Brothers in arms

The more we study those who have radicalised to violence and joined terrorist groups the more we realise that there are no patterns to those people.  There are no commonalities to ethnicity, religious knowledge, education background, profession, family status or psychological profile (that we know of).

We also know that radicalisation does not occur in a vacuum and that the oft-repeated notion of “self-radicalisation” is nonsense.  There is always an influencer somewhere, whether it is close at hand or somewhere in cyberspace.  These “radicalisers” help to understand religious and historical concepts and guide their proteges down the path to accepting that violent jihad is an obligation on all Muslims.

What better way to act as both radicaliser and radicalised than to have both people in the same family?

A prime example came up this week with the guilty pleas of Ashton and Carlos Larmond in an Ottawa courtroom.  The older Ashton appears to have helped bring the younger brother to the world of terrorism and in the end he got a much larger prison sentence.  There were inevitably others involved but the bond between brothers can be a special one.

The case of the Larmonds is not unique of course.  Several other instances of sibling radicalisation have arisen in recent years and here are a few examples:

  • the Gordon brothers of Calgary’s infamous 8th and 8th mosque left Canada radicalised and are believed to have been killed in Syria.
  • two sisters and a friend left Brampton to join IS in July 2014 and it was only thanks to excellent work by Peel Police and the RCMP that they were identified by officials in Cairo before they could board a connecting flight to Istanbul.  The youngest was 15
  • the Boston Marathon bombers were two brothers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  The older Tsarnaev, who was killed by police, was said to have exerted a strong influence on his younger sibling
  • three of the November 2015 Paris attackers are believed to be brothers as are the two Kouachis who sieged the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January of that year
  • two young men from Cardiff, Wales travelled to join IS in 2014, a 17-year old and his elder brother, a medical student

So while these instances are not that frequent, they do tell us something about the power of family in the radicalisation process.  That process occurs with fits and starts and is rarely smooth sailing.  Questions and doubts arise and these need to be resolved.  What better person to help remove obstacles than a blood relative?  In addition, the time spent together can be crucial and who spends more time together than close siblings?  Of course there may be manipulation going on as well if one sibling is more dominant than the other.

This is an interesting phenomenon then but not one that necessarily requires more study.  It is just one of those curious things and part of a wave of radicalisation that continues to challenge us and defy easy analysis and ways to prevent it.


By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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