Launching the Initiative on Addressing Homegrown Terrorism

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People sitting in conference
Opening Session of Initiative to Address Homegrown Terrorism

Launching the Initiative on Addressing Homegrown Terrorism

From the United Kingdom to Malaysia, countries around the world are confronted with the threat of homegrown terrorists, who are directed or inspired by foreign terrorist organizations. ISIS is adapting its methods as a result of its major territorial losses, as well as the international community's successful efforts to bolster aviation and border security measures and improve terrorism investigations and prosecutions. Instead of luring foreign terrorist fighters to its failed caliphate, ISIS is increasingly calling on its followers to attack soft targets, such as nightclubs and promenades, in their own countries using whatever means are available.

While we can’t predict with 100 percent certainty who will be a homegrown terrorist, we see some commonalities among the perpetrators. For instance, a large number of these individuals were on the radar of domestic law enforcement agencies before they perpetrated the attacks, often for involvement in small-scale criminal schemes or immigration violations.  In many cases, families, teachers, or social workers noticed signs of radicalization to violence and were worried about what these individuals could do. Some individuals even reported their suspicions to local authorities, but no action was taken to intervene.

The United States and the Kingdom of Morocco are leading a global effort under the auspices of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and in partnership with the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ), to address homegrown terrorism. The Initiative on Addressing Homegrown Terrorism, launched on November 15-16, 2017 in Malta will review a number of systemic gaps within and between national and local governments that are impeding their success in thwarting these types of threats and plots. This initiative will highlight and analyze the common traits among the attackers to help develop proactive policies and programs.

During the launch event, 70 government officials, academics, criminal justice practitioners, and non-governmental representatives from 25 countries shared experiences and lessons learned.  The participants discussed the characteristics and indicators of homegrown terrorists as well as their modus operandi and target selection. They also reviewed ways to improve criminal justice information sharing and examined the role of families, communities, and social service providers in preventing and detecting homegrown terrorism. A review of some practical lessons learned from recent attacks in Canada, France, and Spain capped off the event.  This gathering of experts and practitioners helped set the foundation for non-binding good practices that will be developed over the next nine months. These good practices will highlight comprehensive and integrated strategies to prevent and detect homegrown terrorists before they attack.

The next workshop, scheduled for January 2018, will delve into more specifics on how law enforcement and community leaders, teachers, social workers and families can work together to intervene with individuals who are showing signs of radicalization and help them to disengage. During the launch event, many participants provided case studies where intervention programs helped to foil terrorist plots and provided much needed services to individuals. The goal of the next meeting is to formulate some concrete, good practices regarding intervention programs that can be highlighted in the final product.

This initiative, and the good practices it will produce, will help to update the global
toolkit needed to confront increasingly decentralized, self-directed terrorists.

About the Author: Shawna J. Wilson is the Senior Rule of Law Advisor in the Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on