Tagged / terrorism

Conversation article: Terrorist recruitment now happens mainly online – which makes offenders easier to catch

BU’s Chris Baker-Beall co-authors this article for The Conversation around new research into the different journeys and patterns of extremist offending…

Terrorist recruitment now happens mainly online – which makes offenders easier to catch


Jens Binder, Nottingham Trent University and Chris Baker-Beall, Bournemouth University

It is notoriously difficult to work out how and why someone becomes a terrorism risk. While attacks cause immense pain and suffering, the actual number of terrorist incidents in the western world is small. That makes it difficult to arrive at reliable, quantified evidence.

But in our research, we’ve started to identify important patterns when it comes to different journeys into extremist offending. Most notably, we’ve found that in recent years, people who go on to be convicted of terrorist offences are far more likely to have been radicalised online – without any offline interactions at all – than was the case in the past.

While the seeming ease with which this can happen is worrying, we’ve also found that people recruited purely online are less likely to commit violent attacks and less committed to their extremist causes than those recruited via in-person meetings. While face-to-face radicalisation continues, the process is now found to take place primarily online.

Our work, which uses detailed risk assessment reports on people sentenced for terrorist offences in England and Wales, draws on 437 cases between October 2010 and December 2021. These reports, written by trained prison and probation professionals, focus on the pre-history of an offence and the current circumstances of the offender. As well as a detailed narrative, they also contain estimates of the levels of risk that the individual poses.

The shift online

We wanted to look into how people became radicalised in the outside world before they committed an extremist offence. We found that, over time, it is less and less the case that people are radicalised offline, such as at local meeting places or via direct contact with peers and relatives.

Mixed radicalisation, where extremist offenders are subject to both online and in-person influences, has also been declining. It is now much more common for people to be radicalised online. They might learn from online sources or engage with extreme views on social media. They might also use internet forums and chat groups that provide easy access to like-minded others.

Our findings show that despite current perceptions about the growth of encrypted messaging services, online radicalisation is not necessarily happening predominantly through one-to-one communication channels. The most commonly named platform is YouTube.

While encrypted applications will always play their role, monitoring and regulating the more public online spaces is likely to make the most difference.

It was also interesting to note that those radicalised online consistently showed the lowest level of estimated risk. They were less engaged with extremist causes than those radicalised offline. They were also the most likely to have committed a non-violent offence, such as inciting and encouraging others to commit terrorism or possessing terrorist material, and to have committed their offences solely online.

Police caution tape sectioning off an area of a street.
Police were more likely to thwart online plots.

They were also far less intent on committing further offences after leaving prison than those who were radicalised offline – and they appeared to have the lowest capacity to commit further crimes because of having less access to the knowledge, networks or materials they might need.

So it seems that while online radicalisation is the most pervasive form at the moment, it is not overly effective at permanently immersing people in an extremist mindset. Nor is the online approach particularly successful for conveying the skills and knowledge necessary to commit graver offences.

Disrupting online plots

In order to check for potentially more dangerous sub-groups, we also focused on those offenders classed as attackers. These were people who did not necessarily carry out full attacks but had, at the very least, cast themselves in such a role and had pursued attack plans.

The online group showed the lowest frequency of attack-related activities, and attackers in this group were least successful in progressing plots for attacks. Only 29% of these plots moved from planning to the execution stage and only 18% were successfully carried out.

All the plots we studied, which were not successful, had been disrupted by the police or other security services. The online world is, after all, not a perfect hiding place. Online activities often leave traces that can be detected by counter-terrorism practitioners.

While this could all mean that online radicalisation is comparatively harmless, there is a thin line between a relatively ineffective online-only radicalisation and a much more effective mixed radicalisation that includes both online and in-person influences. Online communication can slide into real-life interactions, and people radicalised via the latter technique were assessed as being highest in engagement and intent.

So while the switch to online radicalisation appears to make people easier to catch and less likely to commit violent attacks, this form of radicalisation should still be taken seriously and be recognised as a potential stepping stone towards more dangerous behaviour.The Conversation

Jens Binder, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Nottingham Trent University and Chris Baker-Beall, Senior Lecturer In Crisis and Disaster Management, Bournemouth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tourist trap: how news of terrorism skews our holiday choices

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

If you’d like to pitch your own article idea to The Conversation, please contact either newsdesk@bournemouth.ac.uk or rbowen@bournemouth.ac.uk.

Grzegorz Kapuscinski, Lecturer in Marketing Management, Bournemouth University

Terrorist attacks are designed to intimidate and change behaviour. It should be no surprise then that we allow fear to be a great motivator when we plan trips abroad. News of an attack is a vivid factor as we decide where to travel with our families, perhaps to places of which we know little else. Efforts by reporters to appeal to our concerns end up feeding us the prompts to avoid certain countries or cities, hammering an often crucial tourism industry in the process.

Ever since real-time news coverage brought the horror of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks into people’s homes, global audiences have become used to watching such events unfold on screen. Recently, we have witnessed shootings at Port El Kantaoui beach, near Sousse in Tunisia in 2015, the Bataclan attack in Paris in the same year, and the New Year’s Eve nightclub shootings in Istanbul less than two months ago.

These are all key holiday destinations. The tactics used and the damage inflicted may differ, but every attack has the potential to stop us in our tracks. This is clearly of huge significance to the tourism and hospitality sectors.


The first problem is obvious. Uncertainty around safety often translates into avoidance of those places considered dangerous. Holidays are postponed or cancelled. Ultimately, limitations are placed on tourists’ freedom of mobility.

Unsurprisingly, the tolerance of potential physical harm is low in discretionary travel, where other options are readily available and the destination can be incidental. Terrorism has served to highlight the fragility of the tourism industry: the displacement of holidaymakers has caused severe economic losses. In Tunisia, where tourism accounts for 15% of GDP, the effect has been stark, with 2016 revenues cut by half from a year earlier.

In Turkey, which suffered from a wave of attacks during 2016, the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies has predicted a negative impact on tourism revenues of £2-2.5 billion.

In truth, many potential holiday destinations will have a recent or more distant history of safety issues of one kind or another. In an era of uncertainty, under pressure of time, family member concerns, and the risk of financial loss, many tourists turn to the news media for explanation. The question is, how do we arrive at our final decisions?

Judgement call

Years of study on the psychology of risk suggests that the way the public assess danger has much more to do with stuff like emotional responses, their perceived level of control, or their familiarity with a hazard, than official statistics.

News stories of new and emerging hazards often entail multiple storylines, especially in times of conflicting accounts and factual uncertainty. These act as qualitative indicators of risk that allow audiences to simplify complexity and categorise the situation as involving more or less danger. And so terrorism which is framed as religious extremism can appear irrational, beyond compromise and uncontrollable, and can lead to higher levels of perceived risk.

One recent study I carried out with Bournemouth Professor Barry Richards has shown that small variations in news reports can lead to significant changes in leisure tourists’ risk perception. We all have our own unique set of experiences that dictate how we digest news. However, it seems likely that tourists, who instinctively seek to minimise risk will – after years of exposure to coverage – share a deep pool of associations to terrorist attacks: why they are carried out, and who is likely to be targeted. This allows them to create a coherent picture, a mental shortcut which feeds decision making around a fraught and complex task.

It can come down to details. One experiment in the study mentioned above suggests that if articles emphasise the proximity of a bomb explosion to points of tourist interest, or reference other events where tourists were harmed, then there tends to be a greater judgement of risk. It’s the same for an alleged link to religious extremism as opposed to other things, such as a domestic separatist movement.

Moving target

We are also sensitive to accounts from the general public when assessing risk related to terrorism. Reports which quote reactions from local people and which stress the relative newness of the problem, and a lack of confidence in maintaining order and normality, lead to higher estimations of risk. Portrayals of the incident that stress resilience decrease perceived risk.

This doesn’t mean that the media has an agenda in pushing an intimidating interpretation of these events, or that audiences can be easily influenced. The point is that journalists who report on these tragic incidents do so in a style that seeks to resonate with the audience. That means using templates which appear to give information which helps us protect ourselves and our loved ones. It is this transaction which can end up devastating a country’s tourism revenues.

In fact, interviews I carried out with my colleague after the study demonstrated that news consumers have become able to do the job themselves. Even when exposed to reports that aim to soften perceived risk, the audience can use examples of other events when tourists were targeted to interpret destinations as particularly dangerous. For example, a report that stressed a focus on military targets in remote areas of a destination was met with distrust by a tourist who believed the information was intended to downplay the magnitude of risk to Western tourists.

Those “gut feelings” we use to make difficult decisions like this under pressure may actually be wired in from exposure to news coverage. The hard bit is to acknowledge that and manage our responses to emotive and vivid content which can cloud reason and lead us to over- or underestimate risk.

EU Radar – Societal Challenges – Secure societies – protecting freedom and security of Europe and its citizens

The following EU Horizon 2020 Societal Challenges’ calls are all closing after April 2015. If you are thinking of applying to any of these calls, please contact RKEO Funding Development Team as soon as you are able, so that we can help you with your submission.

The date given is the funder’s deadline with all closing at 17:00 Brussels local time, unless stated otherwise

Secure societies – protecting freedom and security of Europe and its citizens
Digital security,: Cyber security, privacy and trust – please check the specific topics – 27/8/15
Fight against terrorism and crime – please check the specific topics – 27/8/15
Border security and external security – please check the specific topics – 27/8/15


General / Multiple Topics

Horizon 2020 dedicated SME instrument phase 1 and phase 2 –  deadlines – 17/6/15, 17/9/15 and 25/11/15

Please check the specific topics within this call which may meet your research funding needs.

For more information on EU funding opportunities, contact Paul Lynch or Emily Cieciura, in the RKEO Funding Development Team.

Understanding the constructions of the ‘other’: co-produced knowledge and understanding of ‘terrorists’ and ‘terrorism’

Last year, I put together a small HEA individual grant to build upon our earlier research concerning terrorism and social work education, and civil unrest and welfare in Muslim countries. Unfortunately, the bid was unsuccessful but one should never let a good bid go to waste. Given that it was education focused, based around co-production and student enhancement – a ‘fusion’-based project! -I thought rather than try somewhere else for funding I would embed it into the third year undergraduate Sociology unit Terrorism, Protection & Society, where it would have sat if successful.

The project encourages active student engagement in learning, employing a methodology of co-production of knowledge in which skills to collaborate in producing critically informed and societally beneficial knowledge will be developed. Students are reading, critically, major UK newspapers, identifying and analysing those articles that mention ‘terrorists, terrorism or terror’ and associated concepts. From this they are engaged in identifying the processes by which our dominant cultural frames are constructed and can be challenged. The project findings, once 30-days worth of newspapers have been scoured for relevant articles, will be widely disseminated through the production of academic papers, a submission to eBU and through conference presentations.

Students following the Terrorism, Protection & Society module, engage in learning how the ‘other’, in this case ‘terrorist’, is constructed within popular debate and within the public media in the UK. As part of the project rooted within the unit, students will also analyse the media’s use of target terms (terrorist, terrorism, terror and so on) through a content and discourse analysis, and debate the potential consequences of this for contemporary society and for developing a deeper and more nuanced understanding that can assist in restraining social conflict, violence and the ‘othering’ of those who may be associated with core characteristics of ‘terrorists’ according to the socio-cultural master-narratives created by media representations.

Students will produce a paper with academic staff for the eBU on-line journal; most co-production of academic papers with students occurs at postgraduate level and this project has a degree of originality in promoting co-production of academic knowledge with undergraduate students, something we have done already in respect of edited books. Other academic outputs will be developed and students demonstrating interest and capacity will be invited to participate in their production.

Alongside the academic publications envisaged, this proposal meets BU’s fusion objectives in seeking also to add to the corpus of evidence of pedagogical benefits for students of knowledge co-creation and includes a focus on the student experience of the processes of learning.

Thus, as part of the teaching and learning students engage with, the project has wide reach and significance for student learning and pedagogical development by enhancing social and cultural understanding amongst students who will soon graduate, alongside producing autonomous and critically thinking individuals who can translate their learning and core skills into the employment market.

This week students energetically engaged with the preliminary data extraction and coding of those newspaper articles dealing with concepts and issues that were termed or could be termed as terror, terrorist, terrorism, extremism and so forth. The work undertaken helped to put in perspective some of the first two weeks’ lecture material and allowed the students to bring their own critical understandings to this complex and emotive area.

So far, the project has illuminated to me what an incredibly versatile and intellectually agile student body we have; people who will be an asset to the workforce of the future and a credit to our university! I am looking forward to the following weeks as the project unfurls.


Professor Jonathan Parker


Sociology students engaged in research