Can You Spot Terrorists Before They Act?


Before the bombing at the Boston Marathon, a common image in the United States of a terrorist was of a crazed individual, most likely a psychopath -- certainly not someone who, like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, liked hanging out with friends and was described as "jovial" and "a normal American kid."

Now that the country has seen the terror a seemingly "normal" person can invoke, many experts are encouraging communities to help with the counter-terrorism effort: Parents, friends, teachers, coaches can be instrumental in preventing outrageous acts, they say.

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If the public were as aware of what makes terrorists tick as they are about underage drinking and drugs, acts of terrorism could be prevented, experts said. Griffin outlines a common scenario of how people get caught up in violent plans:

“Terrorists become terrorists from being normal, mixed-up people,” says Roger Griffin, a professor at Oxford Brookes University in England and author of Terrorist's Creed. Fanatical Violence and the Human Need for Meaning. “Parents and faith leaders (could help if they) were more aware of the fact that they could have in their midst someone who seems quite well-integrated, but is actually hiding what they really feel is their 'sacred mission'."

A depressed person focuses his dissatisfaction on one particular cause, whether it be animal rights, abortion or religion. They start becoming isolated as they hone in on that cause, and eventually their worldview gets split in two: good and evil.

"They’re part of the good and they have a mission," Griffin says. "In their mind, they become a warrior in a secret war. They choose a symbolic target, and they’ve got this narrative going in their head and lets them believe that if they do this terrible thing, something magic will come of it."

As that narrative increasingly takes over their lives, they become adept at hiding things.

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