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Why autistic people at greater risk of being radicalised



• Those with condition could be more likely to become ‘lone wolf’ terrorists
Terror recruits often seem to come from vulnerable backgrounds. But new research suggests that those with traits of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) could be more at risk of being radicalised.

It follows a number of high-profile cases where autism appears to have played a role in the offender’s behaviour.So if people with ASD could be at higher risk, how can we protect them from falling under the spell of terror organisations such as the so-called Islamic State?

Terrorism involves committing violent acts for political, religious or ideological reasons. It can either be committed as part of an organised group or alone but it is traditionally characterised and understood as a group phenomenon. But a new type of terrorist threat has emerged in recent years – the ‘lone wolf’. Over the last decade, the rise of lone wolf terrorists has necessitated the need for an understanding of the pathway from radical ideology to radical violence. Given that the examination of any connection between ASD and terrorism is in its infancy, a simple categorical model describing different levels of commitment to a terrorist cause may be one step forward.


Arie Kruglanski and colleagues describe a ‘degree of radicalisation’ scheme where different levels of commitment to different terrorist-related activities was identified. According to their scheme, the most prevalent group of individuals are those who are ‘passive supporters’ (those who are sympathetic to the cause).

Next, are individuals who are more active in the organisation (they may have an administrative function or recruit others). The next category involves individuals who actively support violence and are ready to fight for the cause.

Lastly, they identify suicide bombers who are willing to give their lives. Lone wolf terrorism would fit this last category. It is important to caution here that there is no substantial link between ASD and terrorism. However, there may be specific risk factors which could increase the risk of offending among people with ASD.
*Adapted from an article published in The Conversation by Clare Allely, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Salford, United States.

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