What makes a terrorist stop being a terrorist?

John Horgan


“Feet first”. That’s how one terrorist leader told recruits was the only way out. It makes sense. Allowing members to just walk away wouldn’t be good for the group’s image.

 And yet – at the same time as Islamic State parades its European jihadis in shocking beheading videos and continues to recruit aggressively around the world – terrorists do disengage all the time. Some quietly disappear. Others go public, telling their stories on TV or in autobiographies. They embrace their new identity as an “ex-“ or “former” to warn others of the dangers of involvement.

 We have also come to know formers through the rise of so-called de-radicalization programs. For the past decade, I’ve examined how and why terrorists walk away, and I’ve also closely examined programs aimed at helping ease that transition.


De-radicalization; Disengagement; Foreign Fighters; Terrorism

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This article was originally published by The Conversation

John Horgan currently receives funding from the Department of Defense Minerva Initiative and the National Institute of Justice. He is a Senior Fellow (Non-Residential) with Hedayah, the world's first global center for countering violent extremism, and is a member of the Research Working Group of the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.


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