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Do some terrorists have a psychotic see Glossary personality? Psychological factors relating to terrorism are of particular interest to psychologists, political scientists, and government officials, who would like to be able to predict and prevent the emergence of terrorist groups or to thwart the realization of terrorist actions. This study focuses on individual psychological and sociological characteristics of terrorists of different generations as well as their groups in an effort to determine how the terrorist profile may have changed in recent decades, or whether they share any common sociological attributes.

The assumption underlying much of the terrorist-profile research in recent decades has been that most terrorists have some common characteristics that can be determined through psychometric analysis of large quantities of biographical data on terrorists. One of the earliest attempts to single out a terrorist personality was done by Charles A.

Russell and Bowman H. Miller see Attributes of Terrorists. Ideally, a researcher attempting to profile terrorists in the s would have access to extensive biographical data on several hundred terrorists arrested in various parts of the world and to data on terrorists operating in a specific country. If such data were at hand, the researcher could prepare a psychometric study analyzing attributes of the terrorist: educational, occupational, and socioeconomic background; general traits; ideology; marital status; method and place of recruitment; physical appearance; and sex.

Researchers have used this approach to study West German and Italian terrorist groups see Females.

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Such detailed information would provide more accurate sociological profiles of terrorist groups. Although there appears to be no single terrorist personality, members of a terrorist group s may share numerous common sociological traits. Practically speaking, however, biographical databases on large numbers of terrorists are not readily available. Indeed, such data would be quite difficult to obtain unless one had special access to police files on terrorists around the world. Furthermore, developing an open-source biographical database on enough terrorists to have some scientific validity would require a substantial investment of time.

The small number of profiles contained in this study is hardly sufficient to qualify as scientifically representative of terrorists in general, or even of a particular category of terrorists, such as religious fundamentalists or ethnic separatists. Published terrorism databases, such as Edward F. Mickolus's series of chronologies of incidents of international terrorism and the Rand-St. Andrews University Chronology of International Terrorism, are highly informative and contain some useful biographical information on terrorists involved in major incidents, but are largely incident-oriented.

This study is not about terrorism per se. Rather, it is concerned with the perpetrators of terrorism. Prepared from a social sciences perspective, it attempts to synthesize the results of psychological and sociological findings of studies on terrorists published in recent decades and provide a general assessment of what is presently known about the terrorist mind and mindset.

Because of time constraints and a lack of terrorism-related biographical databases, the methodology, but not the scope, of this research has necessarily been modified. In the absence of a database of terrorist biographies, this study is based on the broader database of knowledge contained in academic studies on the psychology and sociology of terrorism published over the past three decades.

Using this extensive database of open-source literature available in the Library of Congress and other information drawn from Websites, such as the Foreign Broadcast Information Service FBIS , this paper assesses the level of current knowledge of the subject and presents case studies that include sociopsychological profiles of about a dozen selected terrorist groups and more than two dozen terrorist leaders or other individuals implicated in acts of terrorism. Three profiles of noteworthy terrorists of the early s who belonged to other groups are included in order to provide a better basis of contrast with terrorists of the late s.

This paper does not presume to have any scientific validity in terms of general sampling representation of terrorists, but it does provide a preliminary theoretical, analytical, and biographical framework for further research on the general subject or on particular groups or individuals. By examining the relatively overlooked behaviorist literature on sociopsychological aspects of terrorism, this study attempts to gain psychological and sociological insights into international terrorist groups and individuals.

Of particular interest is whether members of at least a dozen terrorist organizations in diverse regions of the world have any psychological or sociological characteristics in common that might be useful in profiling terrorists, if profiling is at all feasible, and in understanding somewhat better the motivations of individuals who become terrorists.

Because this study includes profiles of diverse groups from Western Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, care has been taken when making cross-national, cross-cultural, and cross-ideological comparisons. This paper examines such topics as the age, economic and social background, education and occupation, gender, geographical origin, marital status, motivation, recruitment, and religion or ideology of the members of these designated groups as well as others on which relevant data are available.


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It is hoped that an examination of the extensive body of behaviorist literature on political and religious terrorism authored by psychologists and sociologists as well as political scientists and other social scientists will provide some answers to questions such as: Who are terrorists? How do individuals become terrorists? Do political or religious terrorists have anything in common in their sociopsychological development?

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How are they recruited? Is there a terrorist mindset, or are terrorist groups too diverse to have a single mindset or common psychological traits? Are there instead different terrorist mindsets? Defining Terrorism and Terrorists.

Unable to achieve their unrealistic goals by conventional means, international terrorists attempt to send an ideological or religious message by terrorizing the general public. Through the choice of their targets, which are often symbolic or representative of the targeted nation, terrorists attempt to create a high-profile impact on the public of their targeted enemy or enemies with their act of violence, despite the limited material resources that are usually at their disposal.

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In doing so, they hope to demonstrate various points, such as that the targeted government s cannot protect its their own citizens, or that by assassinating a specific victim they can teach the general public a lesson about espousing viewpoints or policies antithetical to their own. For example, by assassinating Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on October 6, , a year after his historic trip to Jerusalem, the al-Jihad terrorists hoped to convey to the world, and especially to Muslims, the error that he represented.

This tactic is not new. Beginning in 48 A. These campaigns included the use of assassins sicarii , or dagger-men , who would infiltrate Roman-controlled cities and stab Jewish collaborators or Roman legionnaires with a sica dagger , kidnap members of the Staff of the Temple Guard to hold for ransom, or use poison on a large scale.

The Zealots' justification for their killing of other Jews was that these killings demonstrated the consequences of the immorality of collaborating with the Roman invaders, and that the Romans could not protect their Jewish collaborators. Definitions of terrorism vary widely and are usually inadequate. Even terrorism researchers often neglect to define the term other than by citing the basic U.

Department of State definition of terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. In this study, the nouns "terrorist" or "terrorists" do not necessarily refer to everyone within a terrorist organization.

We are not particularly concerned here with the passive support membership of terrorist organizations. Rather, we are primarily concerned in this study with the leader s of terrorist groups and the activists or operators who personally carry out a group's terrorism strategy.

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The top leaders are of particular interest because there may be significant differences between them and terrorist activists or operatives. In contrast to the top leader s , the individuals who carry out orders to perpetrate an act of political violence which they would not necessarily regard as a terrorist act have generally been recruited into the organization. Thus, their motives for joining may be different. New recruits are often isolated and alienated young people who want to join not only because they identify with the cause and idolize the group's leader, but also because they want to belong to a group for a sense of self-importance and companionship.

The top leaders of several of the groups profiled in this report can be subdivided into contractors or freelancers. The distinction actually highlights an important difference between the old generation of terrorist leaders and the new breed of international terrorists.

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Contractors are those terrorist leaders whose services are hired by rogue states, or a particular government entity of a rogue regime, such as an intelligence agency. Freelancers are terrorist leaders who are completely independent of a state, but who may collude with a rogue regime on a short-term basis. Contractors like Abu Nidal, George Habash, and Abu Abbas are representative of the old style of high-risk international terrorism. In the s, rogue states, more mindful of the consequences of Western diplomatic, economic, military, and political retaliation were less inclined to risk contracting terrorist organizations.

Instead, freelancers operating independently of any state carried out many of the most significant acts of terrorism in the decade. This study discusses groups that have been officially designated as terrorist groups by the U. Department of State. A few of the groups on the official list, however, are guerrilla organizations. To be sure, the FARC, the LTTE, and the PKK engage in terrorism as well as guerrilla warfare, but categorizing them as terrorist groups and formulating policies to combat them on that basis would be simplistic and a prescription for failure.

To dismiss a guerrilla group, especially one like the FARC which has been fighting for four decades, as only a terrorist group is to misunderstand its political and sociological context. It is also important to keep in mind that perceptions of what constitutes terrorism will differ from country to country, as well as among various sectors of a country's population. A foreign extremist group labeled as terrorist by the Department of State may be regarded in heroic terms by some sectors of the population in another country.

Likewise, an action that would be regarded as indisputably terrorist in the United States might not be regarded as a terrorist act in another country's law courts.

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For example, India's Supreme Court ruled in May that the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a LTTE "belt-bomb girl" was not an act of terrorism because there was no evidence that the four co-conspirators who received the death penalty had any desire to strike terror in the country. In addition, the Department of State's labeling of a guerrilla group as a terrorist group may be viewed by the particular group as a hostile act.

For example, the LTTE has disputed, unsuccessfully, its designation on October 8, , by the Department of State as a terrorist organization. By labeling the LTTE a terrorist group, the United States compromises its potential role as neutral mediator in Sri Lanka's civil war and waves a red flag at one of the world's deadliest groups, whose leader appears to be a psychopathic see Glossary serial killer of heads of state.


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  4. To be sure, some terrorists are so committed to their cause that they freely acknowledge being terrorists.