Preventing Violent Extremism Awareness Training: Vulnerabilities


In order to consider how best to prevent violent extremism, we must consider what makes people vulnerable. Listen to this clip:




Here are some examples of push and pull factors which, according to the evidence, in combination – in some people – may increase vulnerability to violent extremist messages.

Research: Factors Influencing Extremism

Push factors

  • Alienation from prevailing norms
  • Poverty and exclusion
  • Lack of engagement in democratic and political processes
  • Separation from ‘others’, in particular dehumanising or ‘othering’ which can enable justification of violence or hatred
  • Boredom
  • Lack of outlet for voice
  • Sense of injustice, for example foreign policy
  • Actual or perceived humiliation
  • Lack of knowledge of religion, history or politics
  • Racism

Pull factors

  • Ideological attraction
  • Engagement with an alternative community; sense of belonging
  • Charismatic recruiter who takes personal interest
  • Adventure, excitement, romance, liking violence
  • Sense of mission and personal importance

Research into former violent extremists uncovers a range of crossroad moments in which people’s journeys into violent extremism was cemented. When people want to feel special and part of a group, and the sense of ‘us and them’ grows, violence can become legitimised and normalised – exemplified throughout history with different groups and ideologies.

However, there are no profiles or models through which to identify potential vulnerable individuals, nor predict if or how someone may engage with violent extremism. In the past, where authorities attempted to construct profiles, the result was ineffective and damaging. It is worthwhile considering the current impact of media profiling – particularly of young Muslim men – which has created a sense of stigma and victimisation amongst some communities.

Listen and reflect: Young people sharing their thoughts around ‘What does a terrorist look like?’



The following cases illustrate diversity in terms of age, gender, background and ideological interests of individuals who have been drawn into violent extremist action, as defined by British law.



Shamima Begum and Amira Abase, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16 (killed in IS territory, August 2016), all from Bethnal Green, London, travelled to Istanbul on 17 February 2015. The parents were unaware. A friend of theirs had already left for Syria in December 2014. All three teenagers married IS approved fighters – including one to an Australian jihadist. One girl had stolen family jewellery to fund the flights.


Ryan McGee: A 20 year British soldier with far-right political sympathies has been jailed for two years for building a nail bomb. He constructed the device and packed it with 181 metal screws, bits of glass and explosives inside a glass jar.Police discovered the device while they searched a home in Eccles, Greater Manchester, The walls of the room had English Defence League (EDL) flags on them.



The twins Salma and Zahra Halane, 17, Somali background from Manchester. They had 28 GCSE’s between them. Their brother had already travelled to Syria and they wanted to join him. Both were recently widowed.



In 2013, the Ukrainian engineering student, Pavlo Lapshyn stabbed 80 year old Birmingham resident Mohammed Saleem to death as he “hated non whites” and planted three bombs near local mosques within five days of his UK arrival . The police found a  video game on his laptop called Ethnic Cleansing and he  posed for a white supremacist website with the knife. He was jailed for 40 years.



Abdul Waheed Majeed, 41 was a father of three who became the first British suicide bomber in Syria, fighting against al -Assad. After seeing TV images of the conflict in Syria, he left his job to go on an aid convoy to help innocent people. His family got worried when he didn’t answer when he was returning back to the UK.



Two former Brit Army soldiers, Kurdish peshmerga, James Hughes, 26, and Jamie Read, 24, are helping Kurdish peshmerga defend the embattled city of Kobani

So how can we make balanced assessments of real risk and vulnerability?

The Barometer: Assessing Risk and Vulnerability

The Barometer is a useful tool to consider types of behaviour that may, in combination, help judge concerning behaviour from reasonable behaviour.

Click to enlarge the Barometer (press back button to return):


*Copyright © Centre for the Prevention of Radicalisation Leading to Violence (CPRLV), Montreal, 2016

Signs And Symbols

As  well as behaviour and mindset, there are signs and symbols which can indicate interests in violent extremism. However, it is crucial that signs and symbols are contextualised, for example:

The Union Jack…

A street party


A Far Right march



Or the Seal of the Prophet Muhammad…

On a decorative tapestry


Or an ISIS flag


It is clear then, that symbols and signs are subject to intent and interpretation.


In the case of all public sector institutions and all those working with young and/or vulnerable people, having a good internal safeguarding process is the first step of knowing what to do if an individual displays worrying behaviour.  If your institution’s designated safeguarding leads (DSLs) have been trained and made aware of safeguarding routes, then knowing the difference between worrying  behaviour and vulnerabilities will be better identified.  Staff should know when to make a referral, and, as partners, public sector institutions are required to cooperate with local Channel panels.


  • Recognise
  • Check
  • Refer


9/11: The Al Qaeda attacks on New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon in Washington on 11th September 2001, which triggered President George W Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ and the  wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

7/7: The co-ordinated bomb attacks on London by four young British men in the name of Al Qaeda, on 7th July 2005, which killed 52 people.

Al Qaeda: Terrorist group founded in 1988 by Osama Bin Laden, which committed the 9/11 attacks.

Islamic State (Daesh/IS/ISIS/ISIL): Terrorist group formed after the fall of Saddam Hussain in Iraq and the civil war in Syria. It is the most prominent recruiter of Westerners to its mission to establish its own state.

CONTEST & the ‘4 Ps’: The British Government’s Counter Terrorism strategy initiated in 2006, revised in 2011, consisting of 4 strands: Prepare, Protect, Prevent and Pursue.

Prevent: Aiming to stop (prevent) individuals from supporting terrorism or becoming terrorists.