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Profile of Terrorist Mindsets since 9/11: Is there a pattern

The 9/11 attacks marked a new era of terrorism and led to the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, under the auspices of the ‘war on terror’. Since then, numerous groups and individuals have continued their efforts to terrorise humanity around the globe. Sagit Yehoshua asks if there are any behavioural patterns of the perpetrators of such actions which can be highlighted since 9/11? Are terrorists today as fearless and efficient as the 19 hijackers on that fateful day? What motivates them? And, what do they have in common?

Terry McDermott, in his exploratory book ‘The Perfect Soldiers’, describes the 19 hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks as being mostly “unexceptional men”, coming from middle class backgrounds and having had relatively moderate and easygoing upbringings, but who later on adopted very radical paths of faith which become their main obsession in life, while abandoning everything else, such as family, career and their own sense of self by devoting themselves completely to a perceived ‘higher’ cause. Accordingly, McDermott found them to indeed be the ‘perfect soldiers’, the ones who follow orders impeccably, fully aware of their probable death and self-sacrifice.

In respect of the hijackers, reports and testimonies from flight recordings and passengers’ last phone calls prior to the crashes, emphasise that the perpetrators’ conduct during the attacks was quite rational and efficient. They performed their roles as planned and communicated with the passengers, asking them rather politely to comply with their demands, whilst knowing that they were about to crash the aircraft and die.

A concept which has evolved since 9/11 is that of ‘radicalisation’, which according to the UK Home Office is, “a process by which people come to support terrorism and violent extremism and, in some cases, then to join terrorist groups.” The emphasis is on radicalisation as a process. The Global Future Forum, for example, defines it as “a process, not an end unto itself and it does not necessarily lead to violence.” The stories of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 definitely illustrate a process of radicalisation and a gradual adoption of fanatical views that led them to perpetrate their terrorist acts. And it seems that a similar background can equally be seen with most of the perpetrators of other deadly terrorist events since. Can this process of radicalisation explain their conduct and behaviour during the attacks?

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