CBAGS SERIES FACT SHEET: Journeys through Extremism: The Experiences of Former Members of Al-Shabaab


This fact sheet provides a snapshot of findings from the second in a set of case studies on disengagement from violent extremist organizations (VEOs) conducted as part of the RESOLVE Network’s Community-Based Armed Groups (CBAGs) Research Initiative. This research applied the Attitudes-Behaviors Corrective (ABC) Model of Violent Extremism to map personal journeys in and out of al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda affiliate operating in Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa, which remains the deadliest VEO in Africa. The ABC Model provides a framework through which to analyze individual trajectories in relation to sympathy for and actual involvement in violent extremism. The ABC Model was also designed as a platform through which to explore drivers of attitudinal and behavioral change, offering a granular understanding of the processes of joining and leaving the group. At the heart of the ABC Model lies the prominent disconnect between sympathy for ideologically justified violence (attitudes) and direct involvement in its creation (behaviors).

Adopting a life history approach, the researchers interviewed thirteen former members of al-Shabaab, including those from its intelligence agency (the Amniyat), military wing (the Jabhat), and police force (the Hizbah), as well as drivers, teachers, and others in support roles. To identify movements on the attitudinal axis of the ABC diagrams, the interview guide included closed questions relating to sympathy for al-Shabaab. The respondents were asked to select from Likert scale options at key points during their trajectories. Movements on the “behaviors” axis were determined by recording the nature of the respondents’ involvement over time, and subsequently scaling their participation. The objective was to apply the ABC Model to deliver granular information about their trajectories to inform the design of interventions to prevent further involvement and to motivate and facilitate disengagements from the organization. To learn more about the research methodology and detailed findings, please refer to the RESOLVE Research Report by Sif Heide-Ottosen, Yahye Abdi, Abdullahi Ahmed Nor, James Khalil, and Martine Zeuthen: Journeys through Extremism: The Experiences of Former Members of Al-Shabaab (2022).