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Jihadist radicalization in problematic youth groups

It is rare for young people in problematic youth groups to radicalise and travel to Syria. Moreover, youth groups do not do this all together. For young people who do travel, there is a fatal mix of circumstances: arrears, drastic events and the presence of recruiters in the area. This is evident from research by the NSCR, VU University and the National Police.

The investigation was prompted by a unique case study in Delft, where several young people from a problematic youth group traveled to Syria in early 2013. For the first time, researchers have reconstructed what exactly happened and how radicalization arose within this youth group. A problematic family background, a lack of perspective in a deprived neighborhood, drastic events that led to meaningful questions, the presence of a jihadist network in the immediate vicinity, and the newly emerged civil war in Syria could explain why several people left in a short time.

Youth group does not radicalise as a whole, but group does strengthen the process

Police information was used to investigate this case and interviews were held with eleven key persons from the immediate vicinity of the youth group. In addition, on the basis of police data and additional interviews, an inventory was made of the extent to which jihadist radicalization has also occurred in other problematic youth groups in the Netherlands and whether there is a relationship between the two phenomena. Most problematic youth groups in the Netherlands showed no radicalization. In four youth groups that did experience radicalization, the conditions were comparable to those in Delft. The research shows that status within the group is very important for these young people. For some, this was also achieved through knowledge of and involvement in radical Islam. In addition, the research shows that youth groups do not radicalise as a whole, but in smaller groups. The group does strengthen the process: through the group, individual young people get in touch with the larger jihadist network in the region.

Meaningful questions led to a jihadist network in the region

Two events seem to have been a trigger in the run-up to radicalization in Delft. The young people in the group experienced a failed robbery by some of the group members, in which one of the robbers died and this caused a lot of questions about meaning. The death of the father of two group members also played a role in creating susceptibility to jihadist ideas. After these events, a number of group memebers actively sought information about the Islam. Several people were present in the vicinity of the group in Delft, who may have played a role in making contact with an existing jihadist network in the region. Women and sisters have also played a role through the sister network. In addition, the young people at one point went to several radical mosques in the area. Other youth groups where radicalization took place also showed that people from outside played a role.

Advice: keep in touch with young people in problematic groups

An important recommendation from the study is that it is precisely for young people in problematic youth groups that support must be provided when major events occur, and the life questions that arise as a result. The young people in Delft were unable to answer their existential questions and partly ended up with jihadist preachers. The events in Delft also show that it remains important for government, police and youth work to keep in touch with problem youth on the street, to know what is going on and not to rely too much on a repressive approach.

Publication details and further reading

Neve, R., Eris, S., Weerman, F., Van Prooijen, J.W., Ljujic, V. & Versteegt, I. (2019). Eindrapport Radicalisering in problematische jeugdgroepen.

This investigation is a collaboration of the NSCR, VU University and the Analysis and Investigation team of the National Unit of the National Police. The research was funded by the National Coordinator for Terrorism and Security (NCTV), part of the Ministry of Justice and Security.

Prof. Frank Weerman

Senior Researcher

Dr Jan-Willem van Prooijen

Senior Researcher

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