LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Several recent terror attacks have something in common. The suspects include people who are related to one another. That was true in the Boston marathon bombing and both of this year's attacks in Paris. NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston has been asking why terrorism runs in families.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: To hear Mohamed Abdeslam tell it, his two brothers, Salah and Brahim, seemed to change about six months ago.
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MOHAMED ABDESLAM: (Foreign language spoken).
TEMPLE-RASTON: When someone starts praying, he told Belgian television, it isn't necessarily a sign someone has radicalized.
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ABDESLAM: (Foreign language spoken).
TEMPLE-RASTON: When your brother tells you that he's stopped drinking, he says, it's not a change that says something is wrong. In fact, he said, he thought his brothers were just maturing, taking their religion and their lives more seriously. Instead, the change appears to have been tied to last month's Paris attacks. Police say Brahim Abdeslam detonated a suicide vest inside a cafe. His brother, Salah, is still on the run. Research says the fraternal connection shouldn't come as a surprise.
REID SAWYER: When you find one person that radicalizes in a family, it's a great predictor...
TEMPLE-RASTON: Reid Sawyer used to run the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
SAWYER: A predictor that somebody else in that family, either immediately a brother or a cousin, likely to participate, and that's exactly what we've seen in this Paris attack and with these cells.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Family dynamics are thought to make the whole process of radicalization, which is fairly intense to begin with, even more so. Family members not only feel compelled to show that they are committed to an ideology, but there's an extra pressure to prove to a brother or a cousin or whomever that they can count on you.
RIK COOLSAET: It is not new. It is in the study of terrorism. It is very often the case that you are not, as an individual, radicalizing all by yourself.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Rik Coolsaet is a professor at Ghent University in Belgium, and he's been studying radicalization for some time. He sees this through the lens of sociology.
COOLSAET: Often it is a case that you radicalize due to small group dynamics, kinship and friendship bonds. That's really the issue at hand.
TEMPLE-RASTON: He says his research suggests that people don't initially embrace extremist groups because of the ideas the groups have. Instead - and this is important - they're sucked into these groups because their friends or family are already part of them.
COOLSAET: And this might be a bunch of guys in my neighborhood. This might be family members. And so it is this dynamics that pushes you forward on this road, on this journey to violent terrorism.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Professor Coolsaet and I met in a hotel room in Brussels, about a mile from the neighborhood where the Abdeslam brothers lived. It's called Molenbeek, and it doesn't look particularly sinister. It's a cluster of low-slung apartment buildings just two metro stops from the city center. But, Coolsaet says it might as well be a world away.
COOLSAET: These are neighborhoods where it is difficult to live.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Difficult because there's unemployment and a sense that people living there will never be accepted into Belgian society. That's why, he says, it's no accident that quite a number of the November 13 attackers had a connection there. In fact, the man thought to have organized the attacks was from Molenbeek, too. His name was Abdelhamid Abaaoud. He died in a police raid outside Paris several days after the attacks. French officials revealed that the apartment they raided had a family connection, too. It belonged to Abaaoud's cousin. She was killed in the raid. Her friends say that she, like the Abdeslam brothers, stopped drinking and started praying about six months ago. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.
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