Former police officer reveals indicators of radicalisation

Pull all information together for ‘intelligence picture’, Grahame White tells financial sector

Patterns of behaviour by people who have become radicalised, to the point where they plan a terrorist atrocity, are detectable and their actions are preventable, according to a former counter-terrorist officer with the London Metropolitan Police.

Grahame White told a Dublin seminar for senior financial and legal people that key terrorist cell indicators (TCIs) invariably pointed towards a person having been radicalised.

The indicators would also suggest if they were involved in grooming and recruiting others to their cause while planning a terrorist atrocity, such as those committed in London, Manchester, Brussels, Paris and Madrid.

While the examples cited by Mr White during an address to some 200 senior financial and legal people at the Compliance Ireland seminar related to Islamic extremism, he said the same methodology produced the same results when applied to the likes of Anders Breivik, the far-right Norwegian mass murderer.


Key indicators included age (generally between 18 and 50, with gender being irrelevant) and employment (usually in low-grade tasks, such as take-away food delivery or car washing, work not highly valued by the rest of society).

Nationality was “not important”, he said but frequently perpetrators were of foreign descent.

He said targets for radicalisation often lived in areas of existing concern, such as Molenbeek in Brussels, but it was patterns of behaviour exhibited by people who fitted the TCI profile that were most telling.

Behavioural elements

He cited behavioural elements linked to radicalisation. They included travel overseas to places such as Pakistan, Turkey and Syria; an interest in gyms or activities that enhanced bonding and team building such as paintball exercises, and extreme sports like white water rafting.

Financial activity that banks, credit unions, credit card providers and other financial institutions needed to look out for included unusual movements of relatively small amounts of money.

He cited by example a student account in which the usage pattern was just hundreds of pounds over a lengthy period suddenly having a deposit of some thousands. He also mentioned bank account inactivity being ended with a large deposit. He said his audience needed to ask themselves from where did that money originate.

He mentioned also the front loading of a credit card with cash and then the use of the card to pay for multiple rooms or buying items such as fertiliser and other chemicals, or tubes; camping equipment; radical books and dealings with certain mosques.

Not all such activities were of themselves suspicious, he said. However, if enough TCI indicators were picked up together, through the interrogation of data within the financial institutions, there was cause for concern.

“When you start to put all the elements together,” he said, “you start to get a picture of a person on a certain journey.”

Not all would-be terrorists were intelligent, he said. He cited the case of a man who was detained going through Luton Airport, en route to the Middle East, with six prosthetic legs. When asked about the legs, he said they were in case he or anyone else lost a limb when fighting.

There was a female bank teller befriended by a young man who, on a date, proudly showed her a picture of himself with an AK47 rifle standing somewhere in Syria against an Isis flag. Reported to the authorities, the man was detained.

Financial trail

Would-be terrorists also often used store loyalty cards, thereby creating a financial and behavioural trail. They also, almost invariably, said yes to all the add-ons, such as life insurance and warranties, offered to them when applying for loans, allegedly for cars, holidays or for home improvements.

“They know they’re not coming back,” said Mr White.

However, they think that buying the add-ons makes them look like everyone else. Except everyday customers do not generally buy the add-ons and people living in apartments do not apply for home-improvement loans.

Putting all the information together gave one “the aggregated intelligence picture”, he said.

Human trafficking

Mr White also spoke about human trafficking and the large amounts of money associated with the trafficking and subsequent exploitation of victims.

Eighty per cent of victims were women and 70 per cent were for sexual exploitation. But he said just 2 per cent of women working in prostitution were forced into it, 98 per cent did it voluntarily, he maintained.

This was because of the huge sums of money that could be made. He instanced his own taking of a trafficked women from a brothel only to be berated by her because she and her family were dependant on the money earned.

But, he added, “she didn’t volunteer [to have sex with] 30 clients a day, seven days a week”.

A trafficked child in the UK was worth €100,000 to their captors, he said.

Financial institutions should watch for movements of cash to accounts outside the State and ask themselves how the money had been obtained. He said there were 30,146 people in EU member states recorded as having been trafficked.

But this was a huge underestimate, in his view, and did not reflect “the human misery that is behind that figure”.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times