Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

Research Projects

Faculty in the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at UMass Lowell examine a broad range of research questions, from terrorist group decision-making to radicalization to strategies that encourage disengagement from violence.

The internationally-circulated journal "Perspectives on Terrorism" is now co-located at the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at UMass Lowell. Within the past seven years, this journal has become the most widely read scholarly journal in the field of terrorism studies. Read the current issue of the journal, search for articles on a topic of interest, or browse the archives of all issues.

Faculty members of the Center are also on the Editorial Board for scholarly journals such as the "Journal of Transportation Security," the "Journal of Strategic Security," and "Terrorism and Political Violence."

Researchers at CTSS are engaged in a number of basic and applied research projects. The research conducted by CTSS is funded by competitive research grants supported by a variety of sponsors, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR). 

Research projects are as follows:

Evaluation of a Multi-Faceted, U.S. Community-Based Muslim-Led CVE Program

Investigators: John Horgan (UMass Lowell), William Evans and Michael Williams (University of Nevada, Reno)

Point of Contact: John Horgan, john_horgan@uml.edu

Sponsor: National Institute of Justice

This award (January 2014-December 2015) responds to a need both to counter domestic terrorism, and to evaluate programs focused on countering such violent extremism. The proposed evaluation will be done in Montgomery County, MD, in collaboration with the community-based, Muslim-led CVE program (The World Organization for Resource Development and Education), the Montgomery County Department of Police, and the Montgomery County Office of Community Partnerships. The first phase of the project will use a multi-method evaluation design to a) understand recruitment and retention practices of participants in a multi-faceted, U.S. community-based, Muslim-led CVE program, b) identify the outcomes of participation in that program, c) assess and explore community knowledge of risk factors associated with radicalization, and individuals' natural inclinations in response to those factors, and d) identify barriers to individual help-seeking and community-law enforcement collaborations in a CVE context. What will emerge from this phase is a set of working theories that clarify the relationships among these four subcomponents and lead to enhanced CVE programming and implementation. The second phase will develop survey instruments designed to measure quantifiably each of the Phase I subcomponents. Additionally, formalized curricula (i.e., educational materials and a manual for law enforcement) will be developed regarding a) awareness of risk factors of radicalization and civic-minded responses to them, and b) training for law enforcement officers regarding ways to build effective collaborations with local Islamic communities. Additionally, the CVE program will adjust its recruitment practices, based on 'lessons learned' from Phase I. The final phase of the project will assess the effectiveness of the CVE programs' adjusted (i.e., Phase II) recruitment practices. Additionally, the CVE programs' outcomes will be tested by comparing participant involvement groups (i.e. those who have never participated vs. participated once vs. participated multiple times).

Across the Universe? A Comparative Analysis of Violent Radicalization Across Three Offender Types with Implications for Criminal Justice Training and Education

Investigators: John Horgan (UMass Lowell), Paul Gill and Noemie Bouhana (University College, London)

Point of Contact: John Horgan, john_horgan@uml.edu

Sponsor: National Institute of Justice

This award will produce a two-year program of research (January 2014-December 2015) to develop a series of studies comparing the behavioral underpinnings of three types of U.S.-based offenders since 1990: solo-terrorists, lone-actor terrorists, and individuals who engage in mass casualty violence but lack an ideological motivation. In particular this research program compares the developmental, antecedent behavioral and ideological factors that crystallize within the offender and are later expressed behaviorally via the offense itself. This program of research seeks to understand whether (dis)similarities are observable across these offender types and what the relevant implications are for law enforcement. To address these questions, the research program contains three sub-projects drawing on distinctive research methods. Each observation will be coded using a 180+ variable codebook previously developed in a Department of Homeland Security funded project. These sub-projects focus upon (a) a descriptive trend analysis of pre-crime commission behaviors in order to understand what behaviors occur commonly across these three offense types and which behaviors are increasing in extent longitudinally (b) a comparative analysis of between offender types to investigate whether distinct behavioral profiles are apparent and (c) a sequential analysis of the planning and execution of offenses using crime scripting methodologies. By providing empirically informed and practitioner-oriented research, the project will deliver an evidential basis for informing multiple facets of investigative practice both within and across offense and offender types.

Pathways, Processes, Roles and Factors for Terrorist Disengagement, Re-Engagement, and Recidivism

Investigators: John Horgan (UMass Lowell)

Point of Contact: John Horgan, john_horgan@uml.edu

Sponsor: Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate

Why do individuals walk away from terrorism? Why in some instances do they return? CTSS researchers are engaged in a three-year project that will deepen our understanding of the terrorist disengagement and re-engagement processes, the pathways into and out of terrorist groups, and the factors that lead terrorists to disengage and re-engage. The project involves the development of comprehensive literature reviews, analysis of 93 terrorist autobiographies containing accounts of disengagement, and new, first-hand interviews with 30 former extremists from a variety of groups. The project seeks to identify vulnerabilities or ‘tipping points’ for disengagement, and to ultimately inform policies for the promotion of disengagement and mitigation of risk factors for re-engagement.

Outline (pdf)

Brief (Available soon)

Understanding Pathways To and Away From Violent Radicalization Among Resettled Somali Refugees

Investigators: Heidi Ellis, Saida Abdi, Emily Blood (Harvard Medical School/Children’s Hospital Boston), John Horgan (UMass Lowell), Alisa Lincoln (Northeastern University) and Jessica Stern.

Point of Contact: John Horgan, john_horgan@uml.edu

Sponsor: National Institute of Justice

As a companion project to the Department of Defense-funded “Identifying and countering early risk factors for violent extremism among Somali refugee communities resettled in North America,” this project will seek to understand pathways to diverse outcomes among Somali refugees: why do some embrace greater openness to violent extremism, while others with shared life histories move toward gangs, crime, or resilient outcomes such as non-violent activism? To what degree do these outcomes overlap? An understanding of these trajectories, and the factors that may shape an individual’s progress toward these outcomes, will provide critical information to local and state government agencies as they respond to the potential threat of domestic radicalization.

Outline (pdf)

Identifying and Countering Early Risk Factors for Violent Extremism Among Somali Refugee Communities Resettled in North America

Investigators: Heidi Ellis, Saida Abdi, and Jessica Stern (Harvard Medical School/Children’s Hospital Boston), John Horgan (UMass Lowell)

Point of Contact: John Horgan, john_horgan@uml.edu

Sponsor: Department of Defense Minerva Research Initiative

Somalis have been one of the largest refugee groups to arrive in the U.S. every year over the past decade. While the vast majority of these refugees have adapted peacefully to life in America, a group of young Somali-American refugees have been targeted for radicalization and recruitment. Some have returned to Somalia as part of the Al-Shabaab terrorist organization. This three-year project seeks to establish a theoretical, evidence-based framework to inform the prevention of violent extremism among refugees by building a longitudinal study of Somali-American young adults. This project is conducted in collaboration with the Children’s Hospital Center for Refugee Trauma and Resilience, of the Children’s Hospital Boston/Harvard Medical School.

Outline (pdf)

Developing a Typology of Terrorism Involvement as a Basis to Planning for Sentencing, Management, Risk Reduction, Release and Monitoring of Terrorist Offenders

Investigators: John Horgan and Neil Shortland (UMass Lowell); Max Taylor (University of St. Andrews)

Point of Contact: John Horgan, john_horgan@uml.edu

Sponsor: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) via the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Reponses to Terrorism (START)

Is it possible to know whether a terrorist is truly “rehabilitated”? Is it safe to release a former terrorist back into the wider community? Concerns abound over the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs and the wider issues of assessing and sentencing terrorists in the first place. Building on CTSS’s existing work on disengagement and de-radicalization, this project seeks to develop a descriptive typology of involvement in terrorism that will provide guidance for sentencing, managing (and, depending on the jurisdiction, ‘treating’), releasing, and monitoring terrorist offenders.

Outline (pdf)

Infographic (pdf)

Anticipating Insider Attacks: A quantitative analysis of the role of battlefield casualties as a motivator and predictor of insider attacks in Afghanistan

Investigators: Mr Neil Shortland, Professor John Horgan, Mr Casey Hilland 

Point of Contact: Mr. Neil Shortland, neil_shortland@uml.edu

Sponsor: United Kingdom Ministry of Defence (MOD) via the Center for Defence Enterprise (CDE)

Insider attacks, which involve the killing of coalition forces by members of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), have emerged as one of the largest threats to deployed forces in Afghanistan. However, we currently have little understanding of what may motivate such attacks. While current views emphasize the importance of personal grievances, this does little to support our ability to anticipate or predict the occurrence of insider-attack prior to the event itself occurring. This research will address this gap by investigating the role of battlefield casualties (the death of civilians, ANSF and/or ISAF personnel) as a grievance that may motivate members of the partnered forces to execute an insider attack. It will then investigate whether casualties on the battlefield could be used as a risk factor to predict the likelihood that an insider attack will occur. This research will leverage pre-existing data regarding battlefield casualties, whilst also developing new data regarding insider attacks. This is a five-month program of research, the results of which will be used to directly support operations in Afghanistan. 

Outline (pdf)

Modeling and Assessing Multiple Cultural Perspectives

Investigators: John Horgan (UMass Lowell); Lora Weiss (Georgia Tech Research Institute)

Point of Contact: John Horgan, john_horgan@uml.edu

Sponsor: Office of Naval Research (ONR)

What are the social, psychological, and cultural factors that lead some people to turn to terrorist activity? For those seeking to understand and stop terrorism, new methods are needed to evaluate and assess the broad range of influences and perspectives associated with terrorism. This project’s goal of developing quantitative models will allow for increased exploration of many aspects of socio-cultural influences and may provide indicators that increase one’s propensity to being radicalized, recruited, disengaged or de-radicalized from adverse behavior. This project is conducted in collaboration with Georgia Tech Research Institute, Atlanta.

Outline (pdf)