Families comprise individuals who descend from the same ancestor, as in consanguinity, or individuals who have affinity resulting from marriage and adoption.
The family is one social bond that can serve as a terror node and kin terrorism has appeared across diverse views, from religiously motivated precepts to national liberation, and from hate-based ideologies to other viewpoints.
Dean C. Alexander, Director of the Homeland Security Research Program and Professor at the School of Law Enforcement and Justice Administration at Western Illinois University, provides a comprehensive theoretical framework of family-linked terrorism and offers dozens of case-studies that contribute to create a wide and informative database of timely research.
Family Terror Networks, the latest book to be released on the topic of terrorism and kinship (March 2019), lucidly demonstrates that the frequency and lethality of kin connected terrorism merit a distinct framework by which to assess it.
The first chapter addresses general principles of terrorism and provides an exhaustive overview on a number of theoretical and terminological premises on terrorism, radicalization, susceptibility to radicalism, women in terror, terror financing, and other pillars of terrorism studies.
The following chapter discusses the characteristics of family terror networks, whereas in the third chapter Dean Alexander shares real case studies involving family terror networks across diverse ideologies.
The fourth chapter represents the core of the book, as it proposes a model for predicting the development of family terror networks and its utility in combating this type of political violence.
The last chapter describes law enforcement responses to FTN-related radicalization, including police interactions with terrorists, investigations and surveillance, interactions with communities, missed signs in discovering terrorists, and international cooperation.
The final appendix offers an inventory of the cases covered in the volume.
Overall, the book provides rigorous research that offers multiple insights on a complex and increasingly worrisome phenomenon.
In particular, Alexander highlights that family terror networks are important because households are an integral part of traditional social networks and this paradigm allows radicalization and recruitment to occur in a setting of trust, confidence, and privacy.
This fosters the exploitation of security features that are crucial for both the ideological and physical survival of the radical group. In this setting, the extremist efforts of family members can be unobserved until after a strike takes place.
Moreover, the family entity offers variable degrees of flexibility, as well as different structures and hierarchy of roles. Some members serve as leaders, while others take on operational roles. Leaders can be replaced by other members of the family who typically take on the new role as a source of honor. Peer pressure is particularly strong and this can make reciprocal control more flexible and pervasive.
According to the author, family networks are exposed to terrorist ideology, recruitment, training, and operational opportunities more easily than those outside the familial structure thanks to the informal and decentralized structure.
Also, abandonment of terror plans in a family is less likely because it brings shame and dishonor to the entire group.
The standard family networks’ characteristics have a lot in common with what has been termed old-style recruitment. The notion of old-style recruitment includes a whole range of recruiting strategies, radicalization patterns and forms of socialization with radicalizing agents that largely or completely exclude online affiliations, virtual propaganda, and more broadly the use of computerized communication.
Old-style recruitment relies mainly on face-to-face interactions, which take place within given peer groups and are usually based on pre-existing relations and a shared social background .
Alexander notes that kinship in general – and patriarchs in particular – plays a major role in the life of many of the most notorious terrorists.
Patriarchs have a strong influence on the level of radicalization of family members. An example of this is Osama Bin Laden. Out of his 23 children, several sons featured prominently in continuing the family participation in terrorism.
In January 2016, Hamza Bin Laden – named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the US State Department one year later – called for revenge over his father’s death: “If you think that your sinful crime that you committed in Abbottabad has passed without punishment, then you thought wrong.”
Furthermore, in 2018 it was reported that Hamza married the daughter of lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, thus further demonstrating the relevance of kinship to terrorist organizations.
The predictive model created by the author is divided into six phases and was crafted after assessing 118 families affiliated with terrorism.
These case studies encompass terror cells of divergent ideological leanings (e.g., jihadism, sovereign citizens, militias, and hate aligned).
The six phases are:
1) A family member (F1) is exposed to a radical ideology and supports a movement associated with this tenet.
2) F1 approaches another family member (F2) or multiple members (F3-4) about the possibility of following the extremist ideology.
3) A family member or multiple family members (F3-4) accept, accept with reservations, or reject the extremist tenets.
4) Several options are conceivable. F1 takes on an active role in the movement/ F1 or F1 and F2 carry out an attack/F1 and F2 leave extremism, just to mention a few.
5) Assuming F2 has left radicalism, F2 may try to directly influence F1 to leave as well.
6) F1 may decide to: leave/cease communications with F2/pursue other actions. Alternatively, F2 may decide to follow the same path mentioned in this stage.
This model provides a general casuistry that includes the most recurrent behaviors. However, given that terrorism studies are far from an exact science, it should be understood as a mere introductory tool to the analysis of family groups and not as a resource to interpret the whole set of radicalization patterns that might be encountered.
Also, it cannot take into consideration the different degrees of involvement and commitment to the cause of family members.
In most cases there is a member who is markedly more committed and exerts pressure on the other individuals.
Chances are also that only one or a few persons in the group are truly ideologically radicalized, whereas the followers are just variably brainwashed and are totally unaware of what they are getting into.
The Italian Sergio family is a case in point .
Following the presentation of the model, Alexander quotes a number of works produced by Hedayah and provides some interesting recommendations aimed at tackling the issue of family terror, such as supporting and empowering women – particularly mothers – to prevent radicalization of family members. He also recommends engaging fathers and respected community males to gain access to vulnerable sub-communities and to shape existing cultural narratives, and designing family-oriented P/CVE initiatives.
As mentioned before, the dataset provided in the book is extremely wide, and ranges from well-known stories, such as the case of Daniela Greene  and Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik , to less debated cases, such as the extremist journey of Amanda Woodruff and Jerad Miller .
The results of the analysis show that 57% of the 138 family ties involve fairly equal amounts of husbands/wives (31%) and brothers (26%). This suggests that family-affiliated terrorism occurs most frequently in these kinds of kinships.
As far as the ideological leanings are concerned, jihadism represented 84.75%, sovereign citizens (4.24%), white supremacy (1.69%), and Christian identity, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ 0.85%.
Obviously, this is primarily due to the different numbers of attacks attributable to each ideology, but it is also likely to suggest that kinship might play a variable role in different kinds of radical worldviews, which undoubtedly requires further research.
Dean C. Alexander’s latest book provides an informative tool for terrorism experts, practitioners, and the general public.
The ability to attract multiple individuals to terrorism will cause terror groups to continue to exploit this subset of group membership, which makes this work particularly worth studying.
 See M. Serafini, Maria Giulia che divenne Fatima, Corriere della Sera, ebook (in Italian), and M. D’Alessandro, Italian Muslim convert found guilty of helping Islamic State, Reuters, December 19, 2016.
 S. Brzuszkiewicz, Radicalisation in Europe after the fall of Islamic State: Trends and risks, European View 17(2), Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, 2018.
 Daniela Greene is a former FBI contract linguist who travelled to Turkey with her partner Denis Cuspert, German ex-rapper Deso Dogg, who became Abu Talha al-Almani. In late June 2014, the pair married in Syria but in August of the same year Greene left the country for the United States after admitting she had made a mistake. At the time of the wedding, she was also married to a US soldier.
She received a two-year sentence after she substantially cooperated with authorities, whereas in January 2018 Germany disclosed that Cuspert was killed in Syria.
 In 2015, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people and injured others in an ISIS-inspired attack in San Bernardino, California.
 Before they met, Miller was incarcerated for drug offences. After becoming a couple, they delved into a host of extremist ideologies, ranging from white supremacy to militia themes.
In June 2014, the couple shot and killed two Las Vegas police officers. Next, they covered one of the corpses with a yellow Gadsden flag (“Don’t tread on me”) and a swastika. They also pinned a note on the other victim: “This is just the beginning of the revolution”.
Jared was fatally shot after an exchange of fire with police. Amanda shot herself and later died at the hospital.