact
The evidence does not support the claim that the internet is replacing the need for individuals to meet in
person during their radicalisation process. Instead, the evidence suggests that the internet is not a
substitute for in-person meetings but, rather, complements in-person communication.
The internet increases opportunities for self-radicalisation
The evidence from this research does not support the suggestion that the internet has contributed to the
development of self-radicalisation. In all the cases that we reviewed during our research, subjects had
contact with other individuals, whether virtually or physically.
Recommendations and areas of future research
The results from this study are based on a small number of cases and because they constitute a
convenience sample, their narratives will not necessarily reflect the way in which all violent extremists and
terrorists use the internet during their radicalisation; however, it nonetheless allows us valuable insights
relatively unexplored until now, and highlights the importance of cross-referencing, validating and
challenging hypotheses from the literature with empirical evidence.
The first hand evidence gathered for this report confirmed that the internet was widely evident in the
radicalisation process of violent extremists and terrorists who formed the sample for this study. The
evidence enabled the research team to delve into this further, and to explore whether the five main
hypotheses that emerged from the literature in relation to the supposed role of the internet in
radicalisation held true in the cases studied. As indicated above, the primary evidence obtained in this
Radicalisation in the digital era
research supports the suggestion that the internet may enhance opportunities to become radicalised. While
our research supports the suggestion that the internet has expanded opportunities for radicalisation and
that it provides a means through which to filter material that is consistent with one’s beliefs (the internet
as an ‘echo chamber’), our findings challenged other suggestions emerging from the literature. The
detailed information to which the research team gained access suggested a sometimes different picture to
some of the hypotheses put forward in the literature. The study therefore demonstrates the importance of
gathering first hand evidence, or conducting primary research, to be able to gain a more complete picture
of the role of the internet in radicalisation. The internet is one aspect of radicalisation, and it is essential
for future research to look both online and offline to be able to understand the process as a whole.
Our findings suggest that this and other primary research could usefully inform the development of new
strategies and policies, as well as the allocation of resources to address new security challenges raised by the
internet and its role in radicalisation. This enhancing of understanding and informing policy and practice
could be achieved through public-private collaborations, training and/or other initiatives.

1. Introduction
This chapter sets out the purpose of the study and explains the structure of the report. It begins by
defining key terms before highlighting the importance of the internet as a domain of activity for both
radicalisation and terrorism. In this section we provide a short overview on how the policy world has
responded to online radicalisation, and problems policymakers face in dealing with this phenomenon.
Chapter 1 highlights gaps in public domain evidence on individuals’ engagement with the internet in the
course of their radicalisation. It then outlines the importance of acquiring the necessary empirical evidence
on individuals’ use of the internet in the course of radicalisation, in order to both balance the existing
literature and to provide policymakers with useful insights to inform future policy, strategy and actions in
this field.
1.1. Report structure
Subsequent chapters are structured as follows:
 Chapter 2 outlines the methodological approach of this study, discussing the research questions,
methods and approaches to the research. We pay particular attention to the collection of primary
data on individuals’ use of the internet and the inherent challenges and obstacles faced. A
triangulation approach to primary data collection was followed combining: semi-structured
interviews with the subjects of our case studies; semi-structured interviews with police senior
investigative officers or other staff closely involved with the individual’s case; and a review of the
available information on the case, including trial transcripts (in instances where documents had
been made available to the team) and relevant computer registries.
 Chapter 3 focuses on the analysis of the academic literature, and discusses the state of the current
academic field. We draw five main hypotheses from the literature which play an essential role in
the debate around the phenomenon of online radicalisation.
 Chapter 4 examines 15 individual cases for which primary data has been collected. The cases are
based in the UK and include both males and females, divided into two categories: category A
contains a mix of offenders convicted under UK terrorism legislation and former members of
proscribed terrorist groups who have disengaged from terrorism. Category B contains cases of
individuals who have been identified by the police and multi-agency partners as vulnerable to
extremism and are, or have been part of, an intervention programme. Following brief descriptions
of these individuals’ case histories, the chapter provides a comparative analysis and insights
clustered around five hypotheses (as identified in chapter 3) relevant to the key issues and
experiences of the internet’s role in their radicalisation.
 Chapter 5 presents a brief outline of relevant implications and recommendations for further
research on online radicalisation. It also includes some potential recommendations for the policy
community and reflections on how to use the web to counter radicalisation building on the
results of this study.
1.2. Defining what we mean by the internet, terrorism, extremism and
The internet plays a central role in many people’s everyday lives and while some argue that it is associated
with growing isolation, others suggest that it is associated with greater sociability. As Castells and Cardoso
(2005) argue, “The network society is a hyper social society, not a society of isolation (p. 11).”
Our research suggests that important terms in consideration of this issue, ‘the internet’, ‘radicalisation’ or
‘online radicalisation,’ are left at times under-defined in both policy and academic literature. This
ambiguity of terms is worth highlighting from the outset as defining what constitutes the internet and
radicalisation has an important bearing both on research and on the scope of policy responses.
In one of the few comments on this issue of definitions, Cornish (2008, 3) notes
“the challenge of identifying the digital footprint of Internet-based radicalisation invites
discussion as to the very nature of the Internet. (page 3)”
For the purpose of this study we will define the internet as including all communication, activity or
content which takes place or is held on the world wide web (www) and cloud structures. This includes
new online developments such as social media and networks.
In this report we draw on the UK Terrorism Act 2000 definition of terrorism1 as an action that endangers
or causes serious violence to a person/people; causes serious damage to property; or seriously interferes or
disrupts an electronic system (Part 1(1)). According to this definition, the use or threat must be designed
to influence the government or to intimidate the public, and is made for the purpose of advancing a
political, religious or ideological cause.
Extremism is defined by the British Government as vocal or active opposition to fundamental British
values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of
different faiths and beliefs (Prevent Strategy, 2011, p.107). The definition of radicalisation is contested
because of the many positive or non-harmful connotations that ‘radical’ and ‘radicalism’ have. Whilst we
acknowledge this debate, this study has a different focus and therefore adopts the UK Government
definition applied in the Prevent strategy: “radicalisation is the process by which a person comes to
support terrorism and forms of extremism leading to terrorism” (Prevent strategy, Home Office 2011).
We adopt a definition of ‘online radicalisation’ that is aligned: “a process whereby individuals through
1 UK Terrorism Act 2000:
Radicalisation in the digital era
their online interactions and exposures to various types of internet context, come to view violence as a
legitimate method of solving social and political conflicts” (Bermingham 2009).
1.3. The internet as a domain of activity for terrorist activities
The so called information revolution, with the unexpected rise of the internet since the 1990s, has clearly
been of growing societal significance. The internet offers terrorists and extremists the same opportunity
and capability that it does for the rest of society: to communicate, collaborate and convince. There are
already significant quantities of radical materials available online, and this volume is growing daily. The
following table 1 illustrates today’s wide-spread availability of material pertinent to extremism and
terrorism on-line:
Table 1: Google search for examples of critical keywords
Search Term Number of Results
“how to make a bomb” 1,830,000
“Salafi publications” 46,200
“beheading video” 257,000
Source: RAND Europe’s own observations (based on web results for selected search terms)
An analysis of UK policy documents and interviews with SIOs (senior investigating officers) confirms that
the internet plays a part in almost every national security investigation conducted by the security and
intelligence agencies and police in the UK. Terrorism cases in the UK without a ‘digital footprint’ are
increasingly rare.
Whilst terrorists and extremists can indeed use the internet for a myriad of purposes (disseminating
propaganda and information to radicalise individuals, operational planning and fundraising) – to what
extent does activity online influence offline behaviour and vice versa? We examine this question in order
to understand the importance (or lack thereof) of the internet for radicalisation. What role does the
internet play with regard to the apparent phenomenon of online radicalisation? Is the internet merely a
source of inspiration? Does it accelerate the radicalisation process? Does it translate into action? These
questions are explored in subsequent chapters through the 15 cases that form the primary research for this
1.4. Policy responses to online radicalisation
The malignant potential of the internet has become a primary concern for policymakers and changed the
way in which national security threats are investigated. Governments are increasingly aware of the
importance of the internet in radicalisation. Before describing our research and the findings from our
cases, it is helpful to consider how the policy community is responding to the role of the internet in
radicalisation. This will set the context for further thinking on policy approaches discussed in the last
1.4.1. UK Government’s response to internet radicalisation
The British government has been at the forefront of tackling terrorist use of the internet. Since July 2006,
when the British government made public its strategy to counter international terrorism (CONTEST,
2006), the internet has been identified as a domain “where many types of radical views are strongly
promoted” (UK Home Office, 2006). The growth of the use of the internet, with its ability to connect
people and to facilitate dissemination of information and ideas, has had a significant impact on the
accessibility and flow of radical ideas.
In March 2009 the government published a revised version of CONTEST which set out a more
sophisticated approach to online counter-terrorism. However, the document acknowledged that “the
internet presents significant challenges for CONTEST in general” (UK Home Office, 2009).
The new approach places a premium on working with filtering companies, disrupting the use of the
internet for extremist messaging and increasing the use of the internet to promote alternative views to the
radicalised messages that may otherwise be accessed (Home Office 2009). The strategy also argued for the
development of specialist units to counter the threat of terrorism from online sources and material.
In 2010 the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU)2 was launched within the Association of
Chief Police Officers (ACPO)3. This unit removes or modifies unlawful internet content, identifies the
individuals responsible for posting such material, and supports the police counter-terrorism network in
investigating and prosecuting terrorist or radicalising activity online. It proactively scans the web for
content that promotes or glorifies terrorism,4 as well as acting on referrals from citizens and public bodies.
Flagged sites’ content is reviewed by specialists and where material is deemed to breach UK law, CTIRU
seeks to remove the site from the internet in collaboration with internet service providers (ISPs).
CTIRU develops and shares new technologies to assess and process internet content, and to improve the
effectiveness of the police response to unlawful material. From February 2010 to September 2012 there
were approximately 3,100 referrals to CTIRU resulting in 410 take-downs of material (a 13.2 per cent
strike rate). Between July and September 2012 there were 341 referrals in total, with 232 (68 per cent)
from the general public via Directgov5 (see Figure 1 and Figure 2). The most frequently-referred sites were
Facebook, Twitter and Blogger and/or Blogspot. There were 105 removals (31 per cent) during this same
2 The Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit:
3 The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO):
4 As defined by the relevant provisions of section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2001, and sections 1–3 of the Terrorism
Act 2006.
5 Directgov was the British government’s digital service and provided a single point of access to public sector
information and services. The site was replaced by the new website on 17 October 2012.
Radicalisation in the digital era
Figure 1: Referrals (total numbers)/take-downs (total numbers and percentage) February 2010 –
September 2012
Source: RAND Europe interview with CTIRU, September 2012
Figure 2: Referrals (total numbers)/take-downs (total numbers and percentage) July 2012 –
September 2012
Source: RAND Europe interview with CTIRU, September 2012
For reasons of security and safety, accessibility and anonymity, terrorists and extremists have shifted many
of their activities from public spaces (such as mosques in the case of Islamist extremist groups) to private
residences, and now to personal computers and tablets. According to Charles Farr, Director General of
the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT):
‘violent radicalisation in mosques or other religious institutions comprises no more than 1%
or 2% of the total cases of radicalisation (House of Commons Home Affairs Committee,
Therefore, the process of radicalisation is becoming increasingly covert, posing problems for the security
and intelligence agencies and local police forces in the UK. This shift in terrorist behaviour largely reflects
society’s expanding digital footprint, where everyday activities move seamlessly between online and offline
domains. The shift in activity to the internet supports the observation of the former Chief Constable of
West Yorkshire and ACPO lead on Prevent, Sir Norman Bettison, that “the internet features in most, but
not all, terrorism cases” (House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2012).
In response to this shift, engaging with technology industries has been a priority for the British
government. Communication service providers and ISPs set their own terms of use, and some have
introduced ways of identifying content which might breach legal guidelines. For example, YouTube has
introduced a ‘promoting terrorism’ referral flag for videos deemed to be of a terrorist nature6, while AOL
has increased the visibility of the Metropolitan Police Anti-terrorism Hotline7 by ensuring that it is
presented when certain specific search requests are entered (UK Home Office, 2011).
Following a review of the Prevent strategy, in 2011 a new version of the strategy was published. The
revised strategy included a section on the internet in its own right, while the internet was a cross-cutting
theme throughout the document. The strategy stated:
‘[T]he internet has transformed the extent to which terrorist organisations and their
sympathisers can radicalise people in this country and overseas. It enables a wider range of
organisations and individuals to reach a much larger audience with a broader and more
dynamic series of messages and narratives. It encourages interaction and facilitates
recruitment. The way people use the internet also appears to be conducive to these processes
(UK Home Office, 2011).
The revised strategy stated that more work was needed, including:
 The roll-out of a filtering product across government departments, agencies and statutory
 Determining the extent to which effective filtering is in place in schools and public libraries;
 Directing further resources to a police agency, the CTIRU, to take down web sites which breach
legal guidelines relating to extremist material inciting hatred or furthering radicalisation;
 Increasing the number of referrals to the CTIRU and developing CTIRU’s technical, investigative
and international capabilities;
 Increasing the UK’s international work, both with the US, the EU and EU Member States to
explore self-regulatory measures to tackle terrorist use of the internet and seek to optimise existing
projects and initiatives; and
 Prioritising projects to disrupt terrorist and radicalising material on the internet and radicalisers
working in this country (UK Home Office, 2011).
1.5. Terrorism, the role of the internet and policy responses in Europe
beyond the UK
In addition to the UK context discussed above, wider Europe’s terrorist threat is also associated with
scrutiny of the role of the internet. Examples of the influence of the internet in terrorist incidents include
a June 2012 Belgian case, where a court rendered a decision concerning five persons charged with
terrorism-related offences. The subjects were charged with managing websites that were used for
6 Huffington Post, 2010.
7 Anti-Terrorist Hotline: [Last accessed
Radicalisation in the digital era
recruiting people for armed struggle. A link to al-Qa’ida appeared from the content of these websites
(Europol Trend Report 2013:14). An arrest was made by the Dutch police in Amsterdam in March 2012,
in which a suspect had also been searching the Internet for manuals on how to make explosives (2013:17).
Another example occurred in April 2012, when an Italian convert to Islam was arrested, having been
actively engaged in spreading via the internet terrorist propaganda and documents on training in the use
of weapons and explosives (2013:19).
1.5.1. The EU approach with regard to online radicalisation
The EU’s position on internet radicalisation can largely be summarised as a strategy of preventing access
to terrorists in an attempt to disrupt recruitment efforts. The EU’s overall policy on terrorism is
formalised through its 2002 Framework Decision on combating terrorism – a policy instrument that seeks
to define the EU position on terrorism and provide scope to the EU and Member States to combat
terrorism both within the EU and abroad (Council of the European Union, 2002).
From 2005 onwards, the European Commission (EC) and the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) Council
began placing a high priority on curbing online radicalisation (Ryan, 2007). Disrupting the activities of
networks by examining ‘ways to impede terrorist recruitment using the internet’ became a key EU policy
objective (Council of the EU, 2005a). Further strategies announced the intention to explore possibilities
to address factors conducive to violent radicalisation (European Commission, 2006):
 The European Council supported an information portal called the ‘Check the Web’ initiative,
which aimed at strengthening cooperation and sharing the task of monitoring and evaluating
open internet sources on a voluntary basis8.
 A clause was included in the Audiovisual Media Services (AMS) Directive (2010) which stated
that Member States shall ensure by appropriate means that ‘audiovisual media services provided
by media service providers under their jurisdiction do not contain any incitement to hatred based
on race, sex, religion or nationality’.
 In 2010, the EU-funded ‘Clean IT project’9 was established to start a constructive dialogue
between governments, businesses and civil society to explore how to reduce the terrorist use of the
internet. This dialogue resulted in a set of general principles and an overview of possible best
practices aimed at reducing terrorist use of the internet.
 The Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) is a network within the Home Affairs office of the
EU which seeks to aid and facilitate information sharing amongst ‘first-liners’ – people directly
engaged with at-risk individuals or groups – within the EU.10 First-liners include social workers,
teachers, police, academics, and NGO’s. RAN has particularly focused on the internet, with a
May 2013 meeting addressing the role of the internet in radicalisation (RAN, 2013).
8 ‘Check the Web’ initiative: [Last
accessed 02/09/2013].
9 The Clean IT project: [Last accessed 02/09/2013].
[Last accessed 23/08/2013].
 Workshops on using the internet to foster tolerance and moderation, such as the December 2012
High Level Conference hosted by the RAN (RAN, 2012) seek to exchange knowledge and bestpractice
between EU-level organisations and the private sector. The conference proposed
examples of good practice in implementing ‘counter-narratives’ on the internet which challenge
extremist discourse online, and explored ways in which the EU can collaborate with the private
sector to combat radicalisation online.
 The EU Internal Security Strategy in Action’s ‘second step’ lists several actions that are taken to
address radicalisation. Amongst these was the creation of RAN, but also a ministerial conference
on the prevention of radicalisation, and a ‘handbook of actions and experiences’ to support the
efforts of Member States.
 The European Network of Experts on Radicalisation (ENER) is an EU-instituted organisation,
hosted through the UK-based Change Institute, which establishes a network of organisations and
experts on the issues of radicalisation. The network is an attempt to deepen the Commission’s
understanding of radicalisation through publications, seminars, and workshops.
 Finally, the EU notes that the bulk of counter-radicalisation work takes place at a localcommunity
level, and is thus best handled at a national level. The EU nevertheless offers a
framework to coordinate national policies and facilitate information sharing on best-practices.
1.6. The academic focus: limited evidence on online radicalisation
In terms of the evidence base, a review of literature undertaken for this study suggests that views are
divided and the empirical evidence base is limited. Whilst many studies have emphasised the internet’s
significance (Stenerson 2008, Bakker 2007, Gray 2010, Zeng et al. 2011), others have concluded that the
internet ‘does not appear to play a significant role in al-Qa’ida influenced radicalisation’ (Bouhana and
Wikström, 2011). At the same time, it should be acknowledged that the academic field in this area
continues to develop: the study of terrorist groups’ use of the internet has become an increasingly popular
area. However, research has remained predominantly focused on websites and analyses of virtual
communities (Bartlett 2012). A related area of growth in the academic field is the analysis of online
content and its potential influence on vulnerable individuals. Notably, there has been little attention to
the individual internet users’ experience online and usage of the internet in the process of radicalisation,
that is, whether and how the internet is associated with a person coming to support terrorism or forms of
extremism leading to terrorism. When academic accounts do analyse these individuals’ engagement with
the internet, they often do so by examining secondary sources or anecdotal evidence. The largely and
secondary and/or anecdotal basis of knowledge in this field points to a key gap in the academic research
on radicalisation – namely access to and analysis of primary data on terrorist ‘users’ of the internet.
1.7. Re-balancing approaches to online radicalisation: insights from
collected cases
The core argument of this study is that governments and the academic community have focused on the
general phenomenon of the internet and radicalisation, rather than on a person’s individual experience
Radicalisation in the digital era
online. Many of the public reports and studies look at the internet and attempt to describe how its
messages and content are influencing people at risk of being radicalised. These studies describe the aims
and evaluate the success of a particular terrorist or extremist group’s online presence and media strategy.
In short, they suggest a degree of causality between what is online and the influence on the person reading
it, which cannot be proven. Additionally, the academic community’s focus on content has meant that
efforts have been concentrated on auditing a vast array of jihadist, extreme right-wing and single-issue
protest websites that have appeared online. No doubt this provides policymakers and practitioners with
insights into terrorists’ narratives, marketing strategies, beliefs and organisation. These are all important
factors, but this is only one side of the ‘market’ of online radicalisation, namely, the supply side of
content. The demand side – how individuals choose to engage with material and interact online with likeminded
individuals – remains a gap in policymaking and academic understanding.
The internet’s role in the process of radicalisation has remained difficult to address. In spite of significant
policy interest, action and academic work, little is known about individuals’ experiences of the internet
and their engagement with it during their radicalisation.

2. Methodology
This chapter outlines the methodological approach adopted by the research team. It first presents an
overview of the methodology and its rationale. Secondly it explains the literature undertaken, and the
subsequent gathering of primary evidence.
2.1. Overview of the approach
Given the complex and sensitive nature of the topic, unsurprisingly, there is a dearth of publicly available
primary data available for analysis. The research team, however, gained access to first-hand accounts from
radicalised individuals and terrorists as well as experts in counter-terrorism. The task then became one of
understanding key arguments in the literature and assessing their fit or lack thereof, with the data we
gathered. By focusing on collating primary data on the individual’s experiences, we strived to probe key
hypotheses derived from the literature and to outline insights of the patterns of individuals’ online activity
which may be useful to policymakers and practitioners.
Specifically, the study set out to ask the following questions:
 How is the internet used, if at all, in the individuals’ process of radicalisation?
 In what way does a terrorist’s or extremist’s online activity relate to their actions offline?
The research team employed the following methodology: a literature review, a collection of primary data
through semi-structured interviews, and an analysis of trial evidence including computer registries (where
available). The methods used by RAND Europe in this study are introduced in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Stages of data collection
2.2. Literature review and stakeholder engagement
The project team first performed a literature review to identify key themes relating to internet
radicalisation. This methodology consisted of a rigorous and systematic search and review of the literature,
by determining specific search terms and defining exclusion/inclusion criteria. Initial literature was
identified through a systematic search using a combination of search terms, including: a) radicalisation,
extremism and terrorism, b) internet and online and c) role, effect, and influence. The research team
identified further literature by snowballing from the initial literature.
The review focused on answering two related questions:
 What empirical evidence is available in the public domain on radicalisation and the role of the
 What empirical evidence is available on terrorists’ and extremists’ use of the internet during their
radicalisation process?
The research team used a number of internet resources in concert with a hand-search of relevant websites
relating to radicalisation. We also obtained input from academics and policy experts within government
to get an overview of the key issues and ideas currently informing policy. Such stakeholder engagement
allowed the research team to best target the review of the literature through the identification of key
documents, issues and challenges.
2.3. Primary data collection
A review of media reporting and other grey literature identified convictions of individuals for terrorist
offences under UK Terrorist legislation (henceforth TACT) in which the use of the internet appeared to
be an element of the offences, within the timeframe 2001-2012. Additionally, ACPO was approached and
• Literature review
• Expert engagement
• Analysis of computer registries
• Interviews with Senior Investigative Officers (SIO)
• Interviews with individuals vulnerable to or convicted for terrorism and extremism
• Cross-checking with primary and other sources
• Internal workshops and analysis
Radicalisation in the digital era
briefed on the research aims and the cases identified as relevant. ACPO then identified, where possible,
SIOs from British police forces who had led successful prosecutions11 against the individuals we identified
through the analysis of media reports. ACPO also suggested examples of cases which involved use of the
internet in terrorist activities or where radicalisation through the internet was deemed to be an element of
the case. Police forces further provided access to the cases of individuals who had not been prosecuted but
were deemed to be vulnerable to the influence of extremists. These individuals were being engaged under
the auspices of the Channel programme12 – a component of the UK Government’s Counter Terrorism
In some instances police forces with whom we engaged were able to facilitate access to the individuals who
had been prosecuted or to suggest local intermediaries who could facilitate this access. Through this
method of convenience sampling, the study gained access to primary data relating to 15 cases:
 Nine cases involved individuals convicted under the UK Terrorism legislation (TACT) (coded as
A1-A2 and A4 to A10 in the report), one (A3) case related to a former member of an Islamist
terrorist group; and
 Five cases of individuals were identified by the authorities as vulnerable (coded as B1 to B5 in the
 To probe key hypotheses in the literature and to understand and identify patterns of online
radicalisation, the study explored through interviews or examination of trial records and first hand
 Individuals’ level of radicalisation and involvement in violent extremism and/or terrorism – both
in the real world and online;
 The personal circumstances and social relations of the individual who was being radicalised;
 The locations from which the individual used the internet, and for what purpose;
 The reasons why they used the internet instead of other forms of information and/or
 Whether the individual’s use of the internet changed over time and, if so, how; and
 Whether the internet helped to reinforce messages that the individual heard elsewhere.
An interview protocol and ethical framework was sent to all individuals before interviews took place
(Government Social Research 2011). As with the literature review, the primary data collection was
followed by a workshop to identify the key messages for each of the research questions.
11 Successful prosecutions were identified because the subject of our analysis was convicted terrorists.
12 The Channel programme, as described in the Prevent Strategy (2011), is a multi-agency approach to protect
people at risk from radicalisation. Channel uses existing collaboration between local authorities, statutory partners
(such as the education and health sectors, social services, children’s and youth services and offender management
services), the police and the local community to:
 identify individuals at risk of being drawn into terrorism;
 assess the nature and extent of that risk; and
 develop the most appropriate support plan for the individuals concerned.
2.4. Obstacles to data collection
A number of obstacles to using primary data stood in the way of understanding the internet’s role in the
process of radicalisation. The challenges encountered in designing and conducting research for this study
are briefly set out below.
2.4.1. Limited access to primary data
Gathering new evidence of individuals’ experiences of the internet is constrained by procedural, security
and logistical barriers– not least for convicted terrorists and known extremists. Many of the convicted
terrorists in our study are still serving their sentences. The researchers overcame this through engaging
with ACPO – who provided us with otherwise inaccessible data from the individual cases.
2.4.2. Ethical constraints and data protection
There are significant ethical and data protection constraints to obtaining secondary information about
known terrorists and extremists, for example from past investigations. For this reason, it is challenging to
piece together an accurate picture of an individual’s life and experiences. This challenge is compounded
when the subject has been convicted of a crime and might volunteer only limited amounts of information,
some of which may be deliberately misleading. The researchers mitigated the risk arising from this cluster
of concerns by triangulating interviews wherever possible with data from trials and SIO perspectives.
2.4.3. Media-induced bias
Finally, some of the cases we highlight are well known and have been widely discussed in the media or
involve evidence framed in a particular manner. This may introduce bias in how the cases are viewed by
those undertaking the analysis and those reading it. As we discovered during the course of this project, the
wider context (for example around individuals’ behaviours, relationships or state of mind) of a particular
case is rarely picked up outside of the police and security and intelligence agencies, despite the
information being publically available. To address this, we coded the individual case studies to help
neutralise any biases that the researchers or the reader may have regarding specific cases, and allow a more
objective view. This approach had the following benefits: it ensured that the individuals interviewed were
able to discuss openly their experiences and allowed the study to make use of information and data which
could only be provided on a non-attributable basis.
3. Literature review: current understanding of the role of
the internet in radicalisation
3.1. Introduction
The role of the internet in the process of radicalisation has generated widespread interest
from policymakers, practitioners, academics and the media. Table 2 and Table 3 below
illustrate the many results that Google yielded when searching for relevant phrases.
Table 2: Google search (July 2013) for keywords on internet radicalisation in
Search Term Number of Results
“online radicalis(z)ation” 17,360
Out of that PDF files and reports 711
Results on Google Scholar 197
“internet radicalis(z)ation” 3,260
Out of that PDF files and reports 355
Results on Google Scholar 83
13 In relevant cases, British and American spelling was used simultaneously to prevent any omissions,
such as “radicalization” and “radicalisation”.
Table 3: Google search (July 2013) for keywords on internet radicalisation in
German and French
Search Term Number of Results
“Radikalisierung durch das Internet” (German) 10,300
“Radicalisation sur Internet” (French) 18,500
However, the breadth of research does not always correlate with the depth of scholarship.
The study examined more than 150 articles, of which only 18 were empirically derived
From our search the literature can be broadly categorised into four subject areas:
i. A focus on terrorist and extremist websites, with a plethora of studies on why
groups use the internet (e.g. the aims of Al Qa’ida’s media production house,
ii. Description of what is being posted on the internet, by analysing forum data
or videos that terrorist groups upload to the internet;
iii. A focus on how individuals develop extremist ideas condoning violence and
other illegal activity;
iv. An examination of how violent extremists and terrorists undertake operational
research, planning and preparation for their attacks online.
3.2. Five themes emerging from the literature review
Most studies that were reviewed use language which ascribes a role to the internet in
promoting radicalisation. The differing degree to which authors suggest the internet has a
causal role in radicalisation is signified by the terms used in the literature, from ‘facilitative’
(broadening of opportunity) or ‘reinforcing’, to a more enhanced role as an ‘accelerant’ or
the ‘primary or sole driver’ of radicalisation. The literature review culminated in an internal
workshop to identify the key hypotheses from the literature. The following five were
i. The internet creates more opportunities to become radicalised.
14 Bermingham 2010, Chesser 2012, HoC Home Affairs Committee 2012, Torok undated,
Wojcieszak 2010 and 2009, Warner 2010, Weimann 2008, de Koning 2011, Neumann 2010,
Zeng 2011, Bowman-Grieve II, Caiani and Parenti. Dalgaard (PET Denmark) 2010, Gartenstein
Ross (undated), AIVD 2010, Glithens-Mazer (undated)
15 The As-Sahab Foundation for Islamic Media Publication (to give it its full title) relays Al Qa’ida’s
messages externally.
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ii. The internet acts as an ‘echo chamber’.
iii. The internet accelerates the process of radicalisation.
iv. The internet allows radicalisation to occur without physical contact.
v. The internet increases opportunities for self-radicalisation.
3.3. The internet creates more opportunities to become
3.3.1. The Internet helps facilitate radicalisation
Almost all studies ascribe a role to the internet in promoting radicalisation (cf. Precht 2008).
Most studies suggest that the internet is a reinforcing agent or an accelerant, and has
broken down the traditional barriers for individuals wanting to become radicalised
(Pantucci 2011). A handful of studies suggest that the internet is a driver of radicalisation
(Briggs and Strugnell 2009; Homeland Security Institute 2009).
A key text in the literature is Weimann’s (2006) – which counts the number of websites of
terrorist groups and reviews their content. In his widely-cited article, Weimann points to
the proliferation of jihadist web sites: in 1998, fewer than half of the groups designated as
foreign terrorist organisations by the US State Department maintained websites; by the
end of 1999, nearly all these terrorist groups had established their presence online (2006).
However, there is no clear attribution of causality to the increasing number of web sites
leading to an increase in radicalisation online. At most a correlation is suggested: for
example, in Precht (2008):
A recent empirical study of 242 European jihadists from 2001-2006, on
the effects on the internet on radicalisation, found that there is a
correlation between jihadi web sites and propaganda on the internet and
rapid radicalisation.
3.3.2. The internet reaches otherwise unreachable individuals
The obstacles of geography and space in connecting individuals are reduced by the reach
and immediacy of the internet. A number of studies point to the internet’s ability to ‘reach’
those individuals who otherwise would not have been reachable by radicalisers in any other
way (Neumann 2012). The success of Anwar al-Awlaki16 in creating high-quality, highproduction
value content such as Inspire (Al Qa’ida’s web magazine), which advocates
‘jihad from home’ and has been heavily distributed in the West, is cited as broadening the
appeal of violent extremism (Quilliam 2010).
16 Anwar al-Awlaki was a spokesperson and recruiter for Al Qa’ida.
3.3.3. The internet opens opportunities to radicalise a broader range of
A handful of studies suggest that the internet has broken down some of the barriers that
exist in the physical world for certain groups of people to become involved in extremism.
This has been particularly highlighted in the case of women in relation to jihadism (Briggs
and Strugnell, 2011); it may be unacceptable for women to meet in person with extremists
who are men or to join their groups; it may also be unacceptable for them to express
certain thoughts in public in the physical world. However, the internet affords them
greater anonymity (Schmidle, 2009).
Some authors suggest that similar, self-imposed constraints may mean that shy individuals
can benefit from the access that the internet gives them to radicalisation (Torok, 2010;
Transnational Terrorism, Security & the Rule of Law, 2008; Yeap and Park, 2010). The
reduction of signifiers of difference between individuals helps connect like-minded
individuals from across the world, whatever their gender, background or country of
residence. One person now disengaged from the extreme right-wing movement recounts
how the internet ‘was the easiest way to make contacts and to take over and coordinate
responsibilities, to gain reputation and advance’ (Köhler, 2012, p. 6). Bjelopera goes so far
as to argue that:
the interactivity [of the internet] blurs the lines between readership and
authorship that previous generations of terrorists and sympathizers
encountered with pamphlets, newspapers and newsletters. This blurring…
encourages people… to more easily see themselves as part of broader
jihadist movements and not just… [online spectators]. (2011, pp. 101–
3.4. The internet acts as an ‘echo chamber’
Bjelopera (2011) highlights the internet’s role as normalising behaviours and attitudes that
otherwise may carry a risk of being considered unacceptable or inappropriate in the
physical world. The internet provides supposed anonymity (Weimann, 2006) and a degree
of protection and security from detection (Gray and Head, 2009). It also provides
acceptance: information is non-censured and non-hierarchical (Bartlett, 2011). To give an
illustrative example, an individual disengaged from the extreme right-wing movement
communicated that ‘some of them really run riot, placing swastikas wherever they can…
because they think they are acting in a completely extrajudicial space’ (Köhler, 2012 p.6).
The internet has been described as an ‘echo chamber’ (Ramakrishna, 2010; Saddiq, 2010;
Stevens and Neumann, 2009) or a ‘mental reinforcement activity’ (Silber and Bhatt,
2007). The consensus in the literature is that the internet allows individuals to gain easier
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access to the material in which they are interested, which is harder to do in the physical
world where we more regularly come across individuals with different opinions or access
material exposing different views (Briggs and Strugnell, 2011; Shetret, 2011). Moreover,
the internet can give the illusion of ‘strength in numbers’, as Saddiq (2010) points out. As
Schaan and Phillips explain, ‘brought together by online journals, blogs, services and chat
rooms, the participants enter forums where the extremist ideology becomes selfreinforcing’
(2011, p. 24).
3.5. The internet accelerates the process of radicalisation
A feature which supports the notion of the internet as an accelerant in radicalisation is the
fact that it offers a ‘one-stop shop’ for all the information that an extremist may seek out,
or by which they may be influenced. As Stevens and Neumann explain:
[T]he internet can be used by extremists to illustrate and reinforce
ideological messages and/or narratives. Through the internet, potential
recruits can gain… access to visually powerful video and imagery which
appear to substantiate the extremists’ political claims (2009, 12).
All of this can happen in a reduced timeframe compared to accessing the information in
the ‘real’ (as opposed to virtual) world.
Many studies identify the internet as an accelerant of the radicalisation process, by virtue of
the fact that it allows individuals to connect in an instantaneous and continuous way. This
has led to the internet being referred to as a ‘conveyor belt’ (Bergin, 2009).
Pantucci highlights the internet’s role in incubating (and accelerating) terrorism for some:
[T]he internet is clearly the running theme between most of the plots
included in this dataset and it appears to be a very effective tool: it
provides a locus in which they can obtain radicalising material… It
provides them with direct access to a community of like-minded
individuals around the world with whom they can connect and in some
cases can provide them with further instigation and direction to carry out
activities (2011).
Schmidle (2009) points to the role of chat rooms in particular in this acceleration effect, as
extremists can exchange with like-minded individuals 24/7, regardless of borders.
3.6. The internet allows radicalisation to occur without physical
As Yeap and Park explain, ‘individuals have the comfort of accessing radical content from
their own personal space instead of having to go through the inconvenience of physically
attending radical religious gatherings’ (2010, p. 2). The internet therefore implies a much
more limited set of logistical challenges to connecting with others: while the individual
needs internet access, it is not necessary to make appointments and travel to other
locations, for example.
While the internet may present fewer hurdles to interaction than physical meetings, the
argument that radicalisation requires human interaction and physical proximity17 fails to
accept that we live in a digital era where our ‘online’ activities are an extension of our
‘offline’ lives. Friendship, personal relationships and loyalty are no longer the sole preserve
of the physical world, but also exist virtually. Thus, some would argue, that radicalisation
on the internet ‘is not necessarily any different to what would happen with other more
private and less visible sources’ (Silber and Bhatt, 2007).
3.7. The internet increases opportunities for self-radicalisation
Some of the literature discusses the influential role of the internet in enhancing the
likelihood of self-radicalisation. For some authors, self-radicalisation and radicalisation via
the internet is one and the same thing. It refers to a process that is devoid of physical
contact: the full process takes place online, and can include contact with others as long as it
is remote (Change Institute, 2008; Homeland Security Institute, 2009). Bjelopera argues
that ‘internet activity has been central in the development of a “self-starter” phenomenon
and offers would-be violent jihadists a “de-formalised” radicalization experience’ (2011, p.
104). Al-Lami explains that this self-radicalisation essentially consists of ‘individuals
[becoming] familiar with and influenced by radical ideologies without even socialising with
radical groups’ (2009, p. 7). For others, the processes are different. What distinguishes selfradicalisation
from radicalisation via the internet is that it takes place in isolation, and
implies a process whereby no contact is made with other terrorists or extremists, whether in
person or virtually. In this study, self-radicalisation is understood in this way.
The consensus is that self-radicalisation is extremely rare, if possible at all (Bermingham et
al., 2009; Change Institute, 2008; Precht, 2008; Saddiq, 2010; Stevens and Neumann,
2009; Yasin, 2011). This is a challenging assumption to test, given that the available
evidence may not point to relevant online or offline exchanges with other individuals, even
if such exchanges exist or have occurred. However, there is evidence to suggest that in the
large majority of cases, radicalisation does not occur solely through the internet, but
instead involves offline contact. For example, the UK House of Commons Home Affairs
Select Committee report ‘Roots of Violent Radicalisation’ (2012 p.65) confirms that ‘even
those witnesses who attributed a significant role to the internet tended to support that
17 See House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, 2012.
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report’s conclusion that some element of face-to-face contact was generally essential to
radicalisation taking place’.
3.8. Research on interactions between the online and offline
worlds is rare
There is limited information on the way in which people’s online and offline behaviours
interact, which is a key area of focus in this study. From the 150 reports that were reviewed
for the present study, only three studies dealt with the interplay of online and offline
factors in radicalisation in an empirically robust manner. Wojcieszak (2010) examined the
survey responses of neo-Nazi forum users; Warner (2010) examined how media of
different ideological strains impact on students’ political inclinations, while Neumann and
Rogers (2007) drew on interviews from radicals,18 former radicals and intelligence officials
to describe the predominantly supporting role of individuals’ online activity to a wider
radicalisation processes.
3.9. Conclusions
This chapter has sought to provide a targeted overview of the current literature on the
internet and radicalisation with a view to identifying key gaps to which this study can
contribute. As Conway suggests:
[T]here is an assumption that the internet plays a part in some
individuals’ radicalisation… but [there are] no large-scale studies showing
this to actually be the case or measuring the extent of the internet’s role in
such processes. (Conway and McInerney, 2008, p.13)
Although the sample size of the present study is small, we intend to test the five hypotheses
outlined above and explore two key issues in the coming chapters that warrant further
consideration: a characterisation of how violent extremists’ have used the internet during
radicalisation, and the relationship between online and offline behaviour.
18 Radicals or former radicals who were members of, or close to, groups or networks that approved
of and/or facilitated violent extremism.
4. How 15 individuals engaged with the internet in their
radicalisation: case studies and insights
This chapter explores the role of the internet in 15 cases of radicalisation through the data
we were able to access. The chapter draws on information provided by interviews with the
police and individuals, and maps these against the five hypotheses from the literature
review. In a separate Annex we provide an overview of the individual cases as well as
presenting data (such as computer registries) from trials where available. The aim is to
provide the reader with a sense of what these individuals, the police and a review of trial
documents suggested was relevant to the radicalisation processes in each case.
Box 1: Case studies breakdown
4.1. Interview approach and objectives
In order to structure the interview process we set out specific lines of inquiry, while
remaining open to the possibility of finding new information that was not expected. In
designing the interview questions, we hoped to develop a picture of:
 The individual’s background and the context in which they used the internet;
 The approximate age at which the individual began using the internet;
 The social arena preferred by the individual when spending time online;
The 15 cases examined are broken down as follows:
 Nine of the cases are offenders convicted under the Terrorism Act 2000
or Terrorism Act 2006. These nine cases touch on both Islamist terrorism
and the extreme right-wing.
 One case study is of a former member of Al Qa’ida who was active in
Bosnia, Afghanistan and South-East Asia before disengaging from
terrorist activities.
 Five of the cases were referred to the PREVENT intervention programme
which tackles vulnerability (the Channel Programme).
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 The purpose of the individual’s time spent on the internet and whether they
received guidance offline as to what this should be; and
 Whether the individual took substantial breaks from browsing online.
Following from this, we sought to begin understanding:
 The relationship between the internet and offline factors in the individual’s
 The role of the internet at different stages of the individual’s radicalisation process;
 The strengthening / reinforcing mechanism of the internet, if any; and
 The role the internet played in the individual’s journey, if any.
4.2. Mapping our hypotheses against primary data findings
This section will further use the research findings to assess the validity of the five
hypotheses made in chapter 3. Through an analysis of each individual’s online and offline
background, experience, attitudes and activities, this chapter aims to identify cross cutting
themes and to better understand the role of the internet in the radicalisation process.
This section will map the five hypotheses themes from the literature review19 against the
findings drawn from our primary data (Annex A for further details). Table 4 provides a
summary of how well our data fits with the conclusions drawn in the literature. These
findings will be discussed in greater detail below, but it is worth noting that in some
instances our findings have supported and in others they have challenged hypotheses made
in the literature.
19 See Chapter 3 for a detailed exploration of the five themes that emerged from the literature
Table 4: Mapping our hypotheses against primary data findings
Literature hypotheses Does the primary data support the
1. The internet creates more opportunities to
become radicalised.
Yes in all of these cases
2. The internet acts as an ‘echo chamber’. Yes in the majority of these cases
3. The internet accelerates the process of
While there is no agreed length of time or
template for radicalisation, it is not clear that
the internet would have accelerated this process
in the majority of our cases: in these cases the
internet appears to enable rather than
necessarily accelerate radicalisation
4. The internet allows radicalisation to occur
without physical contact.
Not in the majority of these cases: most cases
involve offline activity that could have played a
role in the individual’s radicalisation
5. The internet increases opportunities for selfradicalisation.
Not in the majority of these cases: most cases
of so-called ‘online self-radicalisation’ involve
virtual communication and interaction with
4.2.1. The internet has created more opportunities to become radicalised
There is widespread evidence and support for the first hypothesis in the literature. In all of
our 15 cases the internet provided the individual in question with a capability to connect,
collaborate and convince. This is largely due to the now widespread use of the internet and
increasing availability of extremist content online.
In the UK, internet access had reached penetration rates of 87% of households by 2012
(whilst the figure for the EU-27 at the time was a little lagging at 76%). Internet use
among individuals stands at 89% in the UK and 75% for the EU. Figures 4 and5 show the
growth in internet penetration and frequency of use for both the UK and the EU-27. This
trend is matched, in turn, by a massive increase in the number of Jihadist websites now
available – rising from 12 in 1998 to 4,500 by 2006 (ONS survey data, 2010).
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Figure 4: Internet access in households in EU-27 and the UK (%)
Source: Eurostat 2013
Figure 5: Internet use amongst individuals in EU-27 and the UK (%)
Source: Eurostat 2012
In all 15 cases discussed in this report, the internet acted as a key source of information, a
means of communication, and/or a platform for extremist propaganda. The internet
appears, from these cases, to facilitate radicalisation. A1 and A2 used the internet to learn
how bombs are made; A4 sought instructions on how to build suicide vests; B2 checked
when and where EDL demonstrations would take place. For someone like A7, who grew
up in a socially conservative household which did not allow television, the internet became
a viable medium for accessing knowledge and contacting people and positively fed into his
radicalisation journey.
The internet enables connection with people who, due to potentially greater anonymity,
may have lower thresholds for engaging in conversations that could be perceived as security
risks. For A5, the perceived anonymity of the internet was a key factor and created the
following opportunity:
“the internet…( as a medium) allows those that would otherwise
be scared of being seen with the wrong people to get engaged,
and one which makes the whole process more invisible to the
authorities. ”
Even if some terrorists and/or extremists are skeptical of the internet’s security they may,
like A1 and A2, invest in encryption and deletion software to erase incriminating data
instead of choosing not to use the internet at all.
The internet also opens opportunities for those seeking influence to radicalise a broader
group of people. The lack of internet in the 1970s and 1980s meant that information on
terrorism and extremism was found in books and/or VHS videos and cassette tapes. These
needed to be identified, bought and circulated. The reach of the messages contained in
these books or cassettes was limited. Contrast that limitation with the new reality
illustrated in our cases: members of terrorist groups in Pakistan reached out to A10 to
discuss military training whilst A7, A8 and A9 spread the word of the ‘al Qa’ida cell’ in the
UK across the internet.
As described by A3, who grew up when VHS and cassettes were used to spread radicalised
messages, the internet enables you to take your audience from “retail to wholesale levels”.
For B2, the dissemination capacity of the internet is very appealing:
“The net was the best way of getting our messages further afield I
think. It’s better than all the leaflet runs the BNP used to do.
Look how fast it is and how far it can get your stuff out – literally
all over the world and no trudging around council estates putting
leaflets through letterboxes and having dogs chasing after you! ”
A3 shared with us an approximation of the widening pool for recruiters:
“The internet is like a fishing net, catching surface fish, not
bottom fish. We used to catch one at a time, now we catch 100-
200 in a year.”
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As a former radicaliser, A3 made clear in his interview the benefits of the internet over
other instruments. Before the spread of the internet he had to spend a lot of his time going
from cafés to Chicken Cottage restaurants (a halal fast food chain), selling his ideas.
4.2.2. In most cases the internet acts as an ‘echo chamber’
In Chapter 3 we learned that the internet allows individuals to seek material that they are
interested in, and to reject that which does not support their worldview. The internet can
give the illusion of strength of consensus in numbers and, as such, can act as a normalising
agent (Bjelopera, 2011).
Several of our subjects helped to demonstrate this mechanism in operation. A1, A3, A5,
A6, A10 and B2 all actively contributed to web forums that promoted the discussion of
extremist topics. For B3, the intuitive strength of the internet is how it localises likeminded
people, removing the sense “that it’s just you with these feelings”. In the offline
world, we’ve already seen how A4 searched from mosque to mosque for a like-minded
group, someone with whom to share his views. Having not found anyone, he took his
search online.
A4 kept away from chat rooms, not willing to debate. His key word searches (see Annex A
Figure A4) reveal that he went online primarily to gather information, rather than to
A6, on the other hand, was willing to have his worldview tested. He welcomed debate
online. If he found himself ignorant on a topic in a debate, he would go offline, learn more
about that topic, and return to battle it out again. His online appearances dropped after
such incidents, but he would return after a period of time (see the sometimes long gaps in
A6’s online activity in Annex A Figure A6).
On the whole, however, most of the information recovered by the police and shared with
the research team suggests that the convicted terrorists examined in this study were not
generally looking at information that may have challenged their extremist beliefs. It is,
however, important to note that this finding may be due to the fact that the information
recovered related to a late stage of the individual’s radicalisation, or to the fact that they
accessed this information from different profiles or computers. In fact, the police made
clear that it is challenging to attribute information recovered from computers to
individuals and to be confident that this information is representative of the individual’s
usage of the internet. ‘Tech-savvy’ individuals can use separate computers from different
locations, they can hold multiple user names, break into others’ profiles, or erase
information from the computers they use.
4.2.3. The internet enables rather than accelerates the process of
Based on the 15 cases above, it is hard to ascertain whether or not the internet accelerated
the process of radicalisation. The relative significance of the internet as an accelerator,
amongst all conceivable sources of radicalisation, is difficult to discern with such a small
sample size and without fuller information on what else individuals might have been doing
at the time and outside of their internet use. More factors would need to be considered
before being able to provide a complete picture of all contributors to radicalisation.
The impact that seeing videos daily and having access to constant and immediate
communication had on the speed of radicalisation for any of the individuals mentioned
above is therefore not clear from the narratives. As noted by A3, the experience of each
individual online is inherently subjective: while the internet might make information easier
to find, the impact of doing so may differ from individual to individual.
For the majority of our cases, the internet appeared to facilitate the process (explained in
some detail in 4.3.1 above), and this in turn may or may not accelerate it.
In the case of A1 and A2, it is likely that the process of radicalisation built over a number
of years. A5 eventually rejected the internet as a path to radicalisation (in his interview he
expressed dismay at the infighting that took place in chat rooms, and how this drove him
offline). A4’s experience also indicates that the internet did not necessarily accelerate his
radicalisation process. As shown in Figure 6 below, his periods of inactivity online before
his arrest indicate that external factors may have accelerated his radicalisation as much as or
more than his online activity.
Figure 6: A4’s timeline leading to arrest
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4.2.4. Most cases involve offline activity that could have played a role in
the individual’s radicalisation
The case study evidence suggests that online and offline factors both play an important and
interconnected role in the radicalisation process. From the case summaries above, it
appears likely that there is an iterative process through which events and developments in
the physical world feed into online behaviour and vice versa. This evidence suggests that
the internet is not a substitute for but rather complements in-person communication.
Before the convictions of A1 and A2, newspapers reported that their radicalisation
exclusively took place online. Although a review of their online activities does show that A1
and A2 downloaded extremist material, even from the small picture above we can
appreciate the more nuanced interaction with, and likely effect of, personal relationships.
A2, we have seen, was influenced in her radicalisation by A1. A1 was active offline – he
attended a conference and received a disc with extremist content. A personal relationship
was also prevalent in the case of A5 who claimed the motive of growing closer to his dad,
who was active on extreme websites, for his move towards online radicalisation.
Our research also showed that offline factors can sometimes be more influential than
online factors in the radicalisation process. A10 was, for instance, first approached by a
terrorist facilitator from Pakistan at the central mosque in Dewsbury. This meeting
pointed A10 to search for online information on bomb-making and other extremist
material. Following their introduction at the mosque, A10 and the facilitator began to
communicate regularly online, where A10 was ‘groomed’ for a UK mission. This case
suggests that the internet was primarily a resource for information, rather than the focus of
A10’s radicalisation. Similarly, A6’s path to radicalisation, and affiliation with al-
Mujahiroun, began with a physical meeting during a march in front of the US embassy. A3
was radicalised in Bosnia in the 1990s (before the advent of widespread internet use).
4.2.5. Most cases of so-called ‘online self-radicalisation’ involve virtual
communication and interaction with others
On the whole, we have seen very little evidence to support the existence of any ’selfstarters’
in our cases. Amongst those in law enforcement and policymaking circles, the
notion of ‘self-radicalisation’ appears largely defunct. To help illustrate this point, it is
helpful to consider the UK’s definition of radicalisation as found in the Prevent strategy:
(Radicalisation is) a social process particularly prevalent in small
groups. Radicalisation is about ‘who you know’. Group bonding,
peer pressure and indoctrination are necessary to encourage the
view that violence is a legitimate response to perceived injustice.
(UK Home Office, 2011)
Any suggestion of self-radicalisation is avoided. The case of Roshana Choudhry,
mentioned earlier in the report, is seen by experts as an outlier. The Crown Prosecution
Service has reviewed the case several times in order to understand whether she had links to
known terrorist or extremist networks. It is considered that she remains one of a small
number of cases where so-called ‘self-radicalisation’ via the internet took place.
The majority of the cases that we reviewed during our research, however, involved virtual
and/or physical contact between individuals. For category A case studies, the trail of online
and offline interactions is fairly clear. A1, for instance, used five Facebook accounts to
engage with other extremists online; A3 was surrounded by extremists from a young age;
A5 followed his father into extremism; A6 and A10 were targeted by terrorist facilitators
while A7, A8 and A9 had a radicalising effect on one another.
5. Recommendations and conclusions
Tackling terrorism and violent radicalisation have been priorities for the European Union
(EU) and its Member States following the US, Madrid and London bombings in 2001,
2004 and 2005 respectively. Initially, the concern was mainly with Islamist radicalisation
but within a decade, and most notably as a result of Breivik‘s coordinated attacks in
Norway, the perspective on the threat posed by radicalisation has once again widened to
include the more traditional threats of right- and left-wing extremists, and nationalistseparatists.
The Boston bombings in 2013 acted as a reminder to the policy world and the
public that the threat of terrorism is ongoing, and re-emphasised the importance of
research and policy action in the field of internet radicalisation20. As noted earlier in this
report, on the whole, terrorism cases in the UK and the rest of Europe without a digital
footprint are increasingly rare.
However, the internet is obviously only one part of the whole picture of radicalisation and
terrorism; it is important not to amplify its significance. If the internet can have a
radicalising effect, then it is but one of several plausible sources of radicalisation, including
schools, faith-based organisations, prisons, work-place environments and even families and
friends. It remains to be established what is its relative significance.
This chapter takes the findings and insights from the current study to develop
recommendations for further research and policy action.
5.1. The importance of primary data for further research
The internet offers terrorists and extremists increased capability to communicate,
collaborate and convince others to join in their beliefs. In recent years, practitioners and
the academic community have begun to examine how the internet influences the process of
radicalisation; how a person comes to support terrorism and forms of extremism leading to
terrorism. The majority of policy documents and academic literature reviewed for this
study predominantly focus on online content and its potential influence on vulnerable
20 The Tsarnaev brothers, it is reported, were influenced to a big extent via Jihadist websites.
individuals, rather than exploring how individuals use the internet in the process of
The analysis of the supply side of radicalisation (what is offered by the medium) seems to
be over-represented in the academic research, whereas the demand side remains neglected.
The reason for this is relatively straightforward: access to terrorists (those convicted under
UK terrorism legislation) or extremists (identified by the police and multi-agency partners
based on a risk assessment) willing to speak to researchers is extremely difficult. Access to
primary data understandably remains a significant challenge. However, such access is
possible, as this study demonstrates.
A more sophisticated strategy that also targets individuals rather than solely focusing on the
supply side, i.e. the medium, will require more research, but is an approach that is likely
pay great dividends, providing a more accurate picture in the long term. Rather than using
an either-or approach, it is hence essential for further research to find the right balance
between both aspects.
The results from this work were based on a small number of cases and we cannot claim
that they are representative of the wider terrorist population; they do not necessarily reflect
the way in which other violent extremists and terrorists use the internet during their
radicalisation. However, even this small number of cases has provided information with
which it has been possible to test, validate and challenge some of the suggestions drawn
from the literature to date in this field. In doing so, our study demonstrates the importance
of gathering empirical evidence when seeking to explore a complex phenomenon such as
online radicalisation. This analysis could therefore serve as a useful starting point for
further research in the domain of online radicalisation.
5.2. The internet as a mode, rather than a single method of
radicalisation – mapping literature hypotheses against real
The primary evidence from this study confirmed that for all 15 individuals we researched,
the internet had been a key source of information, of communication and of propaganda
for their extremist beliefs. The internet may furthermore enhance opportunities to become
radicalised, as a result of being accessible to a large and growing number of people
irrespective of gender or ethnicity, and enabling them to connect with like-minded
individuals from across the world. This access to people online may provide greater
opportunity than the offline world to confirm existing beliefs and avoid confrontation with
information that would challenge these. The hypothesis that the internet works as an echo
chamber can therefore be supported by this study.
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However, the hypothesis that the internet allows radicalisation without physical contact
cannot be supported. In all our cases the so called offline world played an important role in
the radicalisation process. The subjects had offline contact with family members or friends
who shared their beliefs. The internet is therefore not replacing the need for individuals to
meet in person during their radicalisation. The same argument is true for the process of
self-radicalisation which could not be supported by our cases and according to our research
is more an exceptional phenomenon than the rule.
From this study it appears that it would be useful to analyse the interplay between the offand
online world. That an individual possesses a USB stick with extremist material, has
Facebook accounts exhorting violent jihad, or has watched beheading videos is not
necessarily evidence of ‘radicalisation’ or ‘online radicalisation’. Rather, it suggests that a
wider investigation of the individual is necessary in order to understand why they have
acquired, posted or watched such material in the first place. This evidence, and the role of
the internet in their radicalisation, must be placed within the broader context of the
individual’s personal history and social relations.
One of our overall conclusions therefore is that the internet has to be seen as a mode,
rather than a unitary method, of radicalisation (the internet can play an important role in
facilitating the radicalisation process; however, it cannot drive it on its own). Instead, the
internet appears to enhance the process, which, in turn, may or may not accelerate it.
5.3. Framing possible policy responses
For practitioners, the increasing reach of the internet (from laptops to smartphones and
tablets) raises numerous challenges. Based on interviews with police, security and
intelligence officials, the authors’ judgement is that relevant agencies will need to re-assess
the thresholds and criteria for investigation and intervention, as opportunities to access and
engage with extremist material increase. This need poses a number of issues, not least
whether relevant agencies have the appropriate resources.
5.3.1. Differing approaches and regulatory environment
Given the challenges they face in this field, governments are likely to benefit from taking a
range of approaches. Counter-radicalisation programmes implemented in Western
countries differ greatly from one another, and from non-Western programmes, in terms of
aims, structure, budget, and underlying philosophy. Each national experience is shaped by
the political, cultural, and legal elements unique to that country (Vidinio & Brandon
2012, p. 7).
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2012) report on this subject outlines the
challenge governments face when attempting to tackle terrorism-related content on the
internet. Approaches vary, with some states applying strict regulatory controls on Internet
Service Providers (ISPs) and other related service providers, including in some cases the use
of technology to filter or block access to certain content. Other states adopt a lighter
regulatory approach, relying to a greater extent on self-regulation by the information
sector. Most ISPs, web hosting companies, file-sharing sites and social networking sites
have terms of service agreements that prohibit certain content; some terrorism-related
content might contravene these contractual restrictions.21
5.3.2. Investing in people
It is widely agreed by the people interviewed for this study that the use of the internet by
terrorists and extremists is a critical issue for the police and other agencies, and responding
to this challenge will require greater investment in people and resources. In order to do so
the police and government authorities will need to invest more in their digital literacy skills
in the long run. The senior officers interviewed for this project are aware that they require
more training and resources for tackling online crime, including terrorism and extremism.
They all believe that as technology and threats evolve, so too will the need for further
investment in training and equipment. Education and training should have two aims: to
increase the digital awareness and to improve the digital resilience of supporting
5.3.3. Identifying red-flags
The police and relevant agencies might require closer relationships in the future with
companies such as Facebook and Google to assist them in identifying red flags for
vulnerable individuals. For example, in one of our case studies, A1 created Facebook
accounts which Facebook closed due to their inappropriate use of beheading videos.
However, this was never followed up with UK police forces, and A1 opened other
Facebook accounts with similar identities (the identities were sequential: the last digit of
the new identity would differ by one). Facebook did not go a step further than what was
strictly necessary to identify or flag this pattern with the police.
Therefore, a more collaborative and innovative relationship between Internet Service
Providers (ISP’s), social media companies and the police might be essential. However, what
needs to be clear as well is that ISP’s are not watchdogs in the service of the governments.
What is required instead is an effective collaboration between the police forces and ISPs to
prioritise, as well as detect and tackle online extremist activity. It remains to be seen how
interested ISPs are in working in close collaboration with police forces and governments.
21 See the EU’s Clean IT Project:
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5.3.4. Bridging ethical concerns
In a policy debate on the role of the internet governments should reflect on some of the
ethical dilemmas as well as the operative ones – when to intervene and how to balance
security and civil liberties. While it is the duty of governments to protect their citizens
from terrorism, people’s privacy needs to equally be protected to the fullest extent possible.
Digital technologies have become an integral component of modern day life. Governments
must be aware of the thin line between observing the web for security purposes and the
creation of a ‘surveillance society’. Recent events in 2013, where a whistle-blower revealed
activities of secret services (i.e. NSA) wiretapping citizens, demonstrate the fragility of this
thin line. Government action must therefore tread carefully around this line and find a
balance between the security of the population as a whole and for those who might be
subject to surveillance. If care is not taken in working at this interface of surveillance and
privacy, then the privacy of most citizens, who are not affiliated with radical ideas becomes
at risk. The danger of becoming too visible for governments and/or private companies
should hence be taken into consideration when thinking of new approaches to protect the
internet from the spread of radical ideas.
5.3.5. Forming an effective and appropriate counter-narrative
Hundreds of millions of euros have been invested in counter-terrorism policies and
interventions. Yet more than 12 years after the September 11 attacks, there is widespread
recognition that governments still find it challenging to measure the effectiveness of their
counter terrorism work and to learn from it.22 With respect to the internet and
radicalisation, policymakers will have to adopt increasingly innovative methods to disrupt,
take down and/or filter unwanted content. One part of such a continuous approach is to
evaluate past and present activities in this area as in others.
The British government has undertaken some evaluation of its counter-narrative work
online; however, for legitimate reasons it has not made this work public, as doing so could
damage any gains made, especially those gains that have supported civil society groups.
That said, the absence of a robust, comprehensive evaluation of counter-narrative work
online is a concern – not least because it is not clear whether the work is well targeted or
effective in changing the attitudes or behaviours of those vulnerable individuals engaging
with radicalising material online. Unlike recent reports that have called for more counternarrative
work, the authors believe that independent assessment of the many counternarrative
projects would be beneficial to inform and help guide future activity.
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Annex A. Case Studies
A.1. Case Studies A1-A10
With the exception of A3, a former member of al Qaida who has now disengaged from terrorist activities,
the first nine individuals interviewed by the study team are offenders convicted under the Terrorism Act
2000 or the Terrorism Act 2006. We outline their backgrounds below, including details of their ethnic
origins, family and other relationships, criminal backgrounds and/or education. Descriptions of the online
and offline behaviour of each individual are also included in Tables A.1 – A.8. Obviously some of the
information we had access to is pre-selected by the investigating officers, so we cannot give a complete
picture of all factors and aspects that relate to their radicalisation.
Table A.1: Case study A1
A1 is a British male who was born in Pakistan and came to the United Kingdom at a young
age. During trial proceedings, it was indicated that he lived with his mother. He had a
criminal record which included a range of offences such as shoplifting and aggravated assault
during the period 1991 to 2011.
Online activity
A1’s computer registry activity indicates that he used the internet on a daily basis at home.
Figure A1 is a word cloud23 from A1’s computer registry of search terms.
23 A word cloud indicates through relative size of lettering the relative frequency with which words were searched.
The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.
Figure A1: A1’s computer registry of search-terms
The above provides a picture of A1’s everyday browsing, shopping and information gathering
interfused with search terms synonymous with radicalisation. For instance, ‘green bird’ refers
to the foundational Islamist book In the Hearts of Green Birds (which relates stories of ‘heroic
martyrdom’), while there are also attempts to acquire information about where to buy guns –
‘decommissioned AK47 for sale’). By early 2011, A1 was accessing bomb-making websites
(see the predominance of ‘potassium’ and ‘chlorate’ above in A1’s search history),
downloading beheading videos, and had added Roshanna Choudary24 to his internet
favourites. A1 was also present in peer-to-peer sites. A1 had created five Facebook accounts in
total (registered under adopted pseudonyms), each one shut down due to inappropriate
content. A1 was security aware in his online behaviour and purchased encryption and file
deletion programmes.
Offline activity
While the above description suggests extensive online activity that may be related to
radicalising, A1’s radicalisation may not have taken place exclusively online. Although there is
no evidence to suggest the internet had a catalytic radicalising influence on A1, he stated in
court evidence that he attended an Islamic conference in 2010 at which he was given
extremist material on a CD. In mid-2011, A1 purchased bomb-making material, including
quantities of hydrogen peroxide and other ingredients. A1 also spent time in a number of
prisons – an experience which might have served as a possible driver of radicalisation (House
of Commons 2012).
24 Roshanna Choudary is a former student at King’s College London accused of the attempted murder of Stephen
Timms MP.
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Table A.2: Case Study A2
A2 is a British female of Pakistani heritage and is married to A1. The couple first met on
the internet. No available evidence suggests that A2 was involved in any form of
extremism before meeting A1 (prior to her conviction in 2011 she had no criminal
record). The general characterisation of A2’s change in behaviour (as relayed in witness
reports in court) was a change of direction from an outgoing personality to a more insular
and subservient one.
Online activity
Police reports suggest A2’s online activity was very much in-step with A1’s. A2 also
accessed bomb-making websites, downloaded beheading videos (using torrent facilities –
see ‘btjunkie’ listed in A2’s search terms in Figure A2 below), and added Roshanna
Choudary to her internet favourites (also a prominent search-term below).
Figure A2: A2’s computer registry of search-terms
Prominent among A2’s search terms were keyword searches for public armed forces events.
Police would later find coordinates to a nearby air force base saved in the satellite
navigation system she shared with A1. Maintaining security online was also seen as
important – settings were set to delete. It’s apparent from Figure A3 below that accessing
online extremist material became an increasingly prevalent activity for the couple:
Figure A3: Timeline of A1 and A2’s online and TomTom (satellite navigation
system) activity
Offline activity
Present in other mediums, beyond the internet, was a saturation of extremist media that the
couple used (books, television, audio in the car). A1’s court evidence suggests that A2 also
attended the same Islamic conference at which A1 was given extremist material on CDs).
Table A.3: Case Study A3
A3 grew up in Saudi Arabia and was educated in the Salafistic religious context. In his early
life, the internet was absent, and information on ‘radical Islam’ was passed around circles
of friends and acquaintances. In the mid-90s, A3 decided to follow in the footsteps of some
friends and travel to Bosnia. Upon witnessing civilian deaths in Bosnia25, his radicalisation
was, he argues, inevitable:
After everything you’ve seen, you don’t want to go back to
25 The war between Bosnia and Herzegovina took place between 1992 and 1995 and was a result of the collapse of
former Yugoslavia.
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normal life – you feel so detached at that moment from social
life, especially if you have a near-death experience. People seem to
be having frivolous conversations; they don’t have aspirations
beyond their own daily life. You start thinking of yourself as elite,
a vanguard, and you look for other people like you.
Online activity
A3 spotted the potential to use the internet as a recruitment tool, taking his audience share
from “retail to wholesale levels”. He identified the spread of the internet, from limited
hubs such as internet cafes to every home, as making his job as a recruiter easier. Day to
day, A3 was involved in translating violent extremist messages in different languages to
English and uploading these onto an extremist website. A3 also identifies the advent of
online video as overcoming a limitation that radicalisers had with hard storage devices such
as VHS. A3 argued that the internet was important but not transformative for his (and
others’) radicalisation activities:
The internet is just another platform. One which allows those
that would otherwise be scared of being seen with the wrong
people to get engaged, and one which makes the whole process
more invisible to the authorities.
Offline activity
A3 judges that he was radicalised prior to the advent of the internet. He is sceptical about
how far online activity translates into offline behaviour change. Soon after his time in
Bosnia, A3 was identified as a good speaker and became a recruiter and fundraiser. Once
he left Saudi Arabia A3 was active for 12 years before he disengaged from terrorist
Table A.4: Case Study A4
A4 converted to Islam on the first anniversary of 7/7 at a prominent Birmingham mosque.
Trial documents suggest that A4 was a drug user and was on methadone at the time of his
arrest. A4 was described in witness statements by those who knew him as a ‘loner’; a
comment that reflects his decision to drop out of school for a period of time. Community
members noted A4’s gradual change of behaviour and adoption of violent extremist views.
Acting on community concerns, a police search of A4’s flat uncovered explosives and a
suicide vest.
Online activity
A4 used the internet from an early age and continued this use through college. The police
have established that most of his extremist activity was on the open internet and therefore
not encrypted. He did not actively participate in chat rooms but he did search them for
answers to questions regarding Islam. The internet gave A4 information on issues ranging
from religion and violent extremist propaganda to instructions on how to build suicide vests
and explosives (as can be seen from Figure A4 below):
Figure A4: A4’s computer registry of search terms.
Offline activity
A4 had a copy of Milestones26, a book often referenced as a key text in radical Islamist
extremism at his address, but police suggest that the internet was his extremist library.
Originally, A4 claimed that his decision to search for answers online was a result of being
unsuccessful in finding a suitable mentor in the mosques he searched. A4 has been described
as having a compulsive personality and had a previous criminal conviction. Trial documents
suggest that in the months leading up to his arrest, he had a number of friends with whom
he shared information about what he was doing and thinking. He was arrested after a tip-off
from the local community.
Table A.5: Case Study A5
A5 is a white British male from the North of England. Following the separation of his
26 Milestones is a book by Sayyid Qutb in which he makes a call to re-create the Muslim world strictly based on the
Qu’ran. The book, the author and his thinking had influence on Islamic terror groups and extremists.
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parents, A5 moved in with his father. In one of his interviews, A5 noted the strong
influence of the racist views held by his father. At that point, his father was a member of an
online right-wing group. A5 became involved in the group without his father’s involvement
or knowledge. Following the arrest of his father for terrorism offences, A5 was also arrested
and charged with a number of offences that included inciting racial violence.
Online activity
A5 observed that he had used the internet for “as long as I can remember’”. He began to
engage in online debates (the largest portion of his time spent online as we can see in Figure
A5 below), contacting group members of the online right-wing group via Skype and MSN
Messenger and developing friendships with white supremacists from across Europe. We can
also see below that A5 searched for extremist material and chemicals/explosives.
Figure A5: Breakdown of A5’s online activity
According to A5, his online activities made him feel part of a group and important. He
became a committee member and was approached numerous times to help other members
(such as helping to create images and leaflets). A5’s online right-wing group activity lasted
for one and a half years. He claims that, following this period, endless debate online grew
quite tiresome.
Offline activity
As noted above, A5’s father is a prominent figure in his life. Interview evidence indicates
that A5’s father regularly reprimanded him for listening to rap music and watching
television programmes which featured ethnic minorities in prominent roles. Moreover,
according to his testimony his father threatened to “hang him if he was found sleeping with
[a] black woman”. A5 became curious about his father’s interests and started to search his
father’s extreme right-wing websites. A5 suggested that his personal relationship with his
father offline was a factor in his radicalisation and online behaviour; A5 acknowledged that
he developed a more ‘friendly relationship’ with his father when he told him about his
online activities. A5 was mindful not to discuss his online behaviour more widely, however,
fearing the stigma. Other than spending time online, A5 would receive some books (like the
Protocols of the Elders of Zion27) from his father.
Table A.6: Case Study A6
A6 is a British Asian who, according to police and social services reports, is considered as
coming from an unstable family. At the age of 15, A6 moved into an area of London that
was intensively targeted by recruiters of the now-proscribed group al-Muhajiroun28. A6
socialised with a group of friends in al-Muhajiroun and trial evidence suggested that he was
influenced by them in his pathway to radicalisation.
Online activity
A6 used the internet to discuss religious issues and police reports suggest that he set out to
teach and influence others. This activity was mainly undertaken through postings and blogs,
and he also gained administrative rights to a prominent Islamic forum. Below, we can see a
representation of A6’s online activity and keyword searches. The spike in activity comes
directly after the conviction of Roshanna Choudary.
27 The Protocols of Zion is an anti-Semitic hoax purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination.
28 Al-Muhajiroun is a banned Salafi-Wahabi Islamist terrorist organisation that was based in Britain. Michael
Adebolajo, the man accused of killing Lee Rigby in a terrorist attack in Woolwich, attended al-Muhajiroun meetings
and demonstrations.
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Figure A6: A6’s use of keywords in online activity synthesised with offline timeline
Recovered posts on Islamic sites suggest A6 would not accept moderate discussions quoting
the Qur’an to counter violent messages. A6’s postings suggest that he considered it a
Muslim’s duty to undertake jihad. A6 was engaged in this extremist online activity at the
time of the trial of Roshana Choudhry. Angry that Choudhry was convicted of her offence,
A6 posted messages on the internet, claiming that she was a heroine and that other people
should follow in her footsteps. He encouraged his readers to ‘pick up the sword of jihad’, and
provided them with information on how to find their local Member of Parliament. He also
created links to knives for sale on Tesco’s website.
Offline activity
A6’s affiliation with al- Muhajiroun began with a physical introduction to a member during
a march in front of the US embassy. A6 would travel to Dorset every weekend to take part
in da’waa stalls. A lot of his spare time was channelled towards preparing for his time on the
stalls (i.e. designing leaflets). Spurred by his online debating experience, A6 was also
working hard at building up his skills to speak offline (he would practice by making
homemade videos).
Table A.7: Case Studies A7, A8 and A9
A7 is a British Asian of Indian heritage. Trial evidence and police accounts suggest that A7
is a young Muslim from a very socially conservative family resident in a town in which
ethnic communities are known to self-segregate. After attending a state primary school, his
family enrolled him in an Islamic school. By the age of 15 he had attained the status of
hafiz, a title awarded to those who know the Qur’an by heart. In his early teens A7 struck
up a close friendship with two individuals, A8 and A9 (also discussed below).
A8 and A9 are British Asian brothers of Indian heritage. Trial evidence suggested that their
parents, who lived next door, were largely unaware of their sons’ extremist activities.
Online activity
A7, A8 and A9 created a ‘resistance group’ with an online profile, claiming an al Qa’ida
sponsored remit and threatening national political figures. They made numerous videos
using social media software, including images of them practising ambushes and playing with
a self-loading pistol and two machetes. When A8 and A9’s house was searched, police found
‘an arsenal’ of weaponry and military equipment including crossbows, knives and machetes.
Live ammunition also was recovered at the address. All three downloaded a vast quantity of
extremist material onto A7’s laptop, various USB sticks and mobile phones.
A7 published material on the internet which was designed not only to persuade people to
commit murder in the UK, but also to spread the idea that al Qa’ida had established an
organisation in the UK and to invite support for it. For more than a year A7 regularly
posted messages on two websites and distributed material by posting links to information
on topics such as bomb-making. He used multiple identities that he would regularly play off
each other in order to build his status online.
Offline related activity
A8 and A9 developed an interest in survival training and equipment which may have been
influenced by material they identified online. A8 and A9 were regular visitors to outdoor
pursuits shops in their town as well as the local hunting/fishing shops where they procured
some tools that could be used as weapons. Offline, the ‘resistance group’ practised military
manoeuvres in the local park and surrounding countryside. When the police arrived at the
home of A7 they found gasoline, Hezbollah bomb-building manuals, a suicide bomb belt, a
missile, explosives and detonators inside.
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Table A.8: Case Study A10
A10 is a British male of South Asian origin. His family lives in the north of England and
police accounts suggest they were well-respected among the local community. A significant
change in A10’s offline attitudes and behaviour led his school to raise concerns.
Online activity
At a young age, A10 began to do his own online research into the conflicts in Afghanistan
and Pakistan and western foreign policy. Through the internet, he was identified and
approached by a terrorist facilitator in Pakistan who made regular visits to the UK. Trial
documents suggest that the facilitator discussed a range of issues with A10 – including how
someone might smuggle a sword through airport security – feeding and shaping his
interests. Interview evidence suggests that by this point A10 began to discuss arrangements
for military training in Pakistan. A10 had collected a large quantity of material from the
internet by the time of his arrest, including extremist material, information on chemical
weapons and instructions on how to make napalm.
Offline activity
It was his introduction to a terrorist facilitator at the central mosque in Dewsbury that
inspired A10 to search online for information on bomb-making and extremist material.
Following his introduction at the mosque, the facilitator and A10 began to communicate
regularly online. Evidence suggests that A10 was being groomed for a mission in the UK.
A.2. Case Studies B1-B5
With the exception of A3, the individuals listed above were all convicted of terrorism offences. In order to
understand the challenge facing the police and multi-agency partners, this study also reviewed a small
sample of people deemed by the police to be at risk of radicalisation. These individuals were referred to
the police by local government organisations and considered to be within the remit of the Prevent
intervention programme, Channel. Due to the potentially on-going nature of the intervention strategies
around these individuals the information we can convey is limited, high-level, and focused on providing
illustrations of the role of the internet in radicalisation.
Table A.9: Case Studies B1-B5
B1 is a 15 year old male student based in the UK. Concerns about B1 were raised by one of
his secondary school teachers. B1 had told the teacher that he had been looking at al Qa’ida
online and supported their agenda. He also expressed a desire to travel abroad to an al
Qa’ida training camp. The incident was referred to community policing (Channel) who
made the subsequent discovery that B1 was being influenced by an older figure online
(based in the US). Identifying that B1 was potentially being radicalised over the internet,
Channel assisted the school in making a referral to Child Services. At the same time, in
cooperation with the school and police, Channel arranged for B1’s computer to be seized
and examined in order to identify the purported radicaliser(s).
B2 is a middle aged white British male and a member of the English Defence League
(EDL)29. B2 joined the EDL shortly after seeing its members demonstrating in towns and
cities across the UK. In his own words, his determination to join stems from witnessing an
influx of “holier than thou” persons of Muslim faith into his neighbourhood, who he alleges
were involved in illegal behaviour (i.e. drug-dealing). B2’s online activity mostly gravitated
around engaging with fellow EDL members and organising future demonstrations. B2
enjoyed trading insults with members of an opposition website – the Muslim Defence
League (MDL).
For the future, B2 is committed to the EDL:
I’ve been to all of the demos so far and will keep going to them
because I believe in what we are doing. Somebody has got to stand
up and I don’t see anyone else doing anything.
29 The EDL is a far-right street protest movement. The group opposes what it considers to be a spread of Islamism,
Sharia law and Islamic extremism in the UK.
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B3 is a middle aged Asian female who has been diagnosed with a mental illness. She is a
regular user of the internet and particularly Facebook. B3 has extreme views (admitting that
some of her thoughts are not for moderates) and while she does not believe in violence, she
becomes more vocal about her political views and beliefs when on her medication. Recently
B3 threatened a female and was detained in hospital due to her deteriorating condition.
B4 is a white male, aged 16 with autism and behavioural issues. His mother had expressed
concerns about her son becoming an animal rights activist. When police officers visited the
home of B4, it became apparent from speaking to the family that B4 spent most of his time
in his bedroom unsupervised on the internet, and had posted several videos criticising
people who eat meat. However, a review of material on his computer found no extreme
B5 is a white male and has been described as a loner who spent most of his time on the
internet. B5 sent an email to his school head teacher threatening to kill him and other
teachers unless he received a £30,000 ransom. According to B5, there were a number of
explosives planted around the school building. When questioned by police, B5 admitted to
having looked at explosives on the internet.