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Why They Leave: An Analysis of Terrorist Disengagement Events from Eighty-seven Autobiographical Accounts

security_studies-coverJournal abstract

A deeper understanding of terrorist disengagement offers important insights for policymakers and practitioners seeking to persuade individuals to leave these groups. Current research highlights the importance of certain “push” and “pull” factors in explaining disengagement. However, such studies tell us very little about the relative frequencies at which these hypothesized factors are associated with leaving in the terrorist population. Using data collected from eighty-seven autobiographical accounts, we find that push, rather than pull, factors are more commonly cited as playing a large role in individuals’ disengagement decisions and that the experience of certain push factors increases the probability an individual will choose to leave. Importantly, disillusionment with the group’s strategy or actions, disagreements with group leaders or members, dissatisfaction with one’s day-to-day tasks, and burnout are more often reported as driving disengagement decisions than de-radicalization. Finally, our results suggest that ideological commitment may moderate one’s susceptibility to pull factors.