Profiling Terrorists in Australia

Traditionally, research on terrorism and especially its root causes was overlooked and considered trivial. Schuurman (2019) finds that scholars seldom considered research gaps that concern terrorism as critical and often criticized them for being trivial. This was caused by the nature of terrorism, whose operations are sophisticated, perceived as dangerous to indulge, and are challenging to intrude (Schuurman, 2019). That led to limited funding for studies concerning terrorism, and those conducted were mostly opinionated (Silke, 2008). However, Healey (2011) and Jackson (2012) explains that the attack of 9/11 enhanced most scholars’ commitment to studies about security and anti-terrorism measures.

Despite the commitment, the current literature about terrorism reveals some critical gaps. For instance, regardless of the increase in Australian homegrown terrorists, the issue is mostly overlooked (Healey, 2011; Wilner & Dubouloz, 2010). Also, the former studies have not succeeded in developing an unanimously agreed model to help security agents accurately profile a terrorist. Borum (2010) found that profiling a terrorist is challenging because terrorists have disparate personalities. This has led to several studies identifying each intrinsic determinant factor (Doosje et al., 2016; Selinger, 2019; Healey, 2017) which cannot form a valid demographic profile for terrorists if combined (Sageman, 2014). Lastly, there is an apparent lack of primary sources of information about terrorist traits.


This paper will investigate the determinant factors that will help develop an accurate model for profiling terrorists in Australia. Besides, it will add to the library of information concerning homegrown terrorism in Australia. One of the objectives is to collect data from terrorist convicts in Australian prisons. This work is important as it will fill the research gaps identified above.

Research Question

Regarding the second research gap – there is no particular model or theory is unanimously agreed upon to profile terrorist; this work draws a research question in the Australian context. The proposed question is, “what are the main determinant factors to profile a terrorist in Australia?” It is an important question as it will help develop a comprehensive model to profile terrorists and reduce the presumptions in the current literature.

Units of Analysis, Measures, and Variables

This work will utilize a qualitative research design. It will focus on homegrown Australian terrorist convicted in Australian prisons. Concerning the fourth research gap identified above – limited primary information, this study will use open-ended questions in a semi-structured interview to engage convicted terrorists and gain in-depth insight into their personalities and influencing factors. Determinant factors are the independent factors, while the dependent variable for this study is the convicted terrorists.

            The interview will be conducted in two phases. The first phase will gather the convicts’ demographic data, while the second phase will probe their psychological personalities. The latter entails ideologies, perceived injustices, and their social relations, which are critical steps in the radicalization process for terrorists (Arafa, 2018; Healey, 2017; Weenink, 2015). Nevertheless, the research may cover more than this scope to answer the question comprehensively.

Research Site and Sampling Strategy

The research site for this study is the prisons in Australia that house terrorist convicts. This is because the sample population is the convicted terrorists, and prisons are the only place to find them. Because of legislative and security reasons (Gillespie, 2020), the interview will proceed over a phone call. Also, since all terrorist convicts are in different prisons, traveling for an in-person interview will be costly for non-funded research like this. This method has rarely been used due to the sensitivity of the topic.

As highlighted above, the target population is the convicts of terrorism imprisoned in Australia. More precisely, they will be homegrown. That is, must have adult citizens of Australia. The samples interviewed will be selected through purposive sampling, which (Adler & Clark (2014) proclaims to be the best for a non-probability study. Also, Bachman & Schutt (2017) acknowledge that it is the most time- and cost-effective when there are limited primary information sources. It is a powerful tool for probing and gathering more details from an isolated population, such as terrorist groups, whose information is challenging to obtain (Bryman, 2015). However, Bachman & Schutt (2017) warns that researchers are susceptible to selection bias when using this sampling method. Nevertheless, this study will use purposive sampling since it is ideal for the population, and the bias might not be significant due to the uniqueness of the population.

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This study anticipates that there are about 50 terrorism convicts in Australian prisons. Therefore, the sample for this study will generalize the 50 convicts in Australia, and hopefully, all tourists. The sample size will be from 0-50 participants since it is based on voluntary responses. Data from more than ten participants will be considered reliable since a low response rate may be excused for the size of the overall population of convicted terrorists.


Despite scholars appreciating the need for research on terrorism topics since 9/11, there is limited literature concerning the determining factors that may help profile a terrorist in Australia. The number of homegrown terrorists in Australia keeps increasing; thus, this study aims at developing a definitive terrorism profile, using theories of models that rely on data from demographic and psychological personalities of convicted terrorists. This study’s success will be valuable since it will assist security agents in profiling and identifying terrorists to combat terror attacks. Nevertheless, the comprehensive model for profiling terrorists will have to be developed from studies conducted worldwide due to the demographic aspect of the terrorists’ profile.


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Appendix A

These are interview question for phase one. They are open ended to gather demographic information about participants. More questions might be asked to ensure the question is answered completely.

What gender do you most affiliate yourself?


What fascinated or interested you most in school?

How old were you contemplated doing something that could cause terror?


What types of jobs did you do before conviction?


What roles did you undertake in school and in your jobs?

 Do you consider yourself religious?


If so, what religion do you most align yourself with?


Appendix B

These are interview question for phase two. They are open ended to gather personality characteristics of the participants. They would help evaluate the thought process of the participant and their mental state that could explain their psychological states. More questions might be asked to ensure the question is answered completely.

Which ideologies or philosophies do you hold?

Which injustices have you ever perceived since childhood?

Prior to your arrest and conviction, which social relationships did you value most?

What justifications can you give for what you did?

What do you think of the current label on you as a terrorist?