“I’m down for a Jihad”: How 100 Years of Gang Research Can Inform the Study of Terrorism, Radicalization and Extremism

Vol 9, No 1 (2015) > Decker  by Scott H. Decker and David C. Pyrooz

Abstract [1]

One of the difficult tasks in the social sciences is integrative, interdisciplinary work. There are many commonalities across the social sciences in method, theory, and policy. The study of gangs has a tradition in the U.S. that dates back nearly 100 years, with an emerging focus in Europe and other parts of the world. This Research Note argues that there is considerable overlap between the study of gangs and that of radicalized groups. Both fields examine violence conducted largely in a group context. Group structure, demographics, marginalization, strength of membership bonds, leaving the group, and the role of prison in expanding membership are all issues the two have in common. There are lessons those who study radicalized groups can take from the long tradition of gang research. This Research Note identifies twelve lessons learned (mistakes and successes) from the study of gangs that have relevance to the study of radicalized and extremist groups.

Keywords: gangs; criminology; terrorist groups; organized crime; terrorism research.


How can the study of gangs, gang members, and gang crime provide insights and guidance for the study of radicalization, extremism and terrorism? It is our contention in this short Research Note that lessons learned in the study of gangs have direct applicability to understanding terrorist groups and acts. While the study of political radicalization has a long tradition, the recent global concern over terrorism has focused increased attention and resources on the issue. Many criminologists paid little attention to acts of terror prior to the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.[2] Thus there has been some “catching up” in understanding radicalization and extremism, with several independent groups of scholars holding that much can be learned through the comparative study of radicalization and extremism with other groups of criminological, political, and sociological relevance.[3] Continue reading


From Drugs to Gold: Colombia’s Drug Barons Diversify

Increasing pressure from anti-drug trafficking activities are forcing Colombia‘s illegally armed groups to diversify their traditional income streams. Against this backdrop, revenue generated through other sectors, such as gold mining, could begin to rival the drug trade as a leading driver of regional insecurity.

By Matt Ince, RUSI


24/-6/12 – Attempts to coordinate international policy responses to the global drug trade are underway as foreign ministers gather in Peru this week for a two-day Anti-Drug Summit. This also coincides with the release of the 2012 World Drug Report, the UN’s annual review of global illicit drug trends. However, while both are likely to point to the gains being made in Colombia’s on-going ‘war on drugs’, successes have been accompanied by the growing involvement of illegally armed groups in Colombia’s booming gold mining sector. This trend is fuelling national economic and environmental security concerns in Colombia and is illustrative of attempts by organised crime groups to offset their loss of revenue from the drug trade; by boosting their involvement in lower risk criminal activities. It also exemplifies the increasingly post-ideological nature of Colombia’s current security challenges and the many difficulties associated with bringing an end to the country’s half century long conflict.

Making Gains in the War on Drugs

clip_image003Colombia has continued to make significant gains in the ‘war on drugs’ in recent years, having succeeded in reducing coca cultivation by 65 per cent over the period 2000-2010. Latest successes also include the announcement that top Colombian drug lord Diego Perez – leader of the criminal group Las Rastrojos and one of the most wanted criminals in the Americas – was arrested by police in neighbouring Venezuela earlier this month.  Other recent developments have also included the disbandment of one of Colombia’s largest drug trafficking groups, El Ejército Revolucionario Popular Anticomunista de Colombia (ERPAC), and a number of significant government victories against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC); most notable amongst them being the death of legendary FARC commander, Alfonso Canno, in November.

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Brazil-Venezuela Border Security Ops: Just Politics?

Wednesday, 06 June 2012 10:26  Written by  Christopher Looft



A recent joint air force exercise is supposed to herald a new era of border security cooperation between Brazil and Venezuela, although this may simply be cover for Brazil’s ambitious security agenda.

In late May the air forces of Brazil and Venezuela completed Operation Venbra VI, in which 13 Venezuelan and eight Brazilian airplanes (including Embraer Super Tucanos, pictured) flew joint missions, simulating border security operations along 700 kilometers of frontier. A key goal of the operation was to improve the interception of illicit aircraft; in one exercise, airplanes crossed from one country into the other, and radar systems were used to track and eventually intercept the target craft.

There are plenty of reasons why both countries should be interested in coordinating with each others’ air force. By passing on information about illicit aircraft, Venezuela can help Brazil identify and stop more aerial drug traffickers, who take advantage of the vast, mostly ungoverned space along the border. The Amazon region at the frontier is ideal trafficking territory, with numerous illicit airstrips and an array of riverine transit routes to move illegal cargo once the planes land.

These joint Venezuela-Brazil security exercises are supposed to eventually lead to improved enforcement along the border, but there are limits to these potential benefits. For one, recent scandals hinting at a high level of penetration by organized crime into Venezuela’s military raise questions about the quality of a partnership with that regime.

Even if Venezuela’s army were cleaner than clean (and there are reasons to question the accusations leveled against top military officials), there are other hazards at play that could limit the depth of the partnership: if Venezuela is compelled to force an aircraft down, it is more likely to incur a costly burden for the investigation, limiting its incentive to offer much help. Despite Congress’ recent approval of a shoot-down policy for suspicious drug flights, Venezuela does not suffer much by only partially committing to halting aerial drug trafficking. Since most of the air traffic is likely flowing from Venezuela into Brazil, a growing consumer of drugs as well as, like Venezuela, a key transit point for cocaine headed to Europe, Brazil arguably has more to lose than Venezuela from airborne drug trafficking.

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