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August 25, 2006

Psyche of a Terrorist

Filed under: Global Jihad, Islam, Terror — limewoody @ 7:33 pm

They think in the same way as serial killers and they form mafia-like family structures to commit atrocities. Natalie O’Brien investigates the five-stage terror recruiting process

August 24, 2006

From godfather to foot soldier: Main picture: Osama bin Laden; top right, right-hand man the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; centre, Bali bombers Mukhlas, left, and Amrozi; above from left, September 11 hijackers Mohammed Atta and Zacarias Moussaoui; London bombers Mohammed Sidique Khan and Germaine Lindsay; Sydney terrorist Faheem Khalid Lodhi

HE was what terrorist leaders would call the perfect candidate. He came from a well-established family, was university educated, hardworking and did not display any antisocial characteristics.
In Sydney yesterday this perfect candidate was sentenced to 20 years in jail for planning a terrorist attack on Australian soil. Faheem Khalid Lodhi won’t be eligible for parole until 2019. It was revealed during the trial that, like others of his ilk, the 36-year-old was motivated by violent jihad.

He planned to bomb the national electricity supply system or three Sydney defence sites: Victoria Barracks, HMAS Penguin or Holsworthy Barracks.

Lodhi inquired about chemicals capable of making explosives and had instructions for making explosives, detonators and poisons in preparation for a terrorist attack. He was also charged with acquiring two maps of the electricity grid and 38 aerial photographs of military sites connected with preparation for a terrorist act.

Lodhi pleaded not guilty to four terrorism-related charges. In June, a NSW Supreme Court jury found him guilty of three of the charges relating to the maps, chemical inquiries and instructions.

He is the first person convicted of planning a terrorist act on Australian soil. Experts say he may not be the last but, by catching Lodhi before he was able to carry out his attack, they say authorities have denied him a powerful tool.

Horrifying images of torn and broken bodies and infrastructure caused by a terrorist attack serve as a recruiting tool for would-be terrorists. Public reaction and fear generated by events such as the plot to blow up a series of trans-Atlantic passenger jets flying from London to the US act as an enticement for the next wave of potential suicide bombers.

“It is the prospect of success that really makes a terrorist tick,” says terrorism consultant and psychologist Robert Heath. “Success, from the terrorist perspective, is almost always guaranteed due to disruption and inconveniencing the target population.”

Heath, a psychologist and international risk consultant turned academic who spoke this week at a briefing on the science of terrorism, warns that the bigger the public reaction, the more worthwhile to terrorists by making their own death seem more valuable.

The associate professor from the University of South Australia says it is this thirst for power and desire to make an impact that drives terrorists.

Heath also argues that the psychological profile of terrorists is similar to that of serial killers. “They both have a drive for power over other people who cannot see them,” he says.”But it is a covert use of power.”

Clive Williams, who runs a terrorism and counter-terrorism program at the Australian Defence Force Academy, says terrorists are under pressure to keep up their attacks to justify their existence. “If they don’t act or do something, they are at risk of losing sponsorship or financing,” Williams says.

He says terrorists are characterised by their obsessiveness for an issue or cause. But the most frightening aspect is the Lodhi factor. According to CIA research, most terrorists, in terms of personality, do not stand out from the rest of the population.

“That is what makes it so difficult in identifying these people,” Williams says.

Experts agree that terrorists see the world differently from others, but pioneering neuroscientist Susan Greenfield says that terrorists are made, not born.

Greenfield, director of the respected Royal Institution of Great Britain, says there is no defective gene responsible for turning people into terrorists. Neither is there such thing as a “terrorism central” area in the brain. She agrees with other experts that the seeds of terrorism are sown from birth. As people grow, their brains are hardwired to uncritically accept information.


Young foot soldiers are recruited who feel a sense of alienation and oppression

Preying on their feeling of invincibility, a sense of potency, urgency and revenge is nurtured

Their predisposition to violence through neurosis, psychosis or sociopathism is developed

They are encouraged by a group or leader towards violence

The impact of their violent actions is exaggerated

The path towards becoming a terrorist usually culminates in a five-stage process that starts with recruits being radicalised.

Heath says the recruits tend to be younger because they not only feel invincible, they also don’t have a developed sense of belonging. They are searching for meaning and are driven by the sense that they have to “do something now”.

Heath says the five-stage process in the making of a terrorist starts with the recruit’s sense of oppression or exclusion, either personally or through their communities. It is followed by a sense of potency and the thought patterns that “OK, I will get my own back”. Heath says how they feel they can best do that is in a covert way, so they become a terrorist. Although expert research shows that terrorists are rarely mentally deranged, Heath argues that they are often predisposed psychologically to violence by being psychotic, neurotic or sociopathic. But the final push to get idealistic, fired-up youth to commit an act of atrocity or violence comes from a group or charismatic leader who pushes them in that direction.

Heath says they need a group or leader who is pushing them towards violence and giving them a heightened expectation of the result of their actions. “They need to believe they will cause a major impact.”

Experts say the profile of the contemporary terrorist has changed significantly in the past decade. One of the most authoritative works on the subject was written by Robert Pape, associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago.

Pape teaches international politics and is the director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism. In his latest work, published last year, he dispelled the popular myth that suicide bombers are young men with “no job, no education, no prospects and no hope”.

In his book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, Pape assessed more than 300 suicide attacks since the 1980s and found that the perpetrators were rarely socially isolated, clinically insane or economically destitute. Instead, they were mostly educated, socially integrated and highly capable people with a potentially good future.

Pape, who will be in Sydney next week to speak at the ASIAL security conference, argues that they are not predominantly driven by religion but the common denominator among the bombers in 95 per cent of cases is they are nationalistic insurgents with a secular goal of getting military forces of democratic countries out of land they believe to be theirs. “The presumed connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism is misleading,” he writes.

The terrorist cell can be seen as a little like the old mafia families, Heath says. There is a godfather or mastermind, a second level of organisers who don’t know quite as much as the leaders and henchmen or foot soldiers at the bottom who carry out the dirty work.

Also like the mafia families, the masterminds tend to be aged 30 to 50 and upwards, the organisers in their late 20s to 40s and the foot soldiers from 17 to 30.

The would-be London bombers of the trans-Atlantic flights followed exactly that pattern, with 11 organisers and foot soldiers ranging in age from 17 to 28.

On Monday, 11 Britons accused of the trans-Atlantic plot appeared in court charged with conspiracy to murder and having the intention of committing acts of terrorism by smuggling explosive devices on to aircraft with the intention of detonating them.

Because of the likelihood of revenge attacks, Heath says countries, including Australia, need to be careful about imprisoning terrorists. He says that trebles the chances of the country being the target of a hijacking of an aircraft or a public building.

Greenfield says there is another pattern emerging in the psychology of terrorism: the effect it has on victims. “What is very interesting is the atmosphere that terrorist acts or attempted terrorist acts engender is one of fear and edginess,” she says.

Following the plot to blow up passenger planes from Heathrow, nervous passengers on a British plane returning from Spain demanded the removal of fellow passengers because they were of Middle Eastern appearance. Although innocent and having undergone security checks, these people were ejected and forced to take another flight.

“That shows you the kind of attitudes that it (terrorism) can breed in people,” Greenfield says. “What does it make those of us who are on the receiving end of terrorism? What does that do to us as a society that we are starting to evaluate people on the basis of what they look like?”

That is exactly what the terrorists want us to do: to become divided so they can conquer. And, above all, they want us to be scared.

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