Sociology Index

Terrorist Group Typologies

Terrorist Groups, Sociology of Terrorism

A cult leader totally dominates his terrorist group, like Abu Nidal or Shoko Asahara. These terrorist leaders give instructions to their lieutenants to hijack a jetliner while leaving operational details to their lieutenants. Terrorist groups can be categorised according to a typology like Religious fundamentalist, New religious, Social revolutionary or idealist, Right-wing terrorists and Nationalist-separatist. Sociologists are interested in the social contexts of terrorist groups. Terrorist groups can be categorized by their political background or ideology. People act differently when they are in a group than when they are alone, so the group behavior is unique. The Personal Pathway Model of Psychologist Eric D. Shaw includes early socialization processes, escalatory events, particularly confrontation with police and narcissistic injuries.

Terrorists with Suicide Approach
Altruistic suicide bombers like Tamil terrorists in Sri Lanka and southern India popped cyanide capsules when confronted by police investigators.

The Organizational Approach
Crenshaw contends that acts of terrorism are committed by groups through collective decisions based on commonly held beliefs. The organizational approach would seem to be more relevant to guerrilla organizations that are organized along traditional Marxist-Leninist lines. The Intifada radicalized many young Palestinians who joined terrorist organizations.

The Process of Joining a Terrorist Group
Socially alienated individuals, often are unemployed, are the ones who become terrorists. Those  Youths in Algerian ghettos or the Gaza Strip, with little education, join a terrorist group out of boredom, a desire for adventure and a cause they regard as just. The educated youths may be motivated more by genuine political or religious convictions. A terrorist in Western countries is generally both an intellectual and idealistic. Violent encounters with security forces motivate an already socially alienated individual. Membership in a terrorist group, however selective. Recruits generally move in a gradual fashion toward full membership.

The Terrorist as Mentally Ill
The psychopathological orientation has dominated the psychological approach to the terrorist's personality. A common stereotype is that someone who commits acts as planting a bomb on an airliner or tossing a grenade into a crowded sidewalk café is abnormal. The terrorist is viewed either as mentally ill or as a fanatic. According to Walter Laqueur (1977:125), "Terrorists are fanatics and fanaticism frequently makes for cruelty and sadism."

Political terrorists have exhibited psychopathy. In April 1986 Nezar Hindawi sent his pregnant Irish girlfriend on a flight to Israel, promising to meet her and marry her. He however had hidden a bomb provided by the Abu Nidal Organization in a false bottom to her hand luggage. The bomb was discovered by Heathrow security personnel. Taylor regards Hindawi's behavior as psychopathic because of his willingness to sacrifice his fiancé and unborn child.