Exploring the networks and structures through which European Muslims are drawn into violent extremism, this Adelphi argues it is activist cells that increasingly drive this process, rather than top-down recruitment, and also that the challenge for governments is to create more inclusive societies in which narratives of exclusion will not resonate to the benefit of recruiters to the extremist cause.

In Britain alone, several thousand young Muslims are thought to be part of violent extremist networks. How did they become involved? What are the mechanisms and dynamics through which European Muslims join al-Qaeda and groups inspired by al-Qaeda?

This paper explains the processes whereby European Muslims are recruited into the Islamist militant movement. It reveals that although overt recruitment has been driven underground, prisons and other ‘places of vulnerability’ are increasingly important alternatives. It explores the recruitment roles of radical imams, gateway organisations and activists, and highlights the kinds of message that facilitate the recruitment process. It also shows how the Internet has come to play an increasingly significant role.

Neumann argues that there is little evidence of systematic, top-down jihadist recruitment in Europe. Rather, the activist leaders of cells increasingly drive the process. The paper explores possible options for European governments wishing to disrupt violent extremist networks, recognising that it will also be necessary to address some of the underlying risk factors that fuel jihadist recruitment. Ultimately, the major challenge for European states lies in constructing more inclusive societies in which the narratives of exclusion and grievance will not resonate to the benefit of recruiters to the extremist cause.

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  • Introduction

    In late November 2006, Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director general of the British Security Service – more commonly known as MI5 – gave a public speech in which she warned of the continuing threat from ‘home-grown’ terrorism. She said that her service knew of 1,600 individuals in the United Kingdom who were part of Islamist militant structures.1Almost exactly one year later, Manningham-Buller’s successor, Jonathan Evans, updated the figures, announcing that the...
  • Chapter One: Dynamics and Structures

    More than seven years after the 11 September 2001 attacks, much media reporting about al-Qaeda still presents the Islamist militant movement as a monolithic organisation, with similar structures and modes of conduct wherever it operates. In consequence, it is often assumed that the path ways into Islamist militancy – the methods and means through which people radicalise and enter the movement – are uniform across the globe.Nothing could be further...
  • Chapter Two: Recruitment Grounds

    Some of the most frequently asked questions about terrorist recruitment relate to specific places. The image of terrorist ‘recruitment grounds’ –typically mosques – where ‘spotters’ lurk for their victims seems to have a powerful attraction. Equally simple, then, is the perceived solution to the problem of terrorist recruitment and violent extremism more generally,which is to close down or ‘clean up’ all the places where such activities are thought to be...
  • Chapter Three: The Recruiters

    In media and fictional accounts, it is the recruiter who is portrayed as leading the process of recruitment. He spots and selects potential candidates,who are then ideologically seduced and brainwashed into joining the movement. In reality, though, the process of joining a violent extremist movement is a complex social activity in which both sides – the recruiter and the recruit – play active roles. Drawing on research conducted by the...
  • Chapter Four: The Message

    Hundreds of articles and books have been written about the ideology of the Islamist militant movement: the subject is well explored. What is of interest here is how and why this ideology resonates with those who have been recruited into the movement – in other words, the process through which the ideology is disseminated. It is the interplay between social conditions and ideology which is of particular interest. There are...
  • Chapter Five: The Internet

    In the long term, no development is likely to be more profound in its impact on Western societies than the so-called information revolution,which has resulted in the unprecedented rise of the Internet since the mid1990s. It is impossible to say how many websites there are, partly because the numbers are changing so quickly. A survey in August 2008 estimated that more than a million websites were being added every month...
  • Conclusion

    This paper has presented an overview of the process through which individuals in Western Europe become involved in the Islamist militant movement. The conclusions can be summed up as follows. In recent years, recruitment efforts have been driven underground.Little overt recruitment and propagation now occurs at mosques, as many recruitment magnets have been shut down. But prisons and other places of vulnerability continue to be a cause of concern. Different kinds of...

Peter R. Neumann is Director of the Centre for Defence Studies, King’s College London. He is the author of Britain’s Long War: British Strategy in the Northern Ireland Conflict, 1969–98 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

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