Project information


A non-linear, dynamic approach to radicalisation

Radicalisation is not a new phenomenon. Nor is it uncommon. Some would argue that we are all radicals at some level. Radicalisation that leads to violence, however, is relatively rare but can have a huge impact on society: financially, emotionally and in terms of the security of innocent citizens.

The key in democratic societies is to ensure citizens’ rights to free thought – even radical thought – while protecting society from the fallout of illegal actions from violent radicalised groups and individuals. Successfully achieving this goal depends on understanding the phenomenon of radicalisation from its roots in thought and discourse to the stage where individuals go beyond it and engage in violent and illegal behaviour in the name of their cause.

SAFIRE: Scientific Approach to Finding Indicators for & Responses to Radicalisation. SAFIRE is an EU project started in June 2010 to explore this interesting and sensitive topic. The scope of SAFIRE primarily involves groups and individuals on the extreme and violent end of the radicalisation spectrum. However, in order to understand them and their motives, we also need to step back and understand what happened before they turned to a more violent version of their philosophy. In this project, we focus on two innovations in this field of research:

  • Developing a non-linear model of the radicalisation process based on typologies of radical groups, cultural aspects of radicalisation, observable indicators of radicalisation, interventions designed to reverse, halt or prevent the radicalisation process.
  • The collection of qualitative and quantitative empirical data to test hypotheses about radicalisation and principles of effective interventions.

We developed and carried out the SAFIRE research with the explicit application to policy and field in mind. Some relevant practical results are:

  • Intervening in the pre-violent stage of radicalisation is not supported by all EU Member States. SAFIRE examines the arguments on both sides of the discussion. Pre-violent intervention may be ethically justifiable if it helps adolescents to be better able to critically think about their life and to decide for themselves what is right for them.
  • Various cultural factors seem to make a society more or less susceptible to radicalisation. For example: national wealth, state (in)stability, integration policies, political participation or trust in authorities.
  • Part of the challenge of dealing with violent radicalisation is separating the wheat from the chaff. How can we identify key determinants of radicalisation in the enormous mass of seemingly relevant factors? SAFIRE demonstrates that the science of network studies can help. It can help guide the choice of interventions, identify which factors are central and which are peripheral to a particular aspect of radicalisation, and help decide which factors can be targeted when trying to prevent radicalisation-related violent acts.
  • Different types of radicalised groups have different characteristics and, as such, require a different approach to deal effectively with the threat of violence they pose to society. One, single, homogeneous approach lacks the nuance to deal with the complexity of the problem. In SAFIRE we identified common and distinguishing characteristics of radicalised groups. This work shows that there are various ways to categorise radicalised groups and that traditional ideological categorisations are not always sufficient to capture group differences.
  • The Internet is an increasingly important environment for individuals on the way towards radicalisation. There is a challenge for law enforcement as it facilitates and enhances the opportunities to become radicalised and to spread violent extremist beliefs. The Internet also provides a mechanism through which to move towards violent extremist or terrorist acts in ways that are difficult to detect and easy to anonymise. It also has advantages: European governments may wish to make use of the internet to determine and propagate strategies, policies, and resource allocation.
  • Indicators of radicalisation cannot be sought in unchanging behaviour or in any one individual behaviour. Instead, identifying high-risk individuals or groups should be sought in the observation of certain changes that occur in concert over time.
  • Most successful interventions designed to prevent violent radicalisation tend to focus on psychological factors, such as self-esteem, dealing with negative emotions, and reducing feelings of injustice. In addition, offering alternatives (education, accessibility to internships) and developing personal skills (conflict management) help reduce susceptibility to violent radicalisation. Interventions at a more advanced stage of radicalisation should focus on individuals and be carried out in close cooperation with people who are credible in the eyes of the targeted individual (i.e., former members of extremist groups).

For more information on SAFIRE and the project’s results, we refer you to the various focus documents on this website.

You can access the focus documents via the homepage:

  1. The OODA structure. This model, based on how people make decisions, is useful for thinking about the work we have done on radicalisation. You can observe the situation, orient yourself as to what your options are, decide which course of action to take, and carry out the chose action (act).
  2. User groups. The work in SAFIRE is relevant for different groups. We define: policy makers, researchers and field workers. You may click on a box to go to information relevant for that group.
  3. A complete overview of all the focus documents is available via the Focus Documents link in the banner above.

General information

  • Project Reference: 241744
  • Contract Type: Collaborative project (generic)
  • Start Date: 01-06-2010
  • End Date: 2013-11-30
  • Duration: 42 months
  • Project Cost: 3.68 million euro
  • Project Funding: 2.91 million euro