How Can I Identify A Terrorist? Is There a Common Typology of Terrorists?

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Although there is no proven way to pinpoint a terrorist, there are sometimes warning signs and behaviors that help individuals and law enforcement better focus their attention and resources. Some of the most blatant warning behaviors include subjects engaging in behaviors that include researching, planning, and preparations for an attack. The individual may also become fixated with a specific person or a cause, display aggression, have some sort of energy burst where they increase their activities, or voice their plans for attacks or harm. Moreso, increased attraction toward violent activity (i.e. gangs or cults) can be another significant warning sign. More typically, people may feel ostracized by their friends and family and are in search of a sense of belonging.

Although there are some studies that say terrorists or potential terrorists display certain and specific characteristics, it is important to remember that relying on a specific profile when not enough information has been gathered to accurately do so can lead to a narrowed scope. A faulty profile can result in a potential terrorist going undetected, or even individuals that should not be of interest getting arrested, taking up time and resources the government don’t have to waste.

For more information regarding warning signs and behaviors, please visit: leb.fbi.gov; If you feel you or someone is at risk of being targeted by a terrorist recruiter, talk to a trusted adult or contact Homeland Security ad report the suspicious activity at dhs.gov.

Furthermore, there is not a single profile that can encompass all terrorists without being either too broad and including everyone, or being too specific and unuseful. Anyone could respond to calls for domestic terrorism, so long as they identify with an ideological belief, such as animal rights, religion, or political beliefs. There are several influences towards terrorism, from economics to poverty ​(nap.edu)​. Any religion could be affiliated with terrorism, such as Christian anti-abortionists, Islamic terrorists (such as al-Qa’ida, ISIS, or the Hashashins), Hindu Thuggees, Jewish Zealots, the Buddhist Bodu Bala Sena, and the Sikh Bhindranwala Tigers Force of Khalistan.

In terms of the type of terrorist group, a broad “typology” of terrorism is split into two major categories: domestic and international. On the domestic front, terrorist attacks are prepared for and occur on United States soil. There are religious groups, such as the KKK, environmental groups, such as the ELF and ALF, and left- and right-wing groups. International terrorism, which occurs outside the territories of the United States, have groups that include multitudes of religious affiliations that all have specific ideologies.

On a behavioral standpoint, we are now talking about “typologies of terrorist behavior.” What we mean by this is that we are starting to identify distinct “types” of how terrorists behave when they are operating as a member of a terrorist organization. So, what we are beginning to see is that people who undertake different types of actions reflect subtly different types of people. This is not “new” psychology, for example we often say that there are different “types” of murderers (e.g., those who kill out of emotion, and those who kill because of a rational decision for monetary gain). In the same way, then, we are looking at people who engage in terrorism but focus on financing, those who engage in terrorism and recruit others and those who engage in terrorism and engage in violent acts of aggression. So, in this sense, yes there are “typologies of terrorists”, but they vary depending on the role of the individual in a terrorist group.

For more information regarding warning signs and behaviors, please visit: leb.fbi.gov. If you feel you or someone is at risk of being targeted by a terrorist recruiter, talk to a trusted adult or contact Homeland Security ad report the suspicious activity at dhs.gov.