Paying more attention to substance abuse could predict or prevent radicalisation, a study has concluded.
The research suggested terror attacks are carried out by “psychologically disturbed young men” who sought out radicalism as a form of self-help.
According to the findings, the attackers had a history of violence due to substance abuse, had acted alone, had no help from a radical group and died as a result of their actions.
The study, conducted by international security lecturer Dr Lewis Herrington from Loughborough University, looked at six incidents – including the Westminster Bridge attack by Khalid Masood in 2017, and the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in 2013 by Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo.
Dr Herrington found that paying closer attention to Masood’s regular cocaine and alcohol use, Adebolajo and Adebowale’s chronic drug use, and Berlin Market attacker Anis Amri’s alcohol consumption since the age of 13, could have provided intelligence services with “helpful indicators” to prevent the attacks.
The study concluded that from a population of 52 lone-actor terrorists across Europe between 2012 and 2017, at least 75% had a history of chronic substance abuse.
Research also found that Muslim communities which introduce the 12-step recovery programme for addiction could help prevent vulnerable members seeking Islamic fundamentalism.
Dr Herrington said: “Fundamentalism provides a structurally equivalent means of recovery from addiction as the widely recognised 12-step programme.
“However, it is a programme that inadvertently directs a minority of vulnerable men along a pathway towards isolation, obsession, resentment and finally martyrdom, rather than sobriety.
“Based on our understanding of addiction, isolation leads to extreme feelings of self-pity, guilt, shame and remorse.”
Dr Herrington continued: “This in turn may trigger suicidal thoughts within Islamic fundamentalists who are unable to commit suicide due to newly established religious beliefs.
“Our six case studies were not exceptional, and some attacks may have been prevented if the perpetrators had been screened for addiction.
“The case of Khalid Masood is especially alarming, and there are almost certainly many others like him.”
He added: “Improved knowledge of the connectivity between addiction and suicide terrorism may provide us with a new working framework within which to help prevent future attacks.”