Structure, positions and mechanisms: A case study of two Dutch Salafi-Jihadi networks

Published date01 May 2024
AuthorCasper S. van Nassau,Tomáš Diviák,Christianne J. de Poot
Date01 May 2024
Subject MatterArticles
Structure, positions and
mechanisms: A case study
of two Dutch Salaf‌i-Jihadi
Casper S. van Nassau
Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) Ministry of Justice and
Security, The Netherlands
The University of Manchester, UK
Christianne J. de Poot
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands
Social network analysis can be a powerful tool to better understand the social context of terrorist
activities, and it may alsooffer potential leads for agencies to intervene. Our access to Dutch police
information allows us to analyse the relational features of two networks that include actors who
planned acts of terrorism and were active in the dissemination of a Salaf‌i-Jihadi interpretation of
Islam (n=57; n=26). Basedon a mixed-methodapproach that combines qualitative and moreformal
statistical analysis (exponential random graph models), we analyse the structural characteristics of
these networks, individual positionsand the extent to which radical leaders, pre-existing family and
friendshipties and radicalizing settings affect actorsto form ties. We f‌ind thatboth networks resemble
acoreperiphery structure,with cores formed by a densely interconnectedgroup of actors who fre-
quently meetin radicalizingsettings. Based on our f‌indings, we discuss the potential effectsof prevent-
ive and repressive measuresdeveloped within the Dutch counterterrorism framework.
ERGM, networks, radicalizing settings, Salaf‌i-Jihadi, terrorism
Corresponding author:
Casper S. van Nassau, WODC P.O. Box 20301 2500 EH The Hague The Netherlands.
European Journal of Criminology
2024, Vol. 21(3) 431451
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/14773708231207559
During the early 21st century, the Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service
(AIVD) reported indications that young Muslims who grew up in Europe were beginning
to regard Europe as a frontline for jihad and that they might proceed to perpetrating loca-
lized terrorist attacks (AIVD, 2002). The attacks in Madrid (2004), London (2005) and
the assassination of Van Gogh in the Netherlands (2004) conf‌irmed these fears. During
this period, a Salaf‌i-Jihadi milieu, or subculture, emerged in the Netherlands that up to
the present day includes individuals who consider violent jihad a necessary and legitimate
means to defend a global Muslim community (Bakker, 2011; De Koning, 2013; NCTV,
2022; Schuurman, 2018). Inspired by foreign and local preachers who shape key Islamic
doctrines into contemporary, Salaf‌i-Jihadi interpretations of Islam, some young actors
have turned to illegal and violent action alternatives (De Koning, 2013; Maher, 2017;
Peters, 2008). In the Netherlands, these acts include (but are not limited to) threatening
of politicians, attacks on people and properties and travelling to foreign conf‌lict zones.
Since these early events, a large body of scholarly research has emerged on the
involvement of young western Muslims in acts of terrorism. A key notion included in
most explanatory models is that processes of radicalization tend to happen in relation
to others (Doosje et al., 2016; Webber and Kruglanski, 2017). It is within networks of
actors inspired by a radical narrative that some may come to see acts of terrorism as legit-
imate action alternatives (Bouhana and Wikström, 2017; Kruglanski et al., 2019). As
such, agencies that aim to prevent these acts from happening are likely to benef‌it from
evidence-based knowledge on the relational dimension of radicalization, that is, system-
atic knowledge on how and where actors meet and form ties, and how this affects the
emergence and functioning of radical networks. Prior studies have used social network
analysis (SNA) to analyse the structural composition of networks (Kenney et al., 2017;
Van der Hulst, 2009a; De Bie et al., 2017) and the position of individual actors
(Krebbs, 2002; Koschade, 2006; Van der Hulst, 2009b). Both relational features result
from the tendency of actors to form ties. In order to grasp these characteristics more
fully, it is important to also analyse the underlying mechanisms that affect individual
actors to form ties (Helfstein and Wright, 2011; McMillan et al., 2020). This may
involve mechanisms relating to factors specif‌ically associated with tie formation in
radical networks (such as the role of charismatic leaders), as well as well as mechanisms
that affect tie formation more in general (such as closure, homophily or preferential
attachment; Lusher et al., 2013). Controlling for potentially competing mechanisms
results in a more robust understanding of tie formation in radical networks. However,
studies that do so are scarce, limiting the evidence-base for preventive and repressive
interventions (Bouhana and Wikström, 2017).
A factor that further limits the available evidence relates to the exclusion of the social
environment in which the activities take place. Based on open sources, the data that are
analysed in most studies concerns actors directly involved in a terrorist plot (e.g.,
Everton, 2016; Koschade, 2006). Despite notable exceptions (e.g., Kenney et al.,
2017; Krebbs, 2002; Van der Hulst, 2009b), by solely focusing on networks that are
formed by actors directly involved in planning and executing a terrorist attack, we run
the risk of overlooking the inf‌luence of the broader context in which radical networks
432 European Journal of Criminology 21(3)

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