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Risk assessment tools for radicalization

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It is not the purpose of this analysis to establish a distinction between risk of violence and dangerousness, for the purposes of our study it is stated that they are correlated, given that the risk of violence is intended to determine the tendency of a person to be dangerous in the future. Simultaneously, both risk factors and protective factors will be taken into account, that is, those that favor the commission of the criminal act and those that reduce the probability of recidivism of the criminal subject, respectively. Needless to say, we are dealing with a construct that offers degrees of probability, offering an advantage and a disadvantage, namely:

  • Advantage: There are subjects who are only, and only, dangerous for a specific type of victim.
  • Inconvenient: The dichotomous response (yes or no) increases the possibility of losing relevant information that affects the trend and prediction of future criminal behavior.

In the field of terrorism there is talk of radicalization, but not all radicalization leads to terrorism. Although we can establish a risk of violence, a prediction1 based on the conduct and behavior of a subject who is 'suspected' of his future danger as an 'alleged religious terrorist'.

Without delving into whether we are dealing with a relative risk or an acceptable risk, one of the risk assessment tools for radicalization will be analyzed below. Although the reader is informed that it is not the only one, among the list we find2 the Risk Extremism Guide, the Islamic Radicalization, The Identification of Vulnerable PeopleMultiple Levels, among other. All of them put into practice in different countries, none at the national level. Here the use of risk assessment tools for radicalization is null and void, we only find a protocol for a preventive radicalization strategy for terrorism towards those who are serving their custodial sentence in prisons.

The Violent Extremism Risk Assessment is briefly discussed below:

The method Violent Extremism Risk Assessment (VERA), of Canadian origin (2009) is the first protocol designed to determine the risk assessment of terrorists; has been put into practice on convicted terrorists, after the application the deficiencies have been determined and the appropriate reviews have been carried out, thus, in 2010 it gave rise to VERA-2 and, in 2016, to VERA-2r, identifying, in in the latter case, additional relevant and applicable motivational indicators for violent radicalization in men, women and young people.

The method is applied in different countries in Europe, among which Spain is not included, it is also applied in North America, Australia and Southeast Asia in a

variability of environments, that is, in radicalization, but it does not have to be religious terrorism, but rather in the context of extremism and violent radicalization, regardless of ideology.

In the context discussed here, this tool has been used for convicted religious terrorists and for foreign terrorist fighters and their families who have returned from fighting and being part of terrorist organizations.

The assessment tool assesses a subject's risk beliefs, attitudes, and ideology related to violent extremism, as well as context, social intent, history and capacity, subject commitment, and motivation. In short, it allows the planning of risk scenarios and the tracing of risk routes and allows its application on militants of groups of organizations and on solitary actors. Refining the issue further, indicators are established under contrasted theoretical aspects:

  • Violent extremism and terrorist groups
  • Moral disengagement
  • Lone actor
  • Mental disorders

It is made up of 5 domains and 34 indicators, plus 3 additional domains with 11 indicators4:

  1. Beliefs, attitudes and ideology. Of utmost importance to identify the nature of extremism.
  2. History, action and capacity. Relevant to determine the subject's capacity to plan and carry out an extremist action. Also, because it identifies the capacity that the subject may have regarding access to materials, resources and their skills.
  3. Commitment and motivation. The indicators point to individual motivations and drivers of extremist and radical behavior. It allows us to differentiate the motivated subject from the opportunist.
  4. Risk protection and mitigation. Identify the positive changes of the subject in the short and long term.
  5. Intention and social context. Identify psycho-social risk factors.
  6. Additional indicators. Collected under the domains of criminal history, personal history and mental disorder.

Below is a summary table of some of the items:

Beliefs, attitudes and ideology
1. Commitment to an ideology that justifies violence
2. Perception of being victims of injustice
3. Dehumanization of selected and associated targets cause of injustice
4. Rejection of society and democratic values
5. Feeling of hatred, anger, frustration, persecution, in relation to alienation
6. Hostility towards national identity
7. Lack of empathy and understanding towards those outside one's own group
History, action and capacity
8. Early exposure or confrontation with a violent militant ideology
9. Network of family and friends involved in violent actions
10. Criminal record for violence
11. Tactical, (para)military and/or explosives training
12. Training in extremist ideology in your own country or abroad
13. Access to finances, funds, resources or organizational skills
Commitment and motivation
14. Legitimization of violence and murders for a higher cause (religious obligation, glorification)
15. Criminal opportunism
16. Commitment to the group, ideological group belonging (camaraderie)
17. Moral obligation, moral superiority
18. Motivated by excitement and adventure
19. Participation. Forced participation in violent extremism
20. Status, role
21. Fight for meaning (of life)
Protection and risk mitigation
22. Reinterpretation
23. Rejection as a means to achieve goals
24. Change of definitions
25. Participation in anti-extremism programs
26. Support for non-violence
27. Support for non-violence from family members or significant others
Intention and social context
28. Interested party
29. Identified objectives
30. Contact with extremists
31. Expressed intention to act for a reason
32. Expressed will or willingness to die for a cause or belief
33. Planning
34. Suggestible, susceptibility

Fountain: Own elaboration from Violent Extremism Risk Assessment

  • 1 Monahan, J. (2018). Predictions of violence. In T. Grisso & SL Brodsky (Eds.), The roots of modern psychology and law: A narrative history (pp. 143). New York, NY: Oxford University Press
  • 2 Borum, R. (2015). Assessing Risk for Terrorism Involvement. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management. 2(2), 63-87; Flockton, J. (2011). International Developments in Extremist Violent Risk Assessment and Management: Professional Development study trip to Canada 13-27 June 2010. Australasian Journal of Correctional Staff Development. 1-6.
  • 3 Sageman, M. (2008). Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press
  • 4 The original risk assessment tool consisted of 5 domains and 31 indicators.
  • 5 Pressman, D.E., Duits, N., Rinne, T., Flockton, J.S. (2016). VERA-2R: A structured professional judgment approach. Utrecht: Nederlands Instituut voor Forensische Psychiatrie-Psychologie; Pressman, D.E. & Flockton, J. (2012). Calibrating risk for violent political extremists and terrorists; the VERA 2 structured assessment. The British Journal of Forensic Practice. 14(4), 237-251.

Written by:
Pablo Bermúdez – Academic Director and Operations Latin America AGLOSS

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