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  1. Terrorist suspect is very similar to ‘normal’ suspect

Terrorist suspect is very similar to ‘normal’ suspect

A large-scale study by the NSCR has revealed that terrorist suspects in the Netherlands often have a criminal record and nearly always occupy a low socioeconomic position.  With respect to their background, terrorist suspects are very similar to criminal suspects in general. Consequently, there does not appear to be a general risk profile for the terrorist.

As the investigation and prosecution of terrorist acts are now high on the agenda, the demand for greater insight into the perpetrators of such criminal acts is increasing. For example, it is important to know whether there are certain triggers – events that elicit the radicalisation process or accelerate it – that could lead to a terrorist act. On behalf of Politie & Wetenschap, the NSCR investigated the entire population of terrorist suspects in the Netherlands for the first time since the implementation of the Crimes of Terrorism Act in 2004. During this investigation, the demographic and socioeconomic characteristics and involvement in other or previous forms of crime were investigated for a total of 279 suspects by linking an anonymous list of terrorist suspects from the Public Prosecution Service and population data from Statistics Netherlands.

Male, 30 years old, poorly educated and often in trouble with the police in the past

Based on the research results, the researchers concluded that terrorism suspects in the Netherlands are usually male (87.5%), with an average age of 30 years and relatively poorly educated. The majority of suspects have an immigrant background. Furthermore, the suspects are slightly more often unemployed than the average Dutch citizen. About two-thirds of the suspects have previously been in trouble with the police, which was often for relatively common offences. The risk factors concur with the risk factors for conventional crime. In addition, the researchers discovered several characteristic differences between various subgroups concerning age, migrant status, work situation and criminal history. For example, it was found that after the emergence of the Islamic State, terrorist suspects were on average younger and more frequently had a criminal record than in the past.

Which factors were a trigger factor?

The researchers analysed to what extent each of the factors stated could independently be considered a trigger factor. This was done by examining specific events in the year before the person became a suspect. The most important finding was that more than 10% of the terrorist suspects had lost their job in the year prior to becoming a suspect. This significantly increased the risk of becoming a terrorist suspect even when due consideration was given to other factors. Losing one’s job can therefore been seen as a trigger factor.

Results relevant for tactical decisions by the police and judiciary

The research contributes to more insight and expertise concerning this group of suspects, which is relatively new for the Netherlands. The factors found can play a role in the tactical decisions made by the police and/or judiciary once there are reasonable grounds for suspicion. It is also clear that the vast majority of people with a certain risk factor do not become involved in terrorist acts. Predicting who will become a terrorist suspect is therefore far from easy. Further qualitative research is necessary to establish what pushes some people with certain risk factors in the direction of terrorism. And just as important: what deters other people under comparable circumstances from becoming terrorists?

Articles about this research also appeared in the NRC and de Volkskrant newspapers (in Dutch).

Publication details and further reading

Thijs, F., Rodermond, E. & Weerman, F. (2018). Verdachten van terrorisme in beeld; Achtergrondkenmerken, ‘triggers’ en eerdere politiecontactenPolitie & Wetenschap, Apeldoorn.

Dr Elanie Rodermond


Dr Fabienne Thijs MSc MA


Prof. Frank Weerman

Senior Researcher

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