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.

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.

For an individual becomes a terrorist would have to be motivated to do so. An individual who drops out of society can just as well become a monk instead of a terrorist. Having the proper motivation is not enough, the opportunity to join a terrorist group is necessary and would have to be acceptable to the terrorist group which is an exclusive group. Personality that would allow them to fit into the group plus also a certain skill such as weapons or communications skills is necessary for membership in a terrorist group.

The psychology of joining a terrorist group depends on the typology of the group. Joining an anarchistic terrorist group would not be able to count on any social support, whereas someone joining an ethnic separatist group like IRA would enjoy social support and respect within ethnic enclaves.

The personal pathway model suggests that terrorists come from a at risk population who have suffered from early damage to their self-esteem. Family political philosophies and economic and political tensions inherent throughout modern society may also be a reason.

During the 1980s and 1990s thousands of Muslim volunteers (14,000, according to Jane's Intelligence Review) angry, young, and zealous from around the world, aged between 17 to 35 flocked to training camps in Afghanistan and the Pakistan-Afghan border area to training. Only some had university education, but most were unemployed uneducated youths without any future prospects.

Deborah M. Galvin notes that the entry of female terrorists is belief in a political cause. Half the Intifada protesters were young girls. Some were recruited into terrorist organizations by boyfriends. A significant feature of the involvement of the female terrorist is that the lover recruits the female into the group.

Two of the PFLP hijackers Therese Halsa, 19, and Rima Tannous, 21, who hijacked Sabena Flight 517 from Brussels to Tel Aviv on May 8, 1972, had altogether different characters. Therese was a nursing student when she was recruited into Fatah was well regarded in the organization. Rima became the mistress of a doctor who introduced her to drugs and recruited her into Fatah. Totally dependent on Fatah members who subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

Various terrorist groups recruit members from lawful organizations. ETA personnel members of Egizan, Act Woman!, a feminist movement of ETA's political wing the Henri Batasuna party.

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."

Mentally unbalanced individuals have been attracted to airplane hijacking. David G. Hubbard (1971) conducted a psychiatric study of airplane hijackers. He concluded that skyjacking is used by psychiatrically ill patients as an expression of illness. Skyjackers shared several common traits such a violent father or poor achievement or financial failure.

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.

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