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Awareness guide - radicalization to violence


Man holding a picture frame

"Martin was like any other boy: he liked having fun, he loved life. Constantly on the Internet, he was unfortunately manipulated and influenced at a time when he was vulnerable. His behaviour changed completely and he started seeing conspiracies everywhere. I tried to find help for him, but he was too deeply radicalized. He did the unspeakable in the fall of 2014. How I wish he was still with us and that none of this had ever happened."

Gilles Rouleau
Father of Martin Couture-Rouleau, 25, who carried out the 2014 attack in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu

This section deals with radicalization to violence. It addresses a number of related concepts, the role of the Internet and propaganda, and proposes actions to deal with this issue.


Radicalization is the process by which individuals are introduced to an overtly ideological message and belief system that encourages movement from moderate, mainstream beliefs toward extreme views.

Radical thinking is not a crime in itself. Sympathizing with radical thinking does not necessarily lead to violence or terrorist action. However, radical thinking becomes a threat to national security when it leads an individual to espouse or engage in violence as a means of achieving political, ideological or religious goals.

Radicalization to violence is not a new phenomenon and is not limited to a single group, social class, religion, culture, ethnicity, age group or worldview. Vulnerable individuals searching for guidance and seeking a sense of belonging are more at risk of radicalization regardless of their background and level of education. There is not one single profile.


  • Smith, Angus. Radicalization – A Guide for the Perplexed, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2009.
  • International Association of Chiefs of Police. Radicalization 101, Committee on Terrorism, 2012.

Models explaining radicalization

The issue of radicalization to violence is complex and there is not one single typical profile of a terrorist. Therefore, there is no simple explanation or consensus about a typical pathway to radicalization leading to violence. However, researchers and security services worldwide propose various models to better define specific trajectories.

The following are two of these models:

  • 1/ Model focusing solely on the individual and proposing a step-by-step process, in the form of a staircase
  • 2/ Model referring to a feeling of injustice

References to more models

  • Crettiez, Xavier. The Radicalization Process: From Conversion to Jihad, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2006.
  • Crettiez, Xavier. High Risk Activism: Essay on the Process of Violent Radicalization (Part One), No. 34, Pôle Sud, 2011.
  • Crettiez, Xavier. High Risk Activism: Essay on the Process of Violent Radicalization (Part Two), No. 35, Pôle Sud, 2011.

young man in car

1/ This model focuses solely on the individual and proposes a step-by-step process, in the form of a staircase

On the first floor, candidates for radicalization perceive injustices in their everyday life and think they can fight or correct them. If they feel they have less and less non-violent options to achieve greater justice, they are likely to keep climbing. When this happens, they reach the second floor and displace their aggression onto out-groups. On the third floor, they gradually engage with the morality of the use of violence toward those they identify as the enemy. On the fourth floor, individuals join an organization they associate with and become indoctrinated. Finally, it is when they reach the fifth and top floor that the radicalization process culminates and subjects mobilize and engage in terrorism and violent extremism.

Moghaddam Staircase Model
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Image description: Moghaddam Staircase Model: Ground floor = Psychological Interpretation of Material Conditions/1st floor = Perceived Options to fight Unfair Treatment/2nd floor = Displacement of Agression/3rd floor = Moral Engagement/4th floor = Solidification of Categorical Thinking and the Perceived Legitimacy of the Terrorist Organization/5th floor = the Terrorist Act and Sidestepping Inhibitory Mechanisms

  • Example - Level 0: The individual feels that he is being fairly treated by society.
  • Example - Level 1: The individual loses his job and makes it a personal issue. He feels that he is being unfairly treated and is unable to resolve the situation through legal solutions/steps.
  • Example - Level 2: The individual is still unemployed and begins to identify with far-right rhetoric. He blames/criticizes immigrants for his problem, but will not engage in physical aggression at this stage.
  • Example - Level 3: Still unemployed, the individual determines that using violence as an option is morally justified.
  • Example - Level 4: The unemployed individual joins a rightwing extremist group that promotes an anti-immigration ideology ("Us against Them" rhetoric).
  • Example - Level 5: The unemployed individual engages in violent criminal acts against government institutions or targeted persons.


  • Moghaddam, Fathali M. The Staircase to Terrorism, A Psychological Exploration, Vol. 60, No. 2, American Psychologist, 2005.

2/ The second model also refers to a feeling of injustice

The individual may have a feeling of moral outrage; however, contrary to the first model, the second model considers that the personal process is not focused only on the individual. It takes into account relationships which are considered essential. In fact, the receptivity of an individual to the process of radicalization to violence develops solely through acquaintances, friends and various social networks.

The Radicalization Process According to Marc Sageman

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Image description: The radicalization process according to Marc Sageman is represented as follows: Three intertwined circles (specific interpretation of the world, feeling of moral outrage and resonance with personal experiences) forming a whole (the individual) and surrounded by the individual’s relationships (entourage, friends, family, encounters and social networks).


  • Sageman, Marc. Radicalization of Global Islamist Terrorists, United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, 2007.

A remarkable diversity

Actual cases of extreme radicalization in Canada and elsewhere in the world

Samantha Louise Lewthwaite

Samantha Louise Lewthwaite

Name: Samantha Louise Lewthwaite
Other name: White Widow
Nationality: British
Affiliation: Al Shabaab
Alleged crime: Widow of one of the suicide bombers responsible for the attack in London in July 2005. She is accused by the Kenyan authorities of having orchestrated and carried out the attack against the Westgate Mall in Nairobi between September 21 and 24, 2013, killing 68 people. She is currently wanted under an international arrest warrant.

Anders Breivik

Anders Breivik

Name: Anders Breivik
Other name: None
Nationality: Norwegian
Affiliation: Right-wing extremism
Crime committed: Was found guilty of planning and carrying out an attack. On July 22, 2011 he killed 8 people in Oslo to create a diversion for the massacre of 69 people on the island of Utoya in Norway. He was sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Chérif Kouachi

Chérif Kouachi

Name: Chérif Kouachi (brother of Said Kouachi, who was also involved in the attack against Charlie Hebdo)
Other names: Abou Issen, Cowboy, Shark
Nationality: French and Algerian
Affiliation: Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, "des Buttes-Chaumont" connection.
Crime committed: Carried out the attack against French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on January 7, 2015. He was killed in an assault by the French National Police Task Force.

Amedy Coulibaly

Amedy Coulibaly

Name: Amedy Coulibaly
Other name: Abu Basir Al-Ifriqui
Nationality: French
Affiliation: Islamic State
Crime committed: On January 8, 2015, the day after the attack against Charlie Hebdo, he killed a French policewoman in the street. The following day, on January 9, 2015 he carried out the attack against the Hyper Casher kosher supermarket in Paris, killing 4 more people. He was finally shot dead in an assault by the RAID elite unit and the Brigade de recherche et d'intervention (BRI) after he took hostages.

Ann Hansen

Ann Hansen

Name: Ann Hansen
Other name: None
Nationality: Canadian
Affiliation: Direct Action (Squamish Five), an organization now dissolved.
Crime committed: Carried out several attacks in Canada, including against a company that manufactured electronic components for American cruise missiles in 1982 in Toronto. She was sentenced to life in prison, but was released after eight years. She is now a writer.

Daniel Andreas San Diego

Daniel Andreas San Diego

Name: Daniel Andreas San Diego
Other name: None
Nationality: American
Affiliation: Animal Liberation Brigade (ALB) and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. Both organizations are linked to the ALF.
Alleged crime: Allegedly carried out two attacks in California. The first one took place on August 28, 2003 against the building of a biotechnical company and the second one on September 26, 2003 against a nutritional product company. Currently wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Joanne Deborah Chesimard

Joanne Deborah Chesimard

Name: Joanne Deborah Chesimard
Other names: Assata Shakur, Barbara Odoms, Joanne Chesterman, Joan Davis, Justine Henderson, Mary Davis, Pat Chesimard, Jo-Ann Chesimard, Joanne Debra Chesimard, Joanne D. Byron, Joanne D. Chesimard, Ches Chesimard, Sister-Love Chesimard, Chesimard, Josephine Henderson, Carolyn Johnson, Carol Brown, "Ches"
Nationality: American
Affiliation: Black Liberation Army
Crime: Escaped from the Clinton, New Jersey prison, where she was serving a life sentence for the murder of a New Jersey police officer. Currently wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau

Name: Michael Zehaf-Bibeau
Other name: None
Nationality: Canadian and Libyan
Affiliation: Lone actor
Crime: Committed the attack at the National War Memorial and the Parliament of Canada in Ottawa on October 22, 2014. Was killed as a result of the police response.

Martin Couture-Rouleau

Martin Couture-Rouleau

Name: Martin Couture-Rouleau
Other name: Ahmad le Converti
Nationality: Canadian
Affiliation: Lone actor and Islamic State sympathizer
Crime: Carried out an attack in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, on October 20, 2014. Was killed as a result of the municipal police response.

Radicalization, Internet and propaganda

man holding a cell phoneThe Internet has become the ideal means of communication to disseminate radical ideas to vulnerable people. The Internet acts as a vector facilitating radicalization to violence.

However, the Internet alone is not sufficient to radicalize an individual. Even if an individual is a heavy user of online material, interpersonal relationships, whether real or virtual, remain an essential factor in the process of radicalization.

The Internet poses a challenge for the prevention of radicalization leading to violence. There are ways for parents and guardians to reduce risks and to ensure safe use of the Internet for youth.

Open communication between youth and adults about responsible use of the Internet is considered a very efficient approach.

Questions you should ask yourself as a parent/legal guardian include:

  • Does my child have several accounts on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) and does he/she use different identities in a specific network?
  • Is there any indication that my child communicates online through indirect methods such as video or online games?
  • Does my child use non-traditional search engines (other than Google, Yahoo!, etc.) to navigate the Invisible Web (Dark Web)?

Youth safety in the virtual world, just like in the real world, is everybody’s concern...

3 pictograms - text description follows

Description : Image 1./Pictogram representing an individual with several speech bubbles in the background (concurrence of discourses). Image 2./ Pictogram representing an individual with a few speech bubbles in the background (limited number of discourses). Image 3./ Pictogram representing an individual with only one speech bubble in the background (one single discourse).

Source: Ducol, Benjamin. Devenir jihadiste à l'ère numérique - une approche processuelle et situationnelle de l'engagement jihadiste au regard du Web, Political Science Department, Laval University, p. 241, 2015.

The Internet, through its multiple platforms (computers, smart phones, tablets, online games, etc.), facilitates the creation of a virtual world where anonymity encourages extreme positions. It also facilitates indoctrination as well as the circulation of "conspiracy theories" and the single narrative of "Them against Us". The individual is isolated from his usual social circle (family, friends, etc.) and is presented with a virtual, radical alternative. Critical thinking is no longer an option and the Web acts as an echo chamber where the same opinions are repeated again and again and where reason and dissenting opinions are dismissed.

group of men

"Similar to sects, calls to violence such as those of the Islamic State armed group can attract fragile young people searching for guidance […] Religion – any religion – can be beneficial to someone seeking a sense of belonging, but it can also be misleading when it is given a Manichean interpretation by someone looking for a sense of superiority or for a cause."

Dr. Paul-André Lafleur
Psychiatrist at the Philippe-Pinel Institute

In addition to spreading hate propaganda, the Internet gives access to tactical advice to counter security measures. It also acts as a virtual training camp to help prepare attacks, thus eliminating the need to travel abroad. Targeted messaging – a technique used in marketing – can be a powerful tool to attract young people to an ideology. Official sites, social media, forums, webzines, videos and images are all virtual means used to deliver messages to receptive individuals.

The Internet is often used to disseminate propaganda and ideological currents. However, while it is an effective tool, the Internet is not the only means used to spread propaganda. Direct media interaction and production of manifestos, music and posters also play an important role in the process of radicalization to violence. All these tools are used to justify violent action, target the enemy and dehumanize the victims.

Extremist groups, regardless of their ideology, have long sought to incite youth by exploiting existing cultural and moral grievances and capitalizing on the natural desire for adventure shared by many young people.

As was mentioned in the two models above, radicalization can often be triggered by victimization and perceived injustices toward the individual, a group or a cause with which the individual identifies. This process of radicalization of a vulnerable individual causes an ideological change which, through progressive evolution combined with group effect, can legitimate the use of violence. Isolation, a sense of failure and a lack of social integration skills increase the vulnerability of the individual. The search for a sense of belonging to a group or a "noble" cause bigger than oneself serves to obliterate the past and build a new identity.


  • International Association of Chiefs of Police. Building Community Resilience to Violent Ideologies, Prevention of Radicalization Study Group, 2008.
  • Ducol, Benjamin. A Radical Sociability: In Defense of an Online/Offline Multidimensional Approach to Radicalisation in Martin Bouchard (Ed.) Social Networks, Terrorism and Counter-terrorism: Radical and Connected, London, Routledge, 2015.
  • BOUCHARD, Martin (Ed.). Social Networks, Terrorism and Counter-terrorism: Radical and Connected, London, Routledge, 2015.
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Youth Online and at Risk: Radicalization Facilitated by the Internet, National Security Criminal Investigations Program, 2011.
  • Bouzar, Dounia, Christophe Caupenne and Sulayman Valsan. La métamorphose opérée chez le jeune par les nouveaux discours terroristes, 2014.
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Radicalization to Violence in Internet – Facilitated Radicalization of Youth, 2011.
  • Dubé, Isabelle and Hugo Meunier. Un jeune Montréalais radicalisé devant la justice, La Presse, [Web Site]. February 4, 2015.
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Youth Online and at Risk: Radicalization Facilitated by the Internet, National Security Criminal Investigations Program, 2011.
  • McCauley, Clark and Sophia Moskalenko. Mechanisms of Political Radicalization: Pathways Toward Terrorism in Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 20, No. 3. 2008.

What you can do

1/ Family members and close ones

Communication is the key. We must be able to share our concerns and understand these issues.

people walking, woman typing on laptop - mother and teen daughter

One and all

The public plays an important role in preventing vulnerable individuals from engaging on the path to radicalization leading to violence. An inclusive approach is the strategy to adopt to prevent this type of radicalization: in addition to law enforcement agencies, community leaders, friends, families, the workplace, teachers and social players who have the respect of radicalized individuals also play a crucial role. Education, promotion of awareness and dialogue are important tools in the disengagement and prevention process.

Youth and the Internet

Access to inappropriate material can be more easily prevented if the computer is placed in an open area where a parent is nearby. Parents should supervise the use of mobile electronic devices and monitor downloading activity and the sites visited. They can also visit the websites accessed by their children and report material of concern to their Internet service provider, or refer to a service agency or their local police service. Parents can also raise their children’s awareness about inappropriate content and engage in an open and frank dialogue with them.


Parental guidance is essential to give direction to a potentially vulnerable young person. Parental guidance provides a shield against propaganda that promotes the use of violence. More importantly, family members and close ones must maintain a bond with a young person who becomes radicalized. It is important for parents facing this situation to seek support. (See Assistance and Reporting section)

  • Smith, Angus. Radicalization – A Guide for the Perplexed, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2009.
  • Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Youth Online and at Risk: Radicalization Facilitated by the Internet, National Security Criminal Investigations Program, 2011.

2/ Police services

The objective of the different community awareness programs implemented by police services is to engage all communities in the social problem-solving process to ensure the safety and security of the Canadian public. In Canada, the successful Community Mobilization Prince Albert program (Saskatchewan, Canada) is an example of this.

The following graphics show the percentage of originating agencies reporting at-risk situations compared to the leading agencies taking charge of these situations. While the police report a significant number of cases, ultimately, referring cases to the appropriate agency results in a lighter caseload for the police.

Originating and lead agencies graphics

High resolution image

Image description:

Originating agencies

  • Police (133): 55%
  • Education (47): 19%
  • Social Services (32): 13%
  • Other (32): 13%

Lead agencies

  • Social Services (75): 31%
  • Police (57): 23%
  • Health (45): 18%
  • Education (43): 18%
  • Other (24): 10%

** In the graphics, the figures next to the agencies represent the number of at-risk situations. Study period: September 1, 2013, to August 31, 2014

Community Mobilization Prince Albert (CMPA)

The Hub Model is an evidence-based collaborative problem solving approach that draws on the combined expertise of relevant community agencies to address complex human and social problems before they become policing problems. The basic principle is that if something bad is predictable, it is also preventable.

The Hub itself is a twice-weekly, ninety-minute discussion among front line professionals representing multiple human service disciplines serving the city of Prince Albert and its surrounding feeder communities. It connects people at risk to the services that can help them make positive choices in a timely fashion.

The average length of time devoted to discussing each single at-risk situation is about nine minutes, and an immediate intervention plan is developed for each situation. Initial intervention typically occurs within 24-48 hours and the life span pattern shows 53% of situations ending in one week and about 79% clearing the table in two weeks.



In light of the threat of radicalization leading to violence, each of us has a role to play in preventing violent behaviour. Law enforcement is not the only way to combat this phenomenon. All Canadians should be aware of the possibility that someone close to them could become radicalized to violence. Being better informed, having a better understanding and knowing the resources available will help Canadians to be more resilient and better equipped to face the situation.

Links to additional resources to better understand and prevent radicalization to violence