WIU Professor's Book Explains Sri Lankan Terrorist Attackers: Another Example of Family-Affiliated Terrorism

Expert Pitch

MACOMB, IL -  A Western Illinois University professor's recently published and well-reviewed book, "Family Terror Networks," offers expertise and insight into the horrific terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka over the weekend, which killed over 350 people and injured more than 500 others and included attackers and cell members from several family terror networks, including two sets of brothers, as well as a husband and wife.

Professor and terrorism expert Dean C. Alexander recently published a groundbreaking book that addresses the phenomenon of family-linked terrorism (e.g., ISIS families, the Boston Marathon bombers and the San Bernardino terrorists) and its implications, and provides insight into detecting and undermining this increasingly prominent feature of extremism.

The recent terror attacks in Sri Lanka are the latest example of family-affiliated mass casualty terrorist incidents. Alexander said such terror networks must be countered with proper tools. One must comprehend the nature and features of family-affiliated terrorism; and simultaneously apply a six-stage model to predict the formation of possible family terror networks. Alexander's book provides the tools to achieve these goals.

This first monograph of its kind discusses the characteristics of family terror networks and chronicles case studies involving various kin relationships (e.g., brothers, husbands/wives and fathers/sons) embracing disparate extremist ideologies. Additionally, an analysis of the 118 case studies of family connected terrorism involving 138 examples of kin relationships) is shared. Alexander noted the 138 family ties discussed in the cases involved fairly equal amounts of husbands/wives (43/138 or 31%) and brothers (36/138 or 26%). These results are attributable to the bonds that coalesce during courtship and marriage. The frequency of brothers in this volume underscores the potency of sibling relationships, as well as the higher frequency of male participation in terrorism over females. Three other sources of family-terror connections contributed about 25% of such instances, namely: fathers/sons (15/138 cases or 10.87%), cousins (11/138 cases or 7.97%) and siblings (other than sister-sister, brother-brother) (9/138 cases or 6.52%).

Overwhelmingly, jihadism was the ideology connected to the 118 instances of families affiliated with terrorism that were analyzed. Jihadism was found in 85% of the cases with other precepts occurring comparatively rarely (15%). The non-jihadists associated with kin terrorism were aligned with mostly right-wing radicalism (e.g., sovereign citizens, militia and white supremacy).

The book proposes a six-stage model for predicting the formation of family terror networks. At Stage 1, a family member (F1) is exposed to a radical ideology and supports a movement associated with this extremist tenet. During Stage 2, the family member (F1) approaches another family member (F2) or multiple family members (F3–4) about the possibility of following the extremist ideology. At Stage 3, a family member (F2) or multiple family members (F3–4) accept, accept with reservations or reject the extremist tenets of their family member.

In Stage 4, several options are conceivable. F1 takes part in a terrorist act or otherwise supports the movement. F1 and F2 carry out a terrorist attack or support the movement. Alternatively, F1 and F2 may leave extremism. Another path affords either F1 or F2 to remain enthralled by radicalism while the other's support ends. F3/F4 may follow any of the paths of F1/F2.

During Stage 5,assuming F2 has left radicalism (or never accepted it initially), F2 may try to directly influence F1 to leave radicalism or indirectly do so by reaching out for aid from others (e.g., law enforcement, religious and civic communities, friends, etc.). Alternatively, assuming F1 has left radicalism, F1 may pursue efforts to dislodge F2 from extremism along the same path mentioned in this stage. At Stage 6,F1 may decide to: leave extremism, protest F2’s efforts, leave the premises (assuming they live together), cease communications with F2, attack F2 or pursue other actions. Alternatively, F2 may decide to follow the same path mentioned in this stage.

Family terror networks are likely to remain prevalent for the foreseeable future. Belief systems advocating political violence exist in some families. It is natural to share enthusiasm about newly found ideology, including extremist tenets, with easily swayed family members. The ability of family members to pressure others to support extremism remains strong.

The book is available at Amazon.comand other retailers. The volume has been featured in "PoliceOne," "Security Magazine," "American Security Today," "European Eye on Radicalization"and "The Jerusalem Post," among other publications. Since publishing on terrorism in 1991, Professor Alexander has published three other books on terrorism, including: "The Islamic State: Combating the Caliphate Without Borders," "Business Confronts Terrorism"and "Terrorism and Business." He has trained law enforcement and military personnel in the United States and abroad on terrorism and counterterrorism issues His insights on terrorism have been featured in domestic and international media.