Aaron Y. Zelin is the Gloria and Ken Levy Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where his research focuses on Sunni Arab jihadi groups in North Africa and Syria as well as the trend of foreign fighting and online jihadism.
Articles & Testimony
A study on who joins extremist and terrorist movements and why, offering new quantitative methods to approach the problem.
Who joins extremist movements? Answering this question is beset by methodological challenges as survey techniques are infeasible and selective samples provide no counterfactual. Recruits can be assigned to contextual units, but this is vulnerable to problems of ecological inference. In this article, we elaborate a technique that combines survey and ecological approaches. The Bayesian hierarchical case-control design that we propose allows us to identify individual-level and contextual factors patterning the incidence of recruitment to extremism, while accounting for spatial autocorrelation, rare events, and contamination. We empirically validate our approach by matching a sample of Islamic State (ISIS) fighters from nine MENA countries with representative population surveys enumerated shortly before recruits joined the movement. High-status individuals in their early twenties with college education were more likely to join ISIS. There is more mixed evidence for relative deprivation. An accompanying package provides functionality for applied researchers to implement our approach...