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David Headley’s pathway to violent radicalization was no secret before he helped plan the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 dead, including six Americans. His ex-girlfriend, wife, friends, and mother all expressed concern about his radicalization to local community members and government agencies, including New York City’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s father, concerned with a disturbing text message from his son in October 2009, raised alarms at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria two months before his son’s failed underwear bombing of a transatlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. These cases emphasize an important feature shared by every violent extremist: a network of friends, acquaintances, and family members who are likely the first to observe warning signs of violent radicalization. Family members in particular play an important part in countering violent extremism (CVE), whether it be with deradicalization and disengagement, or by alerting authorities when concerned for the safety of their loved one(s) and/or others. Given the threat posed by homegrown violent extremists (HVE) in the United States, including the inevitable release of the many convicted terrorists currently incarcerated, a better understanding of the families and homelives of HVE is warranted. This report is part of the larger NCITE funded project “Facilitating Suspicious Activity Reporting at the Community Level,” which aims to identify how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other law enforcement agencies can leverage community partnerships to help counter violent extremism and to provide actionable insights on what technological, social, and financial barriers exist for families of extremists in reporting suspicious activities. The findings outlined in this report provide the foundation for reaching these long-term research goals by offering a rich description of the home and family lives of HVE.


This report is part of the National Counterterrorism, Innovation, Technology, and Education Center (NCITE) project, led by Dr. Gina Scott Ligon, NCITE Program Director. This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under Grant Award Number 20STTPC00001-01. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the author and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.