Book Cover

An analysis of family-centered terrorist cells, including a model to help detect and prevent their formation.

Alexander (Law Enforcement and Justice Administration/Western Illinois Univ.; The Islamic State, 2015, etc.) contends that scholars and analysts have generally neglected the rise of the family terror network, but he believes that it “merits a distinct framework by which to assess it.” The author meticulously offers illustrative examples to limn the conditions that lead to the formation of such cells and to discuss the advantages that they have over other types of terrorist groups. The tight bonds among family members, he points out, make it easy for ideological conversion to spread among them and less likely they will turn on one another. The cultural legitimacy of the family unit also makes it harder to uncover them as cells, he notes. As a result, families have the potential to be transformed into “incubators for radicalism” due to such factors as economic or religious marginalization, a sense of victimization, or “mental health challenges.” Alexander painstakingly discusses different kinds of family terror networks, the ways in which they’re recruited, and the types of plots in which they’re likely to be involved. He devises a predictive model that draws upon his analysis of more than 100 case studies and offers a lucid, broad synopsis of terrorism generally and of law enforcement responses to it. Alexander is the director of the Homeland Security Research Program at Western Illinois University, where he’s also a professor of law enforcement and justice administration, so his credentials as an expert are impeccable, and his research, as presented in this book, is rigorous. At the very least, he makes a compelling case that family terror networks pose a worrisome risk and that it’s a phenomenon that’s specific enough to warrant its own mode of analysis, set apart from other types of terrorism studies. But although his book presents a complex and thorough analysis, his predictive model is far too broadly conceived to be very useful because, as the author himself admits, it can’t capture all of the “multidimensional” possible reasons for family-unit radicalization.

A timely assessment of a burgeoning terror problem.

This article originally appeared on Kirkus Reviews