ISIS: A Family Affair

9/11. Boston Marathon. Charlie Hebdo. Paris. Brussels.

All these attacks had a set of brothers in the mix. So why do terror groups prefer brothers executing these attacks?  For the same reason you and your brother might be business partners, or go to the same church or partake in the same weekend softball team. You share the same interest and you trust each other. Impeccably. 

In the case of joining a terror group, you are less likely to inform to authorities on your brother than informing on a total stranger. There is a bond of trust and brothers are often subject to similar influences.  You are less likely to get cold feet on being a suicide bomber if your brother has made the same ultimate commitment of death.

Lone wolves are the more riskier of recruits for a terror network. They might be seen as infiltrators or might not have the psychological strength to go through with an attack compared to when two siblings are involved. They are also likely to tell someone about their plans beforehand to stroke their ego or get some attention. 

The small terror cells, comprising of max 6 people per cell, rely on intense levels of support within the group as it is a highly stressful environment. An older brother might not want to let down his younger brother, or vice versa, as the one most likely convinced the other to join the terror group. The chances of two siblings turning informants or shying away from an attack are much smaller.

“Violent extremism spreads through social contact, and for most people, siblings are a big and important part of their social environment,” said J. M. Berger, a terrorism analyst and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror. “You may feel you can talk to a sibling about matters you can’t discuss with others.”

For intelligences agencies, siblings make it more difficult to figure out what their plans might be as they normally share the same housing, can talk amongst one another without using any communication devices, which might be under surveillance, and they are less likely to discuss their plans with others around them. This pact created among siblings, is exactly what a terror group seeks in new recruits. Ultimate devotion to their cause with no distractions.

Terrorism, whatever the ultimate consequences might be, is highly social. People become involved because other people are interested in it. When your blood brother gets involved in it, the chances are much higher that you will join the cause than if you were going it alone.

The modern day terrorist like to carry out their deadly acts together, with the people they know and trust - family. 

Blood is thicker than water.



Barry Oberholzer

Born in Houston, Texas, a former professional rugby player and current CrossFit and Ironman athlete, Barry  is the founder of TerrorMate app and is a counter-terrorism and intelligence expert. Formerly Barry served as a confidential informant for Department of Homeland Security, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Belgium Customs Intelligence and HM Revenue & Customs Intelligence in the United Kingdom. 

One of his most impactful successes was in his identification of Iranian sanction busting syndicates who smuggled US manufactured aircraft and parts to Iran which led to the arrests of several prominent international businessmen. He also had numerous successes in major illicit cigarette seizures in Europe.