Family terror networks (or alternatively, family affiliated terrorism) involve two or more people from the same clan who support the threat or use of terrorism. Well-known examples of such incidents include two sets of brothers on 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombers, and the San Bernardino terrorists. Less appreciated is the role family members have in attempting or succeeding in undermining terror activity in among their kin.
Parents have pursued a variety of paths to avoid their family members being killed or arrested due to a kin’s participation in terrorism. For instance, parents who learned their children were contemplating traveling to Syria hid their passports. Such parental interference causes the child to undergo the time, expense, and risk of discovery by authorities when acquiring a new passport.
This happened with Adam Dandach, a Santa Ana, California, resident. Adam’s mother hid his passport and took the funds he intended to use to join the Islamic State. Undeterred, Adam filed a request for an expedited passport. Adam wrote he needed a replacement passport because he had discarded the former one in error. In July 2016, Dandach was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. He had pleaded guilty to giving material aid to the Islamic State and lying on his passport application.
In November 2014, French authorities took a fifteen-year-old French girl of Moroccan descent, Assia Saidi, into custody after her parents prevented her from traveling to Syria and participating in jihad. Assia had a Facebook page, which portrayed her commitment to travel abroad and wage jihad. Assia’s parents looked for her after she ran away from home. They found her working at a bar in Marseille.
In September 2014, Boston police captain Robert Ciccolo informed the FBI that his son, Alexander, had an interest in ISIS. An ex-felon by July 2015, Alexander was arrested while seeking to purchase weapons in an FBI sting operation. Alexander said he planned to use the weapons during an ISIS-inspired terror attack in the United States. In May 2018, Alexander was pleaded guilty terrorism, weapons, and other charges, and sentenced to 20 years in prison in September 2018.
In summer 2014, Sal Shafi was visiting Egypt with his family, including his twenty-one-year-old son, Adam. Sal informed the US Embassy in Cairo of his concern that Adam might have traveled to Iraq or Syria during their trip abroad. Following the family’s return to the United States, the FBI met with Adam and later monitored him for terrorism activities.
In July 2015, Adam was arrested as he was boarding a flight from San Francisco to Turkey. The FBI claimed Adam sought to offer tangible aid to ANF. Adam had expressed loyalty to the emir of the group. Sal had assumed the FBI would enter Adam in a counter-radicalization program. To his dismay, that was not the case. As Adam’s prosecution ensued, Sal said parents should not provide information about their child’s extremism to authorities. Informing the government, Sal warned, would lead to a child’s incarceration, rather than participation in a rehabilitation program.
In 2009, Mohamed Mohamud’s father, Osman Barre, contacted the FBI because of his concern his son wanted to travel abroad and pursue jihad. Osman feared his child, being of Somali descent, was delving into jihadism as other Somali immigrants had done with al-Shabaab. Mohamud discussed with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operatives his interest acquiring terror training in Yemen and Pakistan.
In November 2010, Mohamud tried to set off a car bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. Mohamud was convicted of those charges in January 2013 and in October 2014 was sentenced to thirty years in prison for his crime. During Mohamed’s 2013 trial, Osman claimed authorities “brainwashed” his son by their use of undercover operatives during the concocted operation in Portland.
Family members who see extremism within their family face difficult choices. They can overlook the behavior and hope it dissipates. They may confront the person and risk alienation, further radicalization, or possibly improve the situation. Simultaneously, a parent may seek guidance from third parties who have expertise in deradicalization or psychological issues. Lastly, they may call law enforcement authorities and risk the family member being monitored or arrested.
* Dean C. Alexander is professor/director of the Homeland Security Research Program at Western Illinois University. He is the author of the new book, Family Terror Networks (2019).
I thought you might find of interest my book, Family Terror Networks, which will be released on March 1st. A press release on the book and my research on terrorism are set out in the press release below:
An interview I had on the book is available here:
For current endorsements of the book please see:
An Op-Ed I published in the Jerusalem Post last week is available below:
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