Understanding Pathways To and Away From Violent Radicalization Among Resettled Somali Refugees, 4 North American cities, 2013-2015 (ICPSR 37449)

Version Date: Sep 30, 2020 View help for published

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Heidi Ellis, Children's Hospital (Boston, Mass). Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center



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Somalis in North America offer a window into the remarkable potential that can be realized by refugees/immigrants despite experiences of severe adversity as well as the challenges some subgroups encounter when adjusting to life in a new country. Somalia has endured one of the longest and most brutal wars of the past 30 years. This enduring conflict has led to millions of Somalis being dispersed as refugees across the globe. As refugees with limited resources, many Somalis in North America are resettled in poor urban neighborhoods where they are visibly different, not only because of race or ethnicity but also because of dress, especially for women who wear a Muslim head covering.

In addition, the community has been plagued by violence. While the number of Somali American youth joining these groups are small and while the majority of Somali Americans are law-abiding citizens, the terrorist groups' ability to recruit these youth and to convince some of them to engage in violent acts is concerning, not only to policymakers and law enforcement, but also to the Somali community, which fears losing more youth to violence or having the community's reputation sullied by being associated with terrorism.

While some of the social and cultural factors affecting Somalis are unique to that ethnic group, they also share experiences common to many immigrants, navigating identity development and duality as they move between home and host cultures, contending with discrimination as religious, racial and ethnic minorities, and striving to achieve their dreams while struggling to gain socioeconomic stability. Thus, understanding their developmental trajectories may inform the understanding of other immigrant and refugee groups as well.

No valid and reliable measurement for risk for violent extremism exists; there is no single profile or set of risk factors that can accurately determine who is most at risk for engaging in violent extremist acts. The study did not attempt to determine who is most at risk. Rather, the researchers sought to identify broad attitudes that would indicate a general openness to, or rejection of, the use of violence or illegal actions in support of a political cause.

The qualitative interviews feature experiences of formal (e.g. police) and informal (e.g. community) institutions over the past year. Examples of interview prompts include questions related to social bonds with family and community, and interactions with police.

Ellis, Heidi. Understanding Pathways To and Away From Violent Radicalization Among Resettled Somali Refugees, 4 North American cities, 2013-2015. Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2020-09-30. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR37449.v1

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United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. National Institute of Justice (2012-ZA-BX-0004)


Access to these data is restricted. Users interested in obtaining these data must complete a Restricted Data Use Agreement, specify the reasons for the request, and obtain IRB approval or notice of exemption for their research.

Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research

2013 -- 2015
2013-05-06 -- 2015-08-03
  1. The qualitative data is not available at this time.


The overall objective of the proposed project was to understand pathways to diverse outcomes among Somali immigrants: why do some embrace greater openness to violent extremism, while others with shared life histories move towards gangs, crime, or resilient outcomes such as civic engagement? To what degree do these outcomes overlap?

In this project the researchers empirically examined the principle of multifinality, or pathways leading from a shared refugee experience to multiple outcomes. Understanding these different trajectories, and the factors that shape an individual's progress towards diverse outcomes, provides information to local and state government agencies as they respond to the potential threat of domestic radicalization.

Quantitative interviews were collected at Time 1 (2013-2014) and Time 2(2014-2015) of the Somali Youth Longitudinal Study. Following the quantitative interviews, a subset of 40 individuals were selected to complete in-depth qualitative interviews that explored changes in the participants' lives over the past year (since the Time 1 interview). Participants were selected purposely to represent diverse attitudes towards openness to violent extremism. The qualitative interview guide, developed by both Somali and non-Somali research team members, was designed to explore participants' experiences and beliefs thought to be related to, or protective in relation to, radicalization to violence, as well as changes in these experiences and beliefs between time points. Particular attention was paid to experiences of formal (e.g. police) and informal (e.g. community) institutions over the past year.

Participants for the study were recruited from four communities in North America: Boston, Massachusetts (MA), Lewiston/Auburn, Maine (ME), Portland, Maine (ME), Minneapolis, Minnesota (MN), and Toronto, Canada. Additional participants were also recruited from Lewiston, Maine but are not included in the current set of analyses in order to maintain more consistency around size of resettlement city (Lewiston, a small city, provided a very different resettlement context). Inclusion criteria was Somali youth between the ages of 18-30 born outside North America but who have resided in the United States/Canada for at least one year. The researchers recruited a diverse representation of young Somalis, with a broad range of educational, religious, and acculturative backgrounds

Longitudinal: Trend / Repeated Cross-section

Somali youth ages 18-30 born outside North America, but who have resided in the US/Canada for at least one year.

Individual, Family

Key variables for papers are centered around four main themes: Latent Class Analysis (LCA) class, openness to violent extremism, gang involvement, and negative interactions with the police. These key variables are used to define groups of individuals with similar behaviors and attitudes characterized by several variables: attitude toward gangs, delinquency (minor offenses, property damage, crimes against people), civic engagement, political engagement, and radicalism.

Not available




2020-09-30 ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Performed recodes and/or calculated derived variables.
  • Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.

Not applicable



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This dataset is maintained and distributed by the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD), the criminal justice archive within ICPSR. NACJD is primarily sponsored by three agencies within the U.S. Department of Justice: the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.