A group of budding Swansea University cyberterrorism experts recently had the unique opportunity to present the findings of their terrorist narratives project to an audience that included some important policy-makers, and to speak alongside the esteemed Lord Carlile of Berriew CBE QC, former UK Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.
The group of nine Swansea University students undertook an internship at the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell during the summer which involved examining the official publications of designated organisations that follow a jihadist ideology. Following their return a symposium was organised to present the findings of the student’s terrorist narratives research project.
The audience consisted of Swansea University students and staff, researchers from other institutions, interested policymakers and practitioners and representatives from South Wales Police and London Metropolitan Police, the Prevent Coordinator for Welsh Higher Education, Swansea Council, and a Senior Parliamentary Assistant.
The interns' presentations focussed on four themes: the use of images by terrorist groups; the use of "Othering" by terrorist groups; the justifications offered by, and motivations of, terrorist groups; and the use of the discourse of violence by terrorist groups.
Lord Carlile CBE QC also gave a keynote address about the challenge of responding to online violent extremist content.
The overarching objective of the project is to identify central narratives and themes within online terrorist magazines, and to examine the communicative (language and images) devices used to advance these. The study focussed on five magazines, all published by groups that follow a jihadist ideology, including al-Qaeda, Islamic State and al-Shabaab. Different methodologies were employed to conduct the analysis, including content analysis and corpus assisted discourse studies.
Criminology PhD student David Mair explained:
"Terrorist use of cyberspace has catapulted terrorist groups' propaganda into our everyday lives. It is essential that we study this phenomenon in order to understand the most effective ways to combat this threat".
One of the distinctive features of the project was the opportunity offered to undergraduate students to participate. To prepare for the research, the students completed a two week summer school in Swansea which included speakers from organisations such as the Wales Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit, the Royal United Services Institute, the United Nations Interregional Crime Research Institute and NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. They then travelled to Boston to spend a month working at the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. During this time they coded the data and began identifying patterns and trends. After returning to Swansea they presented their preliminary findings at the symposium.
Lord Carlile of Berriew CBE QC found the symposium very interesting. He said:
"I was very impressed by the quality of the research by the students into a controversial topic, and by the acuity of their analysis. The academic world should be able and prepared to carry out proportionate research into violent Islamism, and Swansea University has done so with care and responsibility."
Luke Walker, BA English Language said:
"The symposium provided a fantastic chance for me to improve my skills and gain experience of presenting research in front of a large audience. I enjoyed the experience, including answering some tough questions afterwards! The event also provided a great opportunity to meet policymakers, practitioners and other researchers."
Elliot Parry, BA Philosophy, Politics and Law said:
"The symposium was a thrilling experience. Presenting our findings to specialists in areas of counter-terrorism and security alongside my fellow peers and Lord Carlile QC was very rewarding and gave me a great boost of confidence. This experience has been unparalleled in terms of knowledge and opportunity and I'm very grateful to all who made it possible at Swansea University. The commitment to student learning has been outstanding. Overall it has been a fascinating journey which I can truly say I have made the most of and one that I have been extremely proud to undertake."
Jodie Parker, LLB Law said:
"The symposium was one of the most nervous and most exciting days of my life! Having been a part of an international, interdisciplinary research project really set the standards high in relation to presenting the findings. Not being one of the most confident speakers personally, this gave me an excellent opportunity to practice public speaking. Receiving such positive feedback from those who attended is something I'm enormously proud of. "
For more information on the Swansea University Cyberterrorism Project visit http://www.cyberterrorism-project.org/or follow them on Twitter @CTP_Swansea
Picture 1: The full Cyberterrorism Project team with Lord Carlile.
Picture 2: The panel including Lord Carlile. (L to R): Kate Thomas, Elliot Parry, Nash Maravanyika, David Nezri, Lord Carlile of Berriew MBE QC.
- Wednesday 18 November 2015 14.42 GMT
- Wednesday 18 November 2015 14.52 GMT
- Swansea University, Tel: 01792 295050