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An approach of sociological profile of the arrested people for activities related to the Islamic State

Among those arrested for activities related to the Islamic State (IS) in Spain, there are frequent sociological patterns and profiles of radicalized individuals, how they become radicalized, the role played by the Internet, and places of worship and the family.

The data collected on the report about “The Islamic State in Spain” of the REAL INSTITUTO ELCANO between June 2013 and May 2016 provide us with data for think about the lines to pursue and tackling the terrorist threat associated to the IS.

Spain is not one of the European nations most affected by the jihadist terrorism promoted by the Islamic State (IS), in the matter of absolute terms and population size. Even so, the number of arrested people, such as foreign terrorist fighters who have left Spain, can only alert us to the threat posed by the IS from a security perspective.

According to the report about “The Islamic State in Spain”, more than 150 individuals have been arrested in Spain thanks to police operations against the jihadist terrorism.

The most frequent sociological profile between the arrested people placed in custody in Spain since 2013 for activities related to the Islamic State (IS) is defined by being young men, married and with children, either Spanish or Moroccan, mostly with secondary education and with an unemployment rate in the average to the rest of Spain, although there are also relevant percentages of women, converts and university students. It is common that they have a criminal record. The Muslim ones have general knowledge about Islam and the Sharia.

The IS‘ propaganda campaign is aimed primarily at young men and women, although the work of women is directed towards supporting male combatants and looking after and educating their children. More than half of the male arrested people were married, and several of them encourage their women to participate or travel to combat with the IS, even though they do not share the ideals.

Barcelona is the main province where the IS acts, even if the majority of the arrested people is found in Ceuta among the second generation youngsters.

On one side, the components that stand out in reference to the nationality, for activities related to the IS, almost half of the arrested people in Spain since 2013 have Spanish nationality. On the other side, roughly the 45% of total is born in Morocco.

In Europe there is a remarkable jihadist mobilization in those environments in the second generation of Muslim descendants.

The age at the beginning of the radicalization process, with data obtained by arrested people in Spain between 2013 and 2016, highlights the age range between 15 and 19, followed by the ages between 20 and 29.

About 7 out of 10 of the arrested people became radicalized exclusively in Spain, 1 only in the foreign territory, while around 2 out of 10 became radicalized both inside and outside of our territory. In our country Ceuta and Barcelona stand out, where a greater number of arrested people became radicalized.

The Internet has an important role when recruiting possible fighters for the IS. Around 2 out of 10 arrested people became radicalized exclusively through the Internet, while 5 out of 10 have done it both online and offline. The areas where most of them have been radicalized in this offline environment have been, in order of importance, the following: in private home, Islamic places of worship and open air spaces, and to a lesser extent in places of detention, other social places or some place of study.

The existence of direct physical contact with a radicalization agent and the pre-existing social ties through friendship, neighborhood or kinship are factors that explain why individuals with similar socio-demographic traits became radicalized. About 66% of all arrested people since 2013 had previous social ties to another arrested person or someone who had moved to Syria or Iraq as a foreign terrorist combatant.

The radicalization and recruitment agents usually stand out for have had a previous jihadist background, which gives them a certain charisma and superiority.

The main individual motivations that lead to participation in terrorist acts are principally hatred towards the West, who are described as cheaters, and towards Shiites, who are regarded as apostates.

Note: This article is based on the report about “The Islamic State in Spain” of the REAL INSTITUTO ELCANO


Fernando REINARES, Carola GARCÍA-CALVO – Real Instituto Elcano


Reinares, F. and García-Calvo, C. (2016). El Estado Islámico en España. Real Instituto Elcano. Madrid


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