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Jakarta Post

Tackling in-family radicalization is urgent

Surabaya   /   Fri, May 25, 2018   /   06:12 pm
Tackling in-family radicalization is urgent On Sunday morning, May 13, suicide bombers attacked three churches shortly before Sunday mass. The bombers were from a single family headed by Dita Oepriarto, who the police later identified as the head of the East Java chapter of the Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD), the largest pro-Islamic State (IS) terrorist group in the country. Dita, his wife, two teenage sons and two adolescent daughters are reported to have died in the blasts. (Antara/Nanda Andrianta)

The Surabaya bombings on churches and a police station highlighted a new development in involving entire families, rather than lone-wolf attackers.

This is not new. The pattern is also found in the San Bernardino attack in the United States in December 2015 which was committed by a married couple, whereas the attacks against the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris in 2015,  the 2016 Brussel airport attack and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings in the US, all involved siblings. And of course there were the brothers Ali Gufron, Amrozi and Ali Imron, executed for the 2002 Bali bombing.

Research published in New America in 2015 showed that a third of Western foreign fighters had family connections. In the case of 9/11 in the United States, 6 of the 19 hijackers were brothers. In an article on family bonds in terrorism, an expert, Mohammed M. Hafez, also cited a study on the Italian Red Brigades from 1970s to the 1908s, where almost 25 percent of the terrorists were related.    

All the facts prove that familial-based radicalization is not a random phenomenon. Moreover, the Surabaya bombing revealed that terrorism can involve all family members including two young daughters.

Thus there is clearly a link between in-family radicalization and terrorism. As many social psychologists have noted, both genetics and one’s environment are two aspects to influence criminal behavior. Therefore one could suggest genes may play significant role in manifesting those attacks. However just because a family of a terrorist shares his genetics does not mean it is the only predictor of future terrorists from the same family.

Nevertheless,  environmental factors play a significant role that contributes to and interacts with genetic to stimulate behavior of a terrorist. Family members, as microsystems, can share religious beliefs and ideologies to one each other. The saddest thing is that the beliefs are rarely questioned. We are not accustomed to value our religiosity as personal exploration and experience, but rather seeing religious teachings as absolute orders. From a study on patterns of thinking in millitant extremism by G. Saucier, violence to unsuspecting others starts with a strong feeling that the group one belongs to is under the threat from others without being skeptical about it.

Being raised together and being exposed to the same set of stories about enemies and the same set of ideological, moral and religious reasons justify their feelings of anger and hate. This is likely to contribute significantly to the same tendency in deciding acts of terror. Moreover, there is a feeling of trust due to a common upbringing. This feeling becomes stronger when you are doing something with someone who is intimate with you. The social identity among family members become salient and motivation to act becomes strengthened. However of course many families have disagreements among them including regarding religious beliefs.

A number of studies have confirmed that terrorists seek to use emotional bonds. These groups recruit women as many as possible, as they see them as playing a vital role in family bonds and have a large influence on shaping their children’s ideology.   By keeping recuitment within the family, it is more difficult for security forces to detect upcoming attacks. Psychologically, high-risk missions require trust and commitment, which can generally be assumed when members of the same family attack together.

How do we tackle in-family radicalization? The literature is still limited on the issue, particularly on the national level. We can probably look to other countries on how they deal with this particular issue.

Denmark has developed The Aarhus Model, a policy to dissuade young people from joining the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda by offering specific counseling and mentoring for those who have been radicalized. They conduct rehabilitation by involving parents, family networks, social workers, and teachers who all provide support for young people at risk, include those who wish to leave the terrorist networks.

Belgium has launched The Mechelen Model with strong focus on prevention, in which policing and community dialogue go hand in hand. Contrary to other cities in Belgium, nobody in Mechelen left to fight in Syria or Iraq.  United Kingdom is now known for its CONTEST prevent strategy based on four Ps, namely “pursue” (to stop terrorist attacks), “prevent” (to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism), “protect” (to strengthen protection against terrorist attacks), and “prepare” (to mitigate terrorist attacks).

Indonesia, unfortunately, has no specific systematic program to tackle in-family radicalization issue yet. It is the right time for us to start developing our own counter-terrorism program that is relevant to our context and needs, ranging from preventive, mitigative, curative, and rehabilitative measures.


The writer is a social psychology lecturer at the School of Psychology,  Ciputra University in Surabaya and is joining a writing project on “Learning from violent extremist attacks: Insight for practitioners and policymakers” with the Home Team Behavioral Science Center under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.