DHS-Funded Research Center To Study Homegrown Radicalization

A team of more than 50 social scientists, armed with new federal funding, will extend its research into radicalization and the formation of terrorist groups in the United States and abroad. The researchers will also study the effectiveness of counter-terror strategies, as well as efforts to build community resilience to attacks.

“Terrorists rely on help from sympathetic social networks, so a thorough understanding of these networks can help policy-makers refine their counter-terror strategies -- both in the United States and abroad,” said Gary LaFree, director of the University of Maryland-based National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), a three-year old collaboration of 30 research institutions.

“We need to understand the tipping points that radicalize political activists and ultimately trigger the use of political violence. We want to learn, for example, whether the underlying dynamics of radicalization are the same in the United States and abroad.”

Recent research by START researchers revealed an actual drop in the number of Middle East political organizations that turn to violence. Since 2001, 14 percent of such organizations used violence as a political tool compared to 52 percent in the mid-1980s.

Funding for the new round of research comes from the Department of Homeland Security. START will receive nearly $12 million in three years.

“We’ve assembled a broad pool of research talent from several fields and dozens of institutions, and this gives us a unique opportunity to advance the understanding of terrorist and counter-terror behavior,” LaFree said. “We’ve already begun to answer some of the questions about the counter-terror strategies that work and others that are counter-productive. This grant renewal will enable us to work with an even broader range of partners, each with unique expertise.”

Among the planned research:

Radicalization

  • Database of U.S. extremist crime (1990-2009).
  • Homegrown radicalization and the role of social networks in the spread of extremism.
  • Tracking sympathy and support for terrorism in the United States among various communities.
  • Are European converts to Islam an evolving threat?
  • Is guerilla insurgency a springboard to terrorism?
  • How Islamic radicalization in Europe and North America diverge.

Terrorist Operations

  • Empirical analyses of IEDs (improvised explosive device).
  • Terrorism and violence in Colombia.
  • Measuring effectiveness of counter-terror measures.
  • Police responses to terrorism.
  • When bargaining with terrorists works.

Community Resilience

  • Organizing for success in community preparedness for bioterrorism.
  • U.S. populations at risk from chemical facilities releases.

An ongoing activity at START is the development of the world’s largest and most comprehensive database of terror incidents. International in scope, it covers all incidents since 1970. START plans to have the Global Terrorism Database completely current by the end of 2008.

START began in 2005 as one of the Department of Homeland Security’s Centers of Excellence, the first to focus on behavioral science. The funding renewal follows a rigorous, competitive application process.

“START has provided significant advances in research and findings in the area of terrorism and response to terrorism events,” said DHS’s Matthew Clark, director of the Science and Technology Directorate’s Office of University Programs. “START has demonstrated the value of its contributions, and merits this continued funding from the Department of Homeland Security. We are firmly convinced that their expertise in the multi-faceted nature of terrorism will continue to benefit the nation’s defense against such acts through better understanding, preparedness tactics and security measures.”

START will receive $5.2 million in the coming year and an anticipated $11.7 million through 2011. More information about the center can be found at http://www.start.umd.edu/.

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